Acrimony between women sucks, let’s stop it by Ruth-Eloise Lewis

So, the other day I was in that lingering unmotivated lull of a mood where I didn’t even want to leave the confines of my comfy bed, let alone do anything productive like pick up a book or go outside. I decided to switch on I-player and watch something entertaining to keep my brain from shriveling up entirely. I decided to watch a program called Snog Marry Avoid. I should have really guessed from the title it wasn’t going to be a high caliber affair. But ten minutes in, and I felt more depressed than ever.

If you’ve never watched this program (then good for you please don’t) basically all that happens is they take a woman, parade her in front of this weird electronic ‘pod’ machine thing and insult everything about her appearance. Then they ask a bunch of men if they want to marry her, to which they all inevitably respond saying SHE’S HIDEOUS etc. And then they transform her into a beautiful magical butterfly and all the men fancy her and blah blah happy ending blah. The thing that annoyed me most about this program wasn’t even the glaringly obviously shitty and sexist stuff like automatically assuming all these women are heterosexual and base their entire levels of self-worth and validation solely on male opinion. That’s just so bleak I can barely be bothered to comment on it. It was the fact that it seemed to be based entirely on a woman-judging-woman formula, perpetuating acrimony between women to an explicitly obvious level. Can you imagine a program in which the genders were flipped around entirely? Not really. Because women are supposed to be ‘bitchy’ towards each other, so much so that it’s presented as almost natural.

The insults were aimed primarily at the amount of makeup the women were wearing and/or how much skin they were showing. While I can  advocate the calls they kept making to ‘natural beauty’ but this should be about being valued on characteristics such as kindness, compassion and intelligence, the presenter kept banging on about stamping out a thing called ‘fakery.’ Fakery= too much makeup or fake tan= too obvious= too threatening. This is not about  natural beauty at all. It is still shaming women on their appearance, waging their worth as objects. They were accused of trying too hard, of making too much effort, of not getting it ‘right.’ Just another form of control that breeds such a negative attitude that thrives off a destructive and tired notion of women hating each other. It’s such an effective form of control; making women dislike each other, setting them in competition with each other, celebrating the fact that they should value each other on their cosmetic consumption. In short, acrimony makes women weaker.

This way of thinking stems into our everyday lives and it manifests in a constant, nagging judgment of other women. I’ll be the first to admit that. But, there also seems to be a distinction between the different women in your life, depending on how well you know them. I mean, the women who you are closest to like your dearest friends/family… you have a wealth of love, compassion and time for them that will never fade, no matter what. But this level of understanding never extends towards women who you don’t know. Because you are taught to feel threatened and insecure and not good enough and everything horrible. Let me give you a couple of scenarios. Ever found yourself flicking through Facebook and ending up at say… your boyfriends ex-girlfriend? Don’t deny it, it happens. And you irrationally deconstruct her appearance bit by little bit, try and convince yourself she has a big nose or crap hair or something equally banal. She’s probably actually pretty cool and you probably have a lot in common. But, that’s classic acrimony. Or imagine you are in a club and there’s a super hot babe who might happen to have a lot of makeup on or be wearing a shorter skirt and ALL the other women are looking at her up and down, giving off evil telepathic vibes. Just because she is a super hot babe and we are judging her appearance, feeling insecure and jealous and instead of assessing where that feeling stems from. Unnnggh I hate it so much and YET I DO IT ALL THE TIME. Let’s all admit that? It will make the next bit easier.

Luckily, I’m reading an incredible book called Cunt by Inga Muscio and she devotes a whole chapter to this conundrum. Muscio states: “the idea of acknowledging the presence of acrimony between all women is pretty dang-awful daunting to me. It extends far past jealously, cattiness and general shitass vibes into highly oppressive forms of ageism, classism, homophobia, objectification and racism.” She also highlights acrimony between women as a primarily Western concept through the story of her Iranian dance teacher named Jaleh. Muscio recounts how her and Jaleh would talk after class about culture and freedom. Before these discussions, she always presumed women in fundamental Islamic countries, for example in this instance, had it way worse than us here in the West. We have ‘freedom’, we can wear what we want, do what we want, lie in bed and watch bloody Snog Marry Avoid if we want. Yet, when Jaleh came to America she was bereft about the levels of meanspiritness and malevolence women project onto one another in their daily lives. Iranian women are very consciously aware of gender-explicit oppression but they have each other’s back. Muscio asks if really all our freedom is worth it if women don’t actually like each other much at all. Furthermore, “women choose to be catty, cruel, prejudiced, competitive or jealous of each other partly because we grow up learning that negative behavior towards women is perfectly acceptable, and partly because it is a difficult task to see ourselves in our perceptions.”

What we need to do is sort this out, argues Muscio. And we can consciously get in the habit of doing this, stopping ourselves, asking “What do I see here that is threatening me?” and then “What of myself do I see here?” And attempting to answers those questions as honestly and truthfully as possible. I’m not suggesting some instant feminist utopia where all women are complimenting each other’s hair and lipstick every day. But, attempting to  make small steps in your mentality in order to try and eliminate this larger problem of acrimony. Turn off Snog Marry Avoid and the campaign against ‘fakery’, be as ‘fake’ as you want to be as long as it makes you feel good and happy. Stop picking other women apart on their appearance. Every time you feel a negative thought popping in your head, try and replace it with a compliment. Maybe even say that compliment out loud. Ladies, it’s about time we started to love each other.

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