In today's New York Times' Modern Love (Style) section, Kelly Valen wrote of an abusive experience she had in college that occurred as a result of a date-rape: an action that in itself is awful, not taking under account the condemnation and black-balling of her so-called "sisters," her would-be friends. The piece hit home for me for many reasons, the first being my ability to relate to the following, the opening of her essay, My Sorority Pledge? I Swore Off Sisterhood:
My life’s greatest sorrow stems from my inability to feel close to other women. At 41, I’ve cautiously cultivated a few cherished female friendships. But generally I feel a kind of skittish distrust and discomfort when dealing with most women, particularly women in packs.
The few female friends I have kept and maintained over the years have had the same issue I have: a distrust and discomfort around most other women. Becoming a parent has magnified my distrust of women ten-fold, as in ten times out of ten I would rather be alone than within a group a mothers. Motherhood it seems, brings out the quiet bitch in us all.
Women can be horrible to one another more often than not, torturing each other psychologically, ratting each other out, stabbing one another in the back, violently. More violent even than harassment. And in Valen's case, rape.
Valen's essay lead to a discussion between me and several friends about feminism in general and the idea that perhaps the feminist "movement" has outgrown itself to such an extent that women have had no choice but to turn on each other, pointing fingers, pulling at the hair of former colleagues and teammates. Perhaps this is a recent phenomenon or maybe women since the beginning of time have been at each other's throats in the same way. I have a feeling though, it has changed. There is something that seems to happen after every war or societal movement, a kind of inability to put down one's weapons and accept one's new, "liberated" life.
The conversation drifted over to Hillary Clinton and whether or not a woman candidate could and can be celebrated in a country overrun by competitive alpha-women who are so crippled by jealousy that very often they/we cannot look at the bigger picture.
Sure, Hillary isn't the most likeable of women or even political candidates for that matter, but I think a great much of what she is criticized for is the result of her "masculine" thirst for power. It is hard for us (as women) to support strong women without familiarizing ourselves with their "weaknesses," and so in the case of a hard-bellied Hillary, there is a disconnect. Because she is a woman lacking the vulnerability of a trusted female confidante, and therefor threatening to women who might normally support her.
Women are manipulative. We hold one another down in ways that are debilitating to ourselves, often gesturing toward men and misogyny as a what's-what to blame. And none of us are innocent. It is far more difficult to congratulate a friend on exciting news than it is to console a friend in times of need (jealousy is the antithesis of pity). A strange paradox during a time when women are congratulating themselves for being so modern.
Women aren't evolving as much as we say we are. We're just talking more shit behind each other's backs. And what is perhaps most upsetting is that, as I criticize this inexcusable behavior, I am more likely than not, just the same, a judgmental and often catty creature unable to see such character flaws in myself.
Valen closes her essay with an unfortunate conclusion:
I’ve been a full-time lawyer, a working mother and a stay-at-home mother. In each role, I’ve found my fears about women’s covert competition and aggression to be frequently validated: the gossip, the comparisons, the withering critiques of career and mothering choices. We women swim in shark-infested waters of our own design. Often we don’t have a clue where we stand with one another — socially, as mothers, as colleagues — because we’re at once allies and foes.
I want to remain optimistic. After all, here I am with three daughters. What am I to teach them? Cautionary tales about men’s harmful proclivities abound. But how do we help our girls navigate the duplicitous female maze? How do we ensure that they behave authentically, respect humanity over fleeting alliances, and squash the nasty tribal instincts that can inflict lifelong distress?
She has put into words what I have been unable to voice without becoming defensive on behalf of men and boys, my son included-- that women and girls should be more cautious of themselves and one another. Betrayal and judgment of one's own sex can be far more paralyzing than that of the male equivalent, with lasting repercussions that are far more difficult to understand.