I don’t know if anyone who reads my column has noticed, but I’m a pretty big fan of feminism. After a couple of glasses of wine, I will talk about the finer points of sexual politics and the varying and dazzling disappointments of the patriarchy like there is no tomorrow. But importantly, not only am I a fan of feminism, I’m also a big fan of femininity. Before I go on, I’d like to qualify what I mean by ‘femininity.’ Femininity is, in my opinion, being a woman or embracing the womanly aspects of yourself in any way you see fit. Femininity in men is incredible to see, femininity is powerful, femininity is facemasks with your girlfriends listening to dangerous amounts of Nelly Furtado and femininity is going for a run in the rain and wanting to scream. In summary, femininity has endless possibilities and that’s what I love about it.
Femininity, or cultural perceptions of it, often end up being squeezed into a kind of hierarchy. I always get defensive when people discuss female competitiveness, and when you get defensive, it’s normally because people are right. Women are constantly pitted against each other, in all arenas and all social situations. Work, school, clubs, Topshop changing rooms. It’s always there, simmering under the surface, manifested in side eyes and coldness. Denying that there is competition between women is to miss the wider point completely. Why are women pitted against each other? And who is organising this competition, who is the ringmaster of this gladiatorial, UFC esque world? Just in case anyone is wondering, my cage-fighting name would be ‘The Egg Separator’, which is much catchier than it originally seems.
I love women. I fundamentally believe that my most spiritually fulfilling relationships are with the women in my life, and when women build each other up, the atmosphere of self love and mutual respect is inspiring and intoxicating. But I can’t sit here and say that I don’t ever feel jealous of other women. Most of the situations where my internalised misogyny rears its ugly head are situations where women are evaluated based on their looks, because this is the arena in which women are told they must compete. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche said, ‘We raise girls to be competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing – but for the attention of men.’
If we teach girls, basically from the womb, that their intrinsic worth lies in their physical beauty, not only will girls neglect their spiritual, emotional and professional development, but they will also always see other women as natural enemies.
Facets of modern ‘feminism’ actively encourage this kind of competition between women, with notions of ‘bad’ and ‘good’ feminists. A woman once told me that I couldn’t possibly be a good feminist and also like certain, ‘degrading’ sexual positions. Arranging feminism and womanhood on any kind of merit based scale undermines the principles that make feminism so important and worthwhile. We should be actively combatting superficial competition between women, rather than encouraging it in the name of feminism. Feminism is about choice, about the choice to express your femininity and masculinity in any way that you see fit. If you want to be a stay at home mum, that doesn’t make you a bad feminist. If you want to have an incredible career and never get married, that doesn’t make you a bad woman.
Last week, at a club, I was dancing in what I’m sure could be described as a ‘degrading’ way, having a great time. There was a man, stood behind me, who I hadn’t even noticed, but who was apparently in quite high demand. As I was dancing, a girl grabbed me by the throat and pushed me away from this guy, who she obviously liked enough to physically fight someone over. Luckily, I’d had enough tequila to suppress my inner Egg Separator urges, and I just stumbled slightly and resumed dancing. This story has been told to my friends, laughed over and the girl ridiculed. But really, this girl’s behaviour encapsulates the dangers of pitting women against each other for the attention of men.
It must be an awful feeling to be so determined to catch some man’s attention that you’ll physically assault someone who is just dancing near them. And this isn’t me getting on my high horse, because if I’d been slightly less drunk I’m sure I would’ve decked her. But when the haze clears and the Berocca kicks in, you have to mourn the loss in a situation like that. I’d love to sit down with that girl and have a chat with her, honestly. Because in a situation like that, the biggest losers are the women who have been so indoctrinated by the patriarchy that they too don’t see other women as people, they just see them as competition. Femininity doesn’t have to be a race, and if it does, can it be a three legged one?