I overheard a conversation between two women at the grocery store yesterday. These women were not friends. Just two women who got in line behind each other on a Sunday morning, both finding an appropriate topic of discussion to be the overweight woman checking out in the next aisle – her fashion and food choices deemed unfortunate.
Nothing makes being a woman harder than other women.
Which is an impressive feat when you stop and consider the difficulties men have devised for us.
Sexual discrimination, violence, and objectification – a denigrating laundry list of ways to vilify those in possession of a vagina. As the Urban Dictionary so succinctly describes it, men have hated every bone in a woman’s body except their own.
So why then do women insist on picking each other apart like a pack of same-sexed hyenas?
Misogyny. It’s not just for men anymore.
You can’t spend thousands of years at the top of the power, privilege and patriarchal food chain without gaining a well-deserved target on your back.
However, like any community that turns on itself, the greatest danger and damage can sometimes come from within.
Somewhere between crawling out of the primordial ooze and the invention of the Tampax Pearl we learned to become our own worst enemies. As fast as our Hush Puppies crossed the threshold in kindergarten we began shaming and being shamed by those of our own gender – long before any boy ever yanked on our braids or snapped the strap on our training bras.
Sexuality, sexual activity, weight, intelligence, beauty, fashion, relationships, marriage, pregnancy, motherhood, breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, child-rearing, career choices, finances…you name it and we’ve shamed each other over it.
While we may have learned a thing or two from men about how to make ourselves feel ‘less than’, it is women who have honed the language, crafted the delivery and perfected the art of exploiting the emotional weaknesses of other women.
Anything men can do, we can do better apparently. And that goes for making ourselves and each other feel like shit.
Now apparently we need scientific studies commissioned to tell us that this is a bad idea. http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0070048
That was money well spent.
And let’s face it, while the conversation about girl-on-girl crime is all the rage – raise your hand if you been a victim (or at least love the movie Mean Girls), identifying the perpetrators involves shining a light in places we don’t necessarily want to look.
To paraphrase Jay-Z, I got 99 problems and the bitch in the mirror might just be one.
Because as often as I have been a victim of shaming by other women – for a whole slew of reasons ranging from poor fashion choices to unplanned pregnancy – I have also acted as the perpetrator when another girl’s vulnerability was exposed and presented an opportunity to take the attention away from my own. The well-worn if you think I’m laughable, check that girl out defense mechanism most often deployed by middle-school girls when faced with awkward social situations – like middle school.
Shaming is like that old joke about porn – you might not be able to describe it, but you know it when you see it.
Or as the case may be – you know it when you engage in it.
And while I would love to say unequivocally that the behavior of those two women in the grocery store line was complete anathema to me, what made me most uncomfortable was how familiar it seemed.
We are women. We know what we are doing. And we need to stop.
Or shame on us.