I didn’t have very many female friends as a young teenager. I didn’t have many male friends either, I have to say. A combination of moving around a lot and being pretty socially awkward and (with hindsight) not finding it easy to recognise people meant I found it hard to form close friendships. Or even casual ones. I was quite late into my teens before I found a group of friends (mainly thanks to Sir Terry Pratchett.)
When I DID meet this group of friends, it was largely boys from other schools (I went to an all girls school) with a smaller group of girls. When I went to university, again I struggled to make friends, and ended up hanging out mainly with a bunch of stoner dudes who thought it was hilarious to try and get me to swear as I rarely used swear words (I blame them for how much I fucking swear now)
Most of my friends outside of university were also men. Guys in the band I was in, guy internet friends. I didn’t form many close friendships with women at all. I had a small number of close female friends, but I don’t think I ever talked about them about girl-stuff.
Looking back on this now, it’s pretty clear that I was a text book not-like-other-girls girl. I had internalised all this crap about what ‘girls’ are meant to be (pretty, ‘girly’, weepy, clingy, emotional, bitchy etc) and decided “that’s not me”. But instead of thinking “hey, not only is this not me, this isn’t actually my experience of other girls, maybe this is a load of crap” I clung on to the idea that my not-like-other-girl-ness made me special and different and cool and took it on as ‘my thing’.
I also internalised the idea, hook, line and sinker, that other women were my ‘competition’. That I should be comparing myself to the women around me. That my worth was based on my direct relation to the women around me. Is she thinner than me? Is she smarter than me? Is she funnier than me? I remember really clearly talking about a girl-friend of mine to another, describing her as “really pretty, slim, funny and so clever. And what’s really annoying about her is she’s so nice, you can’t even hate her”. I mean, what a fucked up sort of thing is that to say? That someone is thin and smart and pretty so they must be mean? Or they must be worthy of hate?
I didn’t of course realise I was doing all this. It wasn’t conscious. To be honest, I didn’t realise it until relatively recently. In the last year I’ve had some incredible conversations with women. About all sorts of things. About life, about ambitions, vaginas & cervixes. About periods, penises, toe hair, orgasms, babies and farting. About fears, panic attacks, growing up, parenting, and politics, and much, much more. Conversations I’ve never had with women before. I’ve seen moments where groups of women have discovered something going on with their lady parts is totally normal and something other women are experiencing and saying “god I wish I’d talked about this before. I’d have known it was normal.” I’ve been involved in all women action groups who’ve got together and made plans and achieved extraordinary things. There’s been none of this ‘bitchyness’ that one is lead to believe happens in women dominated or women only spaces.
In fact, if I look back at my time in a roller derby league, I can honestly say that any ‘bitchyness’ I saw was almost entirely a product of *perception* – an assumption, filtered through my own internalised misogyny, my own mistaken ideas of what ‘girls are like’. I saw as many disagreements and issues within male roller derby groups, but I never saw any accusations of bitchyness. Large groups of women aren’t any more ‘bitchy’ than large groups of men, and yet when large groups of straight men bicker and disagree and fall out, are they called ‘bitchy’?
Where do these ideas come from then, that we think that women are all bitches, competing with each other to be the prettiest or the thinnest or the best or the smartest; that we can’t trust each other; that we can’t talk to each other or achieve things in large groups? Because when you let that go, when you say “actually, I think perhaps this might all be a massive pile of crap” and form links with other women and really start talking, the fact that it’s all complete bollocks becomes really obvious. I think it comes from all around us. I think it’s coming out of the godammed walls, man.
Women are told via TV shows, movies, women’s magazines, adverts,all these bullshit memes that people insist on sharing – all the media around us – that other women are our competition, and that we can feel better about ourselves by tearing them down. We’re told we can’t trust each other. We’re told that we should be hating each other. That’s why women’s magazines (you remember how much I hate these, right?) have ‘circle of shame’ features where famous women’s teeny tiny ‘imperfections’ are dissected in minute detail. Women are told that we should compare ourselves to other women’s bodies, their achievements, their lives. What this *actually* does is make us feel bad about ourselves, and impacts on our self-esteem (and then of course we buy more stuff to make ourselves feel better. Clever, right?) And if you are one of those people sharing these bullshit memes? Please, stop. Just…stop.
If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would wonder why so much media is built around making women think we can’t get on, and can’t work together, and are always in competition with each other all the time, and should all hate each other. Particularly after my recent experiences of getting involved with some all women groups and witnessing how much they can achieve working together when able to put aside that we’re allegedly incapable of doing so. I can’t help but think about the concept of ‘divide and conquer’ – if women hate each other they fail to unite and fight for equality. I am not a conspiracy theorist, however, so I don’t think this is some big organised conspiracy of the patriarchy. Although it’s certainly true that the media has deliberately tried to influence women before; first to get them to stop being so girly and go get a damn job during the war, and then to get them back to the housework and stop thinking they should enjoy manly things like having jobs when the war ended.
I don’t, as you will already know if you’re a regular reader, subscribe to gender essentialist ideas; the idea that women are innately ABC and men are innately XYZ. I think that much of what we say are male/female traits are down to how we’re raised, what we experience, how people treat us and expect of us. But let’s for a minute think about those gender stereotypes – women are meant to be nurturing, caring, supportive, kind, and great communicators. If we are all these things, then why are we also meant to be huge bitches who all hate each other that can’t achieve anything when working together? EVEN IF you ascribe to notions of gender essentialism, it STILL DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.
And if you DON’T ascribe to notions of gender essentialism, and you recognise that individuals are all, well, individuals, with their own motivations and wants and needs and drives and ways of communication, then why would you make a sweeping judgement about other women? One that, if you think about it, simply doesn’t make sense, and is actually preventing you from forging powerful and meaningful friendships with other women.
What I’ve learned in the last few years is that if you can just drop the idea that other women are your enemies then you can open yourself to something really special. You can have really powerful intimate conversations with other women, and find out that these other women all have the same issues, concerns, worries, problems and fears as you, and rather than judgement and competition they can offer support, advice, love and care. You then also realise that you can offer the same in return.