I am here for other women
October 16, 2014 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Fariha Roisin: let me love you
I wasn’t so much shocked as I was angered by what she said—which is hypocritical of me. I know the feeling of what she was trying to describe. I had felt it many times, too. It’s that feeling that only one girl in the room can be the “prettiest,” as in if I was inherently attractive, she; the other, juxtaposed against my beauty, suddenly wasn’t.

I had never understood why I have felt that way. I just knew that I did. I can remember a variety of stinging instances when someone complimented a woman before me and how I, always, immediately felt it was a ploy to criticize my own failures. That by virtue of this other woman writing a good piece of criticism; or this person having an amazing skirt; or shoes, or dress—I didn’t/couldn’t/hadn’t, I was a slob.

This is a social illness. At least it has been in the social climate that I’ve lived, and surrounded myself, in. We are casualties of the patriarchy, and by virtue of osmosis, I was taught to dismantle those around me, the women— vying only for male appreciation. We don’t question why we do it, we just do. It is a product of being socialized to feel as though constantly, we’re not enough. As women, mothers, daughters, wives—we’re constantly at war with ourselves. When I get angry with the woman complimented in front of me—how much of that does it say about me? How much do I value myself? [...]

All of the hate stems from a disillusioned society that places men on top for being alive, and women are the ones that have to struggle to be constantly validated in the workplace, by their friends, peers, boyfriends, parents, shrinks. No wonder we can’t give each other a break, we’re terrified of not getting one ourselves so we snatch what we can from whomever we can. Dog eat dog. Bitches eat bitches. Except, no. Except what if we just didn’t do that anymore?
Melissa McEwan (Shakesville): Female Friendship Myths
TV Tropes: Not Like Other Girls
Tavi Gevinson (Rookie): Getting Over Girl Hate
Roxane Gay (HuffPo): How To Be Friends With Another Woman

Sady Doyle (Tiger Beatdown): Girl Culture and the Race to the Bottom: About that Rant About Women
But when we talk about how women are taught not to self-promote, or believe in themselves to the extent necessary to self-promote, or the language whereby women race to the bottom on their way to the top, well: we can’t take how women train other women out of the equation, in my opinion. Women can be primary agents of enforcing misogyny on each other, and women can be supremely effective at eviscerating or draining or punishing other women’s confidence.
Tracy Moore (Jezebel): The 'Cool Girl' Is Not Fiction, But a Phase
Molly Lambert (This Recording): Can't Be Tamed: A Manifesto

A.J. Conroy (Autostraddle): Female Friends Forever: Looking at Adrienne Rich’s Lesbian Continuum, 30 Years Later

previously on MeFi -
*transformation and transcendence: the power of female friendship
*femslash friday at The Toast: Rory and Paris, the real Gilmore Girls
*"I was one of the guys. I was always one of the guys."
posted by flex (18 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite

Get eyes on the prize
Convert them, keep them coming
Sob uncontrollably
posted by Mblue at 7:20 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Young people are young.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:56 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Pretty much all of the women I have dated struggled with friendships with other women, sometimes causing themselves a lot of pain. It's a common thing and I'm looking forward to reading these articles later tonight.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:24 PM on October 16, 2014

Everybody click on that "femslash friday at The Toast: Rory and Paris, the real Gilmore Girls" link and then click again to read the article. I just read that yesterday. I love that show and I will never watch it the same way again. The Toast made it better.
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:52 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have three sisters and the "teenage breakup" is an odd although very regular thing.

"I think I was in love with her. It still hurts when I think about it."

You are not alone there. It's fairly common for young people to look for confirmation from their cohort. Not a big deal.
posted by vapidave at 9:12 PM on October 16, 2014

Thanks for posting this, flex! That Hairpin pieces hits way too close - I've re-read it several times and each time I find something new to love. As I wrote on Tumblr* -

There is more to process here than I really have the time or energy for, but this whole concept - internalized misogyny, that sense of scarcity of self-worth, the Cool Girl syndrome - is something that's been on my mind a lot recently.

I am so so bad at all of that, dude. My self-identity is wrapped up in a series of labels, labels that usually start with "the girl who - ", often ending in something related to technical proficiency or news-savviness or the internet. (Also, even though I find it incredibly demeaning when groups of adult women are referred to as "girls", I can't convince my brain to see myself that way - like I am not important enough to be referred to as a woman. THANKS, OBAM PATRIARCHY.)

