“I just get along better with men.”
“Women are so catty!”
These are statements I’ve heard my entire life, not from chauvinistic men, but from other women. And, up until a few years ago, from my own mouth.
Then, a friend of mine, a woman herself, said something that shifted my paradigm:
“I don’t trust women who don’t like other women.”
Looking back, her stance wasn’t any more feminist or any less full of disdain for some of her fellow sex, but it was the first time someone had suggested to me that it didn’t make sense to dislike your own kind. It got me thinking.
I am a woman, after all.
And yet, I’m most likely to hear about the hassles of dealing with women from another one. There are few things more ironic than one woman telling another female friend or colleague how unlikeable the sex is in general.
We are both women, after all.
I think of myself as generally likeable and fairly easy to get along with. I’m not passive-aggressive or habitually catty. I’m not perfect, of course, but I’ve yet to meet anyone of the human species who qualifies for that title. I aspire, at least, to be someone worthy of friendship and professional collaboration, despite my reproductive anatomy.
And I have a daughter.
I’d like to think she will grow up to be a good friend, a competent coworker, and a member of society that isn’t assumed to be unpleasant.
Of course, women who don’t like other women don’t mean my daughter.
They mean those other women. The women who were horrible to them in high school, quite a few years before they could rightfully wear the crown of woman. And they mean the co-worker or neighbor who was underhanded - and female.
And despite being a woman themselves, they - and I’m going to say we, because I’ve done it, too - we take those experiences with specific individuals and we decide that women as a rule can’t be trusted.
Women, we decide, are catty, passive-aggressive, sneaky, manipulative, and mean.
My sisters, let me tell you: that’s sexism, pure and simple. And it’s the worst kind of sexism because it requires a certain amount of self loathing to buy into. I can’t decide if it’s sexism we merely perpetuate - what with all the stereotypes of this nasty woman we see all over our media - or a brand of sexism that for some strange reason we actually created. Chicken or egg, what matters is that it stinks.
And it’s not good for us.
It’s not good for me and it’s not good for you.
It closes us off from potential partnerships and remarkable friendships. It prejudices us to half the population. It divides us so that we continually fall to the bottom of society’s priority list. And, worst of all, it taints our image of ourselves. (Unless, of course, we’re able to convince ourselves that we have managed to rise above our femaleness, which still suggests we’ve simply conquered an inherently despicable part of ourselves.)
I’ve recently joined a networking group for women entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh. It’s been an amazing experience. The members have offered me brilliant ideas and much-needed emotional support. Yes, they’ve used terms like “safe space” during mastermind meetings, and they didn’t balk when I broke down and cried during a business coaching session; but they’ve also used terms like “ideal client” and “key collaborations”. They’ve come up with creative marketing solutions for fellow members and had the guts to call each other on their crap when that crap was getting in the way of success.
They’ve made me proud.
I am a woman, after all.
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