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One interesting part about the Bois Locker Room incident was that some girls defended some of the boys involved. Why would they do that? Here’s an explanation.
“Women are another woman’s worst enemy,” is something that we hear often in enough, and if we don’t look too close, it even seems like the truth. Is it really surprising though, when we grow up in a culture that actively teaches women to distrust other women, and prioritize men?
Everything we are hearing about the Instagram chat group ‘Bois Locker Room,’ is horrific and disgusting. One specific part about the incident that really got my attention is the fact that there were some girls who were defending some of the boys involved.
It is easy to label that as one more incident of “women being a woman’s worst enemy,” but that is an oversimplification. I am not defending what those girls are doing –it is 100% wrong. However, if we are to create change, it is necessary to look beyond the obvious.
The fact that women sometimes don’t support other women, seems counterintuitive. After all, wouldn’t it be natural that they identify with other women, and choose to support them? The truth is that in many ways, women are taught to distrust other women.
Oftentimes, women are so deeply conditioned by the patriarchy that they internalize the misogyny, which then spills out on to the women around them.
The movie Thappad, illustrates this very well. It is easy to view Taapsee’s father, a feminist man as a heroic figure who supports her, and her mother as someone who doesn’t. Who unfairly keeps telling her to adjust.
However, as the movie unfolds, we see that her mom, though not a bad person, has internalized some ideas, which in turn were passed on to her by her own mother. Even though she has had a supportive husband, those are ideas that she has just been unable to let go.
A big first step to becoming a good “sister” to the women around us is to question these unconscious biases in ourselves.
A couple of days ago, I came across a post in which, a woman, writing about women’s groups, concluded that they were too much “drama,” as she found that other women were too critical of her. As a result she prefers being friends with men, because they don’t judge her as much. The comments section of that post was filled with women sharing similar experiences.
While the post made me very angry, it also made me think about how, just a few years ago, I would have been agreeing with the woman. It took me a great deal of unlearning my own conditioning to see the light. Mostly, it required my readjusting the lens via which I viewed criticism from other women.
Somehow, when we receive criticism from men, we are taught to take it as feedback “for our own good.” However, similar criticism from a woman, we are told, is because she is “nasty” and “competitive.”
In her book, Chup: Breaking The Silence About India’s Women, for instance, Deepa Narayan points out that women view female bosses as, “stricter, less flexible, less creative, uptight, jealous, more likely to scold and more afraid; they cannot make bold decisions, will pull you down, do pangebaaz, create difficulties for you, breathe down your neck, give you fewer opportunities, will not give promotions, will compete with you, will not appreciate you, talk too much, are always complaining, point out chhoti chhoti, small small, faults and are judgemental.”
One must wonder though –is the perceived “niceness” of male bosses simply benevolent sexism? After all, the response to #MeToo, in which many men suggested that the best solution is to not hire women at all, didn’t exactly suggest that they valued their female subordinates. Could it be that female bosses seem tougher, because they don’t treat women differently from men? That they don’t think women are weaker, less capable or as requiring mollycoddling?
It must also be noted that often, when men do want to criticize women, they route it via a female figure, for example, a father-in-law may ask his wife to convey a criticism about the daughter-in-law to her. This makes the mother-in-law the villain, while the father-in-law himself remains as a kind, uncomplaining father figure.
When one learns to see feedback as simply feedback, devoid of tags, no matter who it comes from, one realizes that women are not nastier than men at all!
It is not that men don’t fight, gossip or criticize each other. They do. However, we rarely see this reflected on the screen. What we do see are many, many movies that celebrate brotherhood. Even when there is a disagreement between men shown, as it was in the movie Dil Chahta Hai, the conflict is shown to be resolved too easily and cleanly. The ultimate message seems to be one of brotherhood and unity.
On the other hand, pop cuture intentionally plays up the conflicts between women. For example, in love triangles involving two men and a woman, one man is usually shown to make a large-hearted “sacrifice” for his “brother.” Whereas women are shown to be catty as they try to “steal the man” from each other.