But labels are misleading and reductive. That is their purpose, to distill complex human realities into silos. When your identity is nothing but a series of labels, it's easy to lose sight of what you're worth outside of that. And so when I am no longer the only girl in the room who _________, of course I panic about no longer being worth anything at all. Of course I look for reasons why the women I have perceived as usurping my "place" (whatever the fuck that means) are not actually as fantastic as they are.

Isn't that so fucked up? Why, when I meet another woman I have a lot in common with, is my instinctive reaction to dismiss them? Oh, right, because I've grown up believing I had to compete for my worth to be recognized, that my value as a human being is a zero-sum game.

I used to be one of those obnoxious people who said "I'm not like other girls". I was proudly "one of the guys", not realizing that the trade-off for being considered a Cool Girl was buy-in into a toxic system that values me and mine only in the context of our relationship to men. I don't remember when I figured out what a shitty bargain this was, but I do remember that it was like a light-switch. I'd read an article on one blog or another, and suddenly - fuck, that's what I've been doing all along??

I've been consciously trying the past few years to befriend women. I am lucky to have a group of friends on Twitter who are nothing but supportive and encouraging of each other. When I meet someone new that I think is cool, I try my best to sincerely appreciate them, even if my hind-brain is still whispering that she's a threat. It's not easy, but man is it ever worth it.

Knowing IS only half the battle. Knowing that these feelings of resentment and pettiness and jealousy are social programming helps, but it's not a panacea. I am still frequently terrible at processing those feelings...but realizing that I am flawed and forgiving myself when I can't be the person I want to be is part of the healing.

I am here for other women.

*I normally hate just reposting content like this but this subject is raw and close to my heart and I'm all out of feels but I still feel like I have so much more to say, so. Mea culpa.
posted by Phire at 9:31 PM on October 16, 2014 [25 favorites]

As a woman who's never been into this I don't have a lot of sympathy. Maybe only 5-10% of women I've ever met felt the need to compete like this but they sure made the rest of our eyes tired from rolling.
posted by fshgrl at 2:29 AM on October 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

Agreed. It’s nonsense to blame the patriarchy for this particular character flaw, her parents maybe, definitely consumerism. "We [do] live in a culture where it is still considered more socially acceptable for a man to directly express his competitive nature [than for a woman to do so]”, which is patriarchy and might make the competition more hurtful maybe. It’s fundamentally consumerism that places so much social weight on such shallow asinine competitions though. And both men and women, as well as both straight and gay couples, all fall prey to that astounding rates.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:19 AM on October 17, 2014

Jeff--any reason to think that consumerism and patriarchy are totally separate cultural constructs? I can't think of any. Is it consumerism or patriarchy that causes women to be paid less per hour, on average, than men? Consumerism or patriarchy that requires women to dress a certain way and have a certain body type? Consumerism or patriarchy that presumes that women are catty? Consumerism or patriarchy that led the author to believe that men, not women, would be her emotional salvation?

You aren't really engaging with her thesis, just disagreeing with the entire argument ("nonsense") without explanation. I am not saying you are wrong, just asking for a counterargument to such a strong statement so early in the thread.
posted by radicalawyer at 5:41 AM on October 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

thanks for posting all of this, flex, it's given me a lot to mull over. i used to be a "i'm not like the other girls!" type of woman - and, as i look back on it, i realize it was so tied up with my own self hate (that the guys i hung around were glad to reinforce). like Phire i can't remember the spark that changed it, but it did happen like a lightbulb or a flash. now i love my female friendships so much - they are the most precious to me.

another link (well, link to a book) that i'd like to add to the stack of awesome links in the fpp is, odd girl out, a book about girls bullying each other (and how our bullying looks very different than when boys bully each other, or when the genders are mixed). i read it originally because i had young nieces but it brought back so many memories and explained so many things from my own childhood that i never was able to figure out. i haven't actually read the revised edition, but the original was perspective changing for me.
posted by nadawi at 6:38 AM on October 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just RTFA, radicalawyer, pure fuzzy thinking. Patriarchy and consumerism are different issues with modern society. Patriarchy isn't wholly irrelevant, as the article I linked explained clearly. It's consumerist social competitive behavior, perhaps aggravated by patriarchy, that she's talking discussing, but she blames patriarchy while ignoring the real problem of consumerist thinking.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:00 AM on October 17, 2014

Said differently : The problem is making everything into a fucking competition in the first place. That's not patriarchy, that's consumerism.

