“I don’t like other women—I just don’t trust them.” While I have certainly heard women express this sentiment in the past, last week when I heard three different women say this, it struck me as particularly sad and curious. Their comments made me feel sad not just because I have many close women friends in my life and feel that any woman not experiencing female friendship is missing out on one of life’s greatest gifts, but also because I realized that these comments indicated something much more serious about women’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth. I mean, if you don’t like people who are similar to you, how good can you feel about yourself? It reminds me of the Groucho Marx quote that Woody Allen repeated in the movie Annie Hall: “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member.”
I know many women feel this way. No one seems to question this belief and not much research has been done to understand why so many women dislike and distrust other woman, how this belief harms the individual woman, and how it harms women as a whole. There appears to be little effort in progress to change this disempowering belief. Oddly enough it seems to be a culturally acceptable form of misogyny.
I find this phenomenon odd because I believe that if any other marginalized group said that they don’t like or trust others of their kind, it would be viewed as dysfunctional and as bigotry — but not with women. Instead it seems to be viewed as realistic — “Why of course you don’t trust other women, we all know they’re snarky gossips!”
In researching this phenomenon I have found many attempted explanations for why women so often don’t like other women. One explanation is that women are gossips, women are drama queens, girls bully girls, and it’s just in their DNA. There are also more substantial explanations include women compete for men, women are not comfortable or trained to deal with competition, women want to bond and connect with the power (i.e. the men’s club), women as a marginalized group buy into the dominant group’s view of them (they bond with the aggressor), women fear disapproval of their male peers, women’s work carries a lower value, and if a woman has a poor relationship with her mother, she will be less likely to trust other women. I think the following quote from Laurie Penny’s book, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution helps to define the problem:
“Girls and grown women are exhorted to be beautiful at all costs, to compete with other women, for love, for attention, for the few consolation prizes handed out to those who try hardest. Pretty girls and ugly girls are taught to fear one another: after all, if [a woman’s] power is a product of ‘erotic capital’, there can be no solidarity between those who are competing for those consolation prizes. You can’t win. If you choose to devote less of your time to grooming as a political statement, you’re a ‘hairy bra-burning feminist’ and nobody has any obligation to listen to anything you have to say, but if you embrace conventional beauty standards, or appear to enjoy them for their own sake, you are presumed to be a shallow and manipulative slut.”
I suspect that this basic dislike and distrust of ourselves is part of the reason women struggle with self-esteem issues, career issues, self-care, and eating disorders. I suspect that by getting to the root of this problem, and beginning to love ourselves and others like us, women can begin to resolve some of the issues that plague their current relationships. We deserve to be in an alliance with other women and be proud of the similarities we share. We are stronger together than we are apart.
I would love your feedback. Let’s begin the conversation . . .