25 June 2012
TO BITCH OR NOT TO BITCH
Cause of ambivalence:
A concert (more specifically, the lead singer of the band)
"Dear concert of one of my favorite bands,
I love your music but why is the lead singer such a bitch to other women?❤"
In the venue's dingy bathrooms
I wrote this note a long time ago but I avoided it for a long time. To be honest, I’ve been really embarrassed about it, and considered just pretending it never happened. Then I remembered that the whole point of leaving these crazy notes all over the place was to confront my moments of ambivalence, even the embarrassing ones. So here it is: my moment of ambivalent bitchiness.
Years ago, I worked on a campaign catalogue that featured musicians instead of models. The girl mentioned in the note was the lead singer of the band that was selected for the photo shoot. I really liked her before we actually met, because her music, lyrics and stage persona were very relatable to me. While I didn’t expect us to become instant BFFs and immediately start talking in homemade acronyms, I figured that she and I would at least get along pretty well, because I thought to myself: “I totally get this girl!” But when we met in person, I was taken aback by how unnecessarily unpleasant she was with me, especially in comparison to her male bandmates who were really friendly. It was disappointing, to say the least.
Months later, in a moment of ambivalence, I left a note at one of her shows. Minutes after leaving the heart-marked envelope in the venue’s dingy bathrooms, I began to second guess what I wrote. While I was unimpressed with the girl I had met in person, I still admired the girl I saw on stage: a bluntly honest, unforgivingly emotional, beautifully imperfect, badass pop front woman. She embodied all the qualities I admire in a musical heroine, which I realized made up for our inability to communicate in a friendly way. The more I thought about it, the more I felt ashamed that I was reacting to this girl’s animosity towards me by leaving a somewhat mean message about her in the bathrooms (stereotypical girlfight behaviour really). Ten minutes after leaving the note, I went back to the bathroom to take it back, but to my despair, it was already gone. That’s when I really realized the impact of leaving a note in public: once I let it go, I can’t take it back, and I have no control over who will find it. The only thing left to do was to try to understand my reaction.
Looking back, I wonder if things would have been different had she and I met under different circumstances, instead of as two creative women trying to work together in a professional setting. It is a well documented fact that women tend to be very competitive with each other in the workplace. I’ll admit that I have felt jealous, resentful and weary of female co-workers at different times during my career, in a way that I never felt towards my male co-workers. I am also not proud to say that I have also felt that way about close female friends too. So why is it so easy to become competitive and bitchy with each other?
In her book Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, Phyllis Chesler demonstrates, through the analysis of years of case studies and interviews, that women can be sexist and ‘inhumane’ to one another. Her research shows how, in a professional setting, women often see each other as opponents trying to fit into an already narrow window of opportunity. She also explains how women tend to expect too much from one another emotionally. It is a common assumption that all women are supposed to be warm and loving, simply because they are women, and when professional women do not live up to their gender roles they are criticized for being cold or too masculine. While Chesler raises some interesting points, the tone of her book troubled me. She began the introduction to the 2009 edition of the book by telling the story of how she was betrayed by a woman who was once close to her. This experience was obviously very upsetting to her, because it seemed to resonate throughout the book’s bitter tone. Chesler’s study left me with the impression that she was setting out to warn women against the dangers of other women, rather than educate them on how to stop competing with one another.
So how do we stop being bitches to each other? Should we just accept that all women are bitches and become bitter about it (thus perpetuating the bitchiness)? What should you do if another woman is being a bitch to you? Should you just turn the other cheek and take it? Is there ever value in fighting back? Or is there another way of dealing with the idea of girl fights all together, that doesn’t involve mud and bikinis, or any canine or feline-related adjectives and sounds.
In the book Girls to the Front, Sara Marcus tells many tales of disputes that occurred within the Riot Grrrl movement of the early 90’s, a movement whose main goal was to encourage the communication and acceptance of women. Reading this book helped me understand some of the complications of girl friendships. While we may all begin with noble ideas and good intentions, getting along is just not always that simple. There are always a million factors that stand in the way of genuine friendship (gender, race, status, education, language, romantic comedies, reality TV…). Yet, present in Marcus’s book but lacking in Chesler’s, was an optimistic stance on the possibility of genuine female friendships. Marcus’s book did not gloss over the bad parts, but also left room for the good ones. Every negative example of hateful behaviour was balanced out with numerous examples of how women can also be really amazing to each other, even in the most difficult situations.
Maybe being a pro-female-friend feminist does not necessarily imply that you have to be friends with all women, even the ones who share similar values. Maybe you don’t need to like someone on a personal level to appreciate and understand them on a more political level. There might actually be a middle ground somewhere between BFF and mortal enemy. Then again, maybe the more important question is who actually benefits from women being bitches to one another. It’s certainly not women. So why do we keep fighting? I recently read an article on the site socialjusticeleague.net where the author Rachael implored her readers to “Leave Kim Kardashian Alone.” She wrote: “If we want to criticize Kim Kardashian, we have plenty of legitimate concerns (and Quicktrim should be our leading issue in my opinion). But the vast majority of the complaints made against Kim are straight up sexist bullshit, and the rest use her as a scapegoat for institutional inequality. Kim Kardashian is hardly a feminist hero. But women don’t have to be feminist heroes before they deserve to be defended from sexism, slutshaming and hatred. All women should be defended against sexist attacks, not just the women we like. That’s kind of how feminism is supposed to work. Leave Kim Kardashian alone.”
We all make mistakes, we all get caught up in the “sexist bullshit” we’ve been brought up in. Girl hating is expected and encouraged by our society, because if we’re fighting each other, we can’t fight together. Maybe it’s time we stop backstabbing one another and teach our inner bitches to fight the good fight.
Labels: MY AMBIVALENCE