Movies and TV soaps thus routinely pit women against each other, portraying them as untrustworthy and scheming. We are told repeatedly, that women fight. They create drama. They cannot be trusted.
We lack powerful visuals and stories about women standing up for each other.
Have you ever criticized your MIL, SIL, or female friends out loud? Chances are most women have, especially within the earshot of other women, including their daughters. How often, do we speak with equal passion about the women who have supported us? In my experience, not enough.
What this does is create a vicious cycle in which women believe that women cannot be trusted, and don’t speak well of them. This in turn creates the stereotype that women are women are gossipy, loose-lipped and critical, which again discourages us from being free with our praise of them. It is a chicken or egg question for which there is no answer.
The truth is that women are often the biggest support systems for each other. However, we are taught to devalue this support, and take it for granted. We are not encouraged to speak openly about the good that women do for other women.
Instead, we are taught to be suspicious of other women when they are good to us. We are led to wonder what hidden motive they may have had.
Perhaps nothing causes more damage to sisterhood than the practice of a woman moving into the man’s house after marriage. The woman is suddenly separated from the women that know her best –her mother, perhaps grandmother and her female friends.
It is a little easier to maintain these connections in the age of social media and mobile technology, but it still causes a disconnect, however minor. As women to readjust to the routines in their new household, it is easy to lose sight of these relationships.
I myself moved to a new city after marriage, and between managing work and home, I lost touch with many of my friends. It was my good luck that some of my female friends were patient and understanding of my circumstances, which is why I still have them today. Others, I still haven’t been able to rebuild connections with.
I used to believe that men make better, more supportive friends. That illusion though, broke the moment I started challenging them. As I have become more and more vocal about my feminist beliefs, these supposedly wise, nonjudgmental men have turned on me faster than one can say “Not all men.”
For years, especially as a teenage girl, I censored my own opinions because my male friends told me that I was wrong. For years, I twisted my words to make them seem sweeter and more acceptable to men. Simply because society had taught me, that the egos of boys and men must be massaged. I have since realized that the opinions of men are the world’s most common and the world’s most useless natural resource!
A question to fathers –have you ever told your daughter that she should not wear particular clothes, or that she should lose weight? Congratulations, you’ve just taught her that the opinion of a man she loves, about her body, should take precedence over what she likes or wants.
A question to mothers –do you even for simple decisions, tell your daughter “Ask daddy.” You’ve taught her that no matter what you think, it is the man’s opinion that matters.
A question to all parents –when you notice a man staring at your daughter, or when a male relative makes a comment about your daughter’s body, what do you do? Do you tell them to stop, or do you tell your daughter to cover up, stay safe and stay inside?
Even after the locker room incident, parents of girls are telling them to leave Instagram, or have stricter privacy settings, for the sake of their safety. The underlying message is that the rights of men over those spaces are more important than their own.
Is it any wonder then that some girls seem to believe that the boys in this case, must be right? That they value the friendship of these boys more than they value female friendships?
My life experiences have made me realize that just an accident of birth is not enough for women to support women. In a culture that constantly signals that women are nasty, untrustworthy and cannot be depended on, sisterhood, like any other attitude, must be learnt.
Often that involves unlearning the conditioning that we have been subjected to all our lives. It requires us to clamp down on the inner voice that tells us not to trust.
It is important that sisterhood be taught –by celebrating the women around us, by telling the stories of how we have been lifted by them, by teaching young women to have more confidence in their own voices rather than in the opinions of men around them. And we must do this together.
To quote Deepa Narayan again, “When women judge women as a group negatively, the systems that devalue women win. When women feel alone, the systems that thrive on women’s aloneness win. And it is precisely because women are diminished collectively as a group that the personal becomes a collective problem that requires collective solutions.”
Let us be louder then, with our praise, rather than our condemnation for other women.
Are individual women unsupportive? Yes. But does that mean that women, as a group, are “a woman’s worst enemy?” The answer is an emphatic no.
Image source: a still from the film Gippy
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