As an aside, consumerism has advantages over the previous system of social standing being based entirely on heredity, but that's not the issue here.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:05 AM on October 17, 2014

Patriarchy is about hierarchy. That's inherent in consumerism.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:11 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

consumerism does not explain the competitions i've felt with other women and girls. it feels more related to how there can only be one or two token women in most things, except we're right around 50% of the population so that leaves a lot of scrambling. it's related to how if there are more than 3 women on a panel of 10 men and women both view it as overwhelmingly women. you might not have the relevant life experiences to speak authoritatively on the issues with how women interact with each other.
posted by nadawi at 7:13 AM on October 17, 2014 [12 favorites]

Although it's different, boys fight over precedence too; there is plenty of aggression and King-of-the-Mountain stuff in a group of male friends, and if one guy is The Guy Who Does X, I have seen conflict when Another Guy Who Does X shows up and becomes part of the group.

It's the My Little Pony Problem; what do you do if you're the Twilight Sparkle of the group (or Pinkie Pie) and someone else comes along who has the same attributes/skills? Then you have to stop relying on your roles and be friends for your actual selves. (even if you're both Pinkie Pie types, there will still be differences). Which is harder and more risky. What if you're not the best at being Pinkie Pie? Will they still like you?

To me these are questions I've moved past; my problem now is not competition with other women, but that women still do so much caretaking that we have a hard time making time for ourselves to get together. If women had more leisure time, I think our friendships would be less fraught.
posted by emjaybee at 7:48 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

what this thread under a personal essay about life as a woman needs is the po-faced Left perspective as delivered by me, a man
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:59 AM on October 17, 2014 [16 favorites]

Thank you for re-posting that, phire. It meant a lot to me to read it on Tumblr last night, and I'm happy to see it again here. (I wanted to reblog and respond to you there last night but stupid mobile Tumblr ate my response.)

I spent a lot of time in my teens as a Not Like Other Girls, One Of The Guys sort of girl. It took me a long time and a lot of reading and thinking and knowing really awesome women to grow out of that. In my case it was not so much competition about being better than other girls at girl-ing, as about wanting to distance myself from "girl" as a concept. I hated myself for that for a long time after I grew out of it, but looking back, the more I understand about being a woman in the culture and time in which I live, I kind of get it. Being a teenage girl, and also a teen girl with an invisible disability and a teen girl who was starting to kind of figure out she was queer? Yeah, even as rolling in white middle-class privilege as I was, I was a pretty scary thing to be and no wonder I ran away from some of that as fast as I could.

I still have to consciously fight off some I Am Not Like Other Women, I Do Not Get Along With Other Women programming sometimes, but I'm a better person for making that effort and my life is better because of it. I have come to know some of the most amazing women, as I've opened my life up to the recognition that in many ways I am like them. They are like me. That's to be celebrated, not feared or escaped. I wish I'd learned that lesson a lot sooner.
posted by Stacey at 8:42 AM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

If we are consistently shown in society (through media, etc.) that:
1) the standard is white cis hetero male (cf. Deborah Tannen's "Marked Women, Unmarked Men")
2) any deviation from that is most often represented in a token way ("diversity" essentially means including one woman, one queer person, one person of a different race, etc. in a group)
3) the feminine (in general) is inferior to the masculine
4) ultimate responsibility for one's position in life is considered to be on the individual's shoulders (discounting societal forces, human history, personal background, hierarchy, etc.)

- then this all combines in a way where women are implicitly taught that in order to have value as something more than "just a woman" they need to be an exceptional example of their kind ("exceptional" as measured by patriarchal values); they need to model superior traits and reject inferior traits; that other women are competition for that token spot of visibility; that our self-worth is validated if we are valued by the existing model as something approaching the level of where men are inherently valued (or at least valued as an excellent example of what we are told we are supposed to be).

There is also the subconscious realization that if women collectively no longer have male identification or male validation as their primary goal, then that is a threat to the existing societal order. This is the devil we know, and plenty of women are comfortable enough with their current positioning to be unsettled by other women visibly disrupting our assigned roles. So we turn on each other - it's easy to see a parallel to other struggles where those in power get the masses to divide against themselves rather than look up and realize the overriding source of the issue.

It is compelling to be told you're somehow an exception. There is a lot of conditioning to override in trying to look past that validation to examine the sickness in the whole system. For me, the Hairpin piece really spoke to that in an emotional, raw way: that realization you're discounting your own kind - those who can most understand what it's like - to the benefit of a system that is actively working against your kind and therefore you as well.
posted by flex at 9:10 AM on October 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

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