A depressing number of studies show that, unlike men, women will often dislike one another for no logical reason. Females are quick to make negative assumptions, and less likely to become friends with someone who could be perceived as a sexual rival. The same studies also note that men (very predictably) don’t suffer from this particular problem. So what’s really going on here? Why are girls so mean to each other? And why do we all just blindly accept all this as normal?
Women dole out snarky remarks, icy side glances and back-handed compliments, while the guys carry on with their seemingly bottomless supply of team spirit. Men have kinship and bromance, while women seem locked in an eternal Alien vs. Predator style arch-rivalry. It has gotten so bad that many of us have foregone female friendships altogether in favor of “being one of the guys.”
What’s Wrong With Just Being One of the Guys?
The Social Issues Research Center study on friendship found that an overwhelming number of women did not consider themselves to be “typical girls” and preferred to be friends with guys. “In our female only focus groups a distinctive theme emerging was how women prefer to be seen as one of the lads,” the study reported, “Indeed, many of the women, perhaps inadvertently, reinforced the stereotype of ‘other’ women (i.e. not them) as being bitchy and back stabbing.” Let us just emphasize the “inadvertently reinforced the stereotype” part here. Although it has become normal for girls to say that they can’t relate to other women and that they get along better with guys, what if this is just subconsciously buying into the idea that being a girl is basically bad, while being a guy is good?
Think about the way guys talk, especially the way they insult each other, “Stop being such a pussy / stop being such a little bitch and grow some balls / you throw like a girl.” Now think about the way girls insult each other: whore, slut, cunt etc. Do you notice anything strange about this? “The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl,” writes author Jessica Valenti, “The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a girl is the ultimate insult.” So of course, on a subconscious level it makes sense that most women would want to be “one of the guys” when being one of the girls means being worse somehow.
Besides, “the backstabbing girlfriend” stereotype is so ingrained in our culture, that our brain’s natural Confirmation Bias does the rest of the leg work. Confirmation Bias works on a subconscious level so that we tend to notice only the things that confirm our beliefs, and ignore anything that might contradict them. If you honestly believe that “girls are all drama”, from a psychological standpoint you are more likely to notice instances of girl drama, and disregard instances of girls being easy going and friendly.
Why Do We All Just Accept Women Hating Women As Normal?
It her TED X Youth talk, Caroline Heldman suggests that a process she calls self objectification might be to blame. “[Self-objectification] lowers your ability to get along with other women,” she explains, “We engage in female competition. We see male attention as the holy grail of our existence by-and-large and so we compete with other women for our own self-esteem because we see it as this cherished finite resource. So we go into parties and we know where we are in the pretty girl pecking order and when another woman is valued for being a sex object, it actually makes us feel bad about ourselves.” So we call her a slut or a bitch and pretend that she is somehow less of a person than we are.
The Birth of Women Hating Women
Of all the insults directed at women, slut is probably the most common. But what’s so terrible about being slutty anyway? Why is it so bad that a woman has more sexual partners than you? Or that her skirt is shorter than yours? Why do so many of us care so much about what other women do with their bodies?
The reason is quite simple. Habit. Traditionally, the only bargaining power women ever had lay in their sexuality. For most of recorded history women couldn’t work, couldn’t get an education, couldn’t vote, couldn’t produce works of art unless they took on a male alias, they could barely go outside without a male chaperone. Without a man to support her, a woman was almost guaranteed to end up homeless or worse. Short of becoming a prostitute, there was literally no other way for a woman to survive but to get married. And so, it kind of made sense that “slutty” women would be kind of terrifying. By potentially luring away their husbands, slutty girls posed a very real threat to a married woman’s future. And nothing stirs the flames of human hatred quite as swiftly as fear. And thus girl-hate was born.
But that was then, and this is now. There is nearly a century separating women from those sad days. Women no longer need a man just to qualify for a normal and financially stable life. But it turns out, as a culture we still haven’t quite adjusted to this paradigm shift. The idea of women hating women has become absorbed into the status quo.
Just think of all the Disney princesses we grew up watching. From Ariel to Cinderella, not a single one ever had a female friend. In fact, if there were other women present in the movie, they were either villains or rivals. “There is only one princess in the Disney tales, one girl who gets to be exalted,” explains Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, “Princesses may confide in a sympathetic mouse or teacup, but they do not have girlfriends…princesses avoid female bonding. Their goals are to be saved by a prince, get married, and be taken care of the rest of their lives.”
Though feminism has brought women a long way from the rigid gender norms of times gone by, girl-hate has managed to fly under the radar. In large part, this is because as a culture, we’re still teaching girls that the greatest thing they have to offer the world is their sexuality. Every Disney princess had only one hand to play – only one thing that saved her from a miserable life: Her beauty and the prince that found it irresistible. If your value as a human being is measured by where you fall on the “hotness” scale, your insecurity is going to overshadow any possibility of friendship or compassion towards another woman, especially if you feel she is more attractive than you. It is impossible to be friends with a person that you feel takes away from your perceived value as a human. Until we can figure out how to think of ourselves as more than an assortment of body parts of varying degrees of attractiveness, girl-hate will remain one of the last challenges facing women today. With that in mind, we created the below 5 step manifesto for getting rid of girl-hate once and for all! We hope that you will join us by spreading the word to #eliminategirlhate!
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Eliminate Girl Hate! A 5 Step Manifesto for Spreading Love
1. I will wear what I want, eat what I want and sleep with who I want, and I will let other girls do the same. What another girl chooses to do with her vagina is none of my business.
2. I will stop calling people “pussies” and telling them to “grow some balls.” I will stop equating femininity with weakness.
3. I hereby promise to stop using the expression “real women” to only refer to “curvy women.” All women are real women, no matter their shape and size. I will no longer buy into the idea that there is one right way to be a girl.
4. I will stop looking for reasons to hate the girls I meet. I will stop seeing other women as competition and feel threatened by their confidence.
5. I will no longer mistake self-comparison for “inspiration.” Another woman’s beauty is not a measure of my own self worth.