It’s been just over a week since the 45th President of the United States was inaugurated. He’s not my president (literally, rather than in the powerfully symbolic way many Americans are saying it) but I wasn’t happy about it. I could fill a whole blog post, in fact many blog posts, about how and why I wasn’t happy about it. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to talk about us gals.
The day after the Inauguration, women (and men alongside them) all over the world marched in protest of the views of men like the new President, of the inequality women face, of the way we’re negatively treated. I applaud the marchers. I didn’t take part. I could say that it was because I was working but really, I’m just not the marching type. I’m the writing type (obviously). I applaud women standing together to protest inequality. It’s a beautiful thing.
It’s an especially beautiful thing in view of something a little uglier I’ve noticed of late. It’s something perhaps we don’t want to discuss. Feminism generally targets those institutions, governments and individual men who oppress women, who discriminate against women and who regularly insult women. Quite right. Someone needs to speak out against them and it’s important that we do. However, we seem to be ignoring a rather large group of people who constantly diminish our worth and our self esteem. Other women.
I’ll give you a few examples of what I’m talking about. Last year in the US, a former Playboy Bunny decided to take a photo of a woman she did not know and share it online, along with a disgusting comment. She claimed later that she meant to only share with a friend, as if that made it ok. I was initially shocked but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I’ve heard countless women make nasty comments about another woman’s appearance.
Here in the UK, when the Conservative party was looking for a new leader, candidate Andrea Leadsom made the claim that being a mother gave her more of a stake in the future of the country, compared to Theresa May, who has no children. Again, I was shocked. Whether or not you’re a mother shouldn’t enter into how qualified you are to do any job. But then, how many of us have faced similar comments? And how many of those comments have come from women? Not all, I suspect, but some.
After the US Presidential election, a woman emailed another woman (who happened to be the Mayor of a town in West Virginia) describing Michelle Obama as an ‘ape in heels’. Ok, this isn’t just a nasty comment about another woman’s appearance, it’s also got a rather racist vibe to it, although both the sender and recipient tried to claim otherwise during the backlash when the email was made public. But still. Michelle Obama, who not only maintains a constant air of dignity, but also campaigns tirelessly for the rights of girls. None of that matters. What counts is how she looks.
We’re regularly told about the damaging effects of women’s magazines that show images of women that have been perfected (in the opinion of some), first by professional stylists then by editing software. On top of these images are articles about how to keep your boyfriend interested in you, how to lose weight in ways that are usually unhealthy and sometimes border on dangerous and how we can shell out endless amounts of money in an attempt to look like women someone has decided look the correct way. As you can probably tell by now, I hate these magazines. They cause misery. But who makes the decisions on running these articles and including these images? A 2008 article from Forbes tells us that the top magazine editors are all women.
When a man recently directed at me the kind of nasty sexist comment we all face at least occasionally, the many women present didn’t defend me or encourage me to defend myself. Instead they told me that men are just like that and we have to put up with it. Which is pretty much insulting both genders at once. Men are apparently animals who can’t help but be disgusting and sexist and women should just submissively shut up and accept it. Neither of which I see as true. Shamefully, I’m not the confrontational type, so I did shut up. I shouldn’t have. I will try to have the strength not to when this almost inevitably happens again.
Am I saying that the discrimination and oppression of women is actually the fault of other women? No, of course I’m not. I’m saying that it doesn’t help the situation when women tear each other down.
To quote Tina Fey’s character in Mean Girls (an awesome film, by the way), ‘You need to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores’.
On a more positive note, there are plenty of women out there who are supporting other women. I already mentioned Michelle Obama, who I really admire. I’ve taught my own daughter her now famous quote: ‘When they go low, you go high’. Malala Yousifrazi, who risked her own life in her determination to become educated and to spread a message about the importance of education, especially for girls in countries where it’s too often denied to them.
Emma Thompson, a supremely talented actress (I dare anyone to watch her performance in Love Actually and not shed a tear) but also a human rights advocate and a highly intelligent and witty woman who behaves exactly as she wishes, seemingly without a care of what anyone might say about it.
I could go on. But I want to end with this. We can all be one of those women who encourages, supports and defends, rather than criticising and mocking each other on appearance or irrelevant personal choices. We can all be positive role models for each other. Do we all need to be best friends? No. We just need to be a bit kinder and a bit more considerate.
Thanks for reading.