C’mon Girls, Let’s be Sisters Not Bitches

My interview with Salem’s Elise Eberle got me thinking: “It’s interesting how women are against other women, rather than in support of women.” It is indeed interesting, and also really shitty. If you think about it, women not looking out for other women is kind of like members of a sports team abandoning their own teammates. As a feminist writer, I’ve explored gender inequality head-on and endeavoured to give voice to the female experience. However, the silent wars that spread like wildfire between women—wars that, for the most part, go unnoticed by men—is an area I’ve barely touched on. And it’s about time I did.

But before dealing with adult female wars, let’s take a stroll down memory lane…

I’ll never forget my first day of sixth grade at a new school. I was making that public to private school transition, so to my 11 year-old self, the stakes were pretty high. After finding my desk near the front of the room, I remember a girl—a girl I would soon discover was adopted, really good at aerobics, and already had her period—turning to me and telling me that I looked like a “widow.” I still have no idea what she meant by that since I was a pre-pubescent, plastic-rainbow-rimmed-glasses-wearing 11 year-old. But what’s significant is that I can still hear her words ringing as clearly today as if I were back in that classroom. (Was it the rainbow glasses…?)

About a year later, when I was getting changed out of my school uniform into my sports uniform (I went to a British-style grammar school in Australia, bear with me) in the girl’s locker room, with about 10 others present, that same widow-naming bi-atch ridiculed me for not wearing a sports bra. “Haha, look who’s still a baby!” The reason I wasn’t wearing a sports bra was because I didn’t really have breasts yet. Instead, I was still fashioning singlets—which in America are like light ribbed, cotton tank tops for young girls—under my uniform. I remember feeling like I’d rather disappear down the shower drains than remain alive and sport bra-less with those girls. That night, I begged my mom to buy me a sports bra. And after teasing me a little about my “slow-coach” (one breast growing slower than the other), we were off to Target quicker than I had time to make a peanut sandwich.

That same year, when my birthday was approaching, I remember being torn up about whether or not to have a birthday party—the conundrum being: that girl. “If I invite her, I’ll have a horrible time but if I don’t invite her, she’ll be mean to me and so I’ll still have a horrible time,” I told my mom. In the end, I decided to forgo the birthday party, and went to see Now and Then at the theatres instead.

Suffice to say, within a year or so I had become one of the “popular” (and voluptuous) girls, and my nemesis’ only weapon was to spread rumors about me being a lesbian (which was apparently an insult?)

Two years later, that friend-no-friend left our school. When I was called into the headmaster’s office for having been “named” (by her) as one of 10 girls to have “socially bullied” her, my response was: “I don’t recall bullying anybody. But as a reaction to being a victim of bullying myself, I likely sat as far away on the sports field from her as possible. That I can’t deny.”

VivaChrissy4

Now in the adult world, a world where women earn on average 23% less than men, where only 18% of all elected offices are held by women, and just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, a world largely dominated by patriarchal representations of women in the media, our female schoolyard war is only amplified. But instead of banding together as an unstoppable sisterhood, many of us have tended to side with the attitudes of the “dominant” gender. If ya can’t beat ’em, join ’em? And rather than viewing other women as sisters, we more readily deem one another as competition. We’ve all had the experience of approaching or walking past a woman while she shamelessly eyes us up and down to check out our body shape and the clothes we’re wearing. Is she prettier than me? Yes, fuck. Or arriving at a party where a group of girls glance over at you with prickles in their eyes. Ouch. (Ani DiFranco’s lyric from “32 Flavors” comes to mind: “God help you if you’re an ugly girl, ‘course too pretty is also your doom. ‘Cause everyone harbors a secret hatred, for the prettiest girl in the room.”)

What’s really awful is that so many of us jump on the female body and face shaming bandwagon; female editors of magazines and blogs readily humiliate one female celebrity after another for having “let herself go,” while championing the ones with “hot bods.” And we, the female consumers, hungrily feast on such mindless (and destructive) garbage—the reason such content continues to headline magazine stands. But in doing so, aren’t we betraying our own? After all, at least 90% of the body and face shaming in our culture is targeted at women. That is, until the likes of Lena Dunham hijacked HBO (booyah!!) and rewrote the rules.

The same goes with sex. It has long been the culture that if a man and woman have an adulterous affair, it will be the woman who bears the brunt of judgement. A guy who can pick up a new chick every night is “THE MAN!” (I literally read a text thread between by boyfriend’s friends about this recently), while a woman who’d do the same is a “slut.” And these are not just attitudes held by guys alone. Us girls will often deliver punishment to our gender-kin far worse than anything any man could think up.

VivaChrissy3

But why? Why can’t we all be in on this together? We women are collectively a marginalized sex, which, whether we like it or not, puts us on the same team—team WO-MAN. Historically, we are an abused and oppressed sex. The HeForShe movement is great because it calls on men to take part in achieving gender equality (hoorah!) But I believe there is also another movement that needs to happen for healing and progression: it’s time for women to embrace women. We should be kind to one another, compassionate, and forgiving. After all, can’t we relate 100% to one another’s experiences? We’re all, more or less, on the same menstrual clock, which brings with it a ripe palate of physical and emotional extremes (you’re telling’ me!). Many of us bear children and then perform what is arguably the most incredible act of humankind—we give birth to other people! We have boobs and vaginas which are great and weird all at once, and many of us can relate to the shitty pain and expense we choose to go through to get most of our body hair removed (why? WHY??). One in four of us are or will be survivors of sexual assault. I repeat, one in four of us are or will be survivors of sexual assault. And for the most part, we women are emotionally intelligent, sensitive, and creative creatures; it was long believed in ancient civilizations that women held the key to the spiritual, sacred, and divine realm—a belief drawn from a woman’s connectedness to her body.

So instead of seeing that girl with the Audrey-Hepburn waistline, artsy glasses, and Pippi Longstocking freckles as the enemy, why not embrace her as the long lost sister you never had? Why not empathize with her weaknesses and celebrate in her victories? After all, we girls have got some statistics to change. Right?

Photography by Antonio Beliveau, featuring Viva Bianca and Chrissy Dunham. 

 

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *