sister solidarity is the new black

Or: In which we are inspired by Selma opening up a can of whup-ass

Some things just demand to be written.  They sort of grab hold of your collar out of the blue and get their nose right in your face and say “Hellloooo!  Get on it sister!”  The signs were coming at me from all corners this morning: "This is what the story is about today."

Sometime in the mid-morning I read this fabulous post by my friend Selma, which prompted a too-long and impassioned response.  But as I read over the thing before burdening her blog with it, it started screaming "I BELONG ON YOUR OWN BLOG."  Then I caught some catty jesting coming over Twitter.  Then there was an unnecessarily barbed comment in a meeting.  And here I am. 

Selma’s piece was about several things, but mostly about her rising up and taking a stand against some uncalled for catty behaviour by some acquaintences.  Opening up the proverbial can of whup-ass and the subsequent "Whoo! I rule!."  But the issues she raises have resonated with me for many years. 

So, a few hours prior to reading that I’m on the streetcar headed to Union Station, and there are two attractive young women in the seats in front of me having a conversation.  It is just chatting about mutual friends and what-are-you-doing-this-weekend kind of conversation, nothing real interesting to your average eavesdropping blogger.

Then another attractive young woman gets on and sits near the front.  She’s turned sideways in her seat and is surveying the people in the car behind her.  Again, nothing so remarkable, until she fixes on the two women in front of me and starts giving them the old “up and down” look.  Not just an “up and down checking out the outfit” kind of look, but a repeated “'I scorn thee' up and down;” increasingly scornful with each journey of the eyeballs.  She “ups and downs” them for so long I wonder if she is trying to get them to notice her doing so.

So I get thinking, what is it about them that irks you so?  All three of you are attractive, well dressed and seemingly going off to decent jobs – certainly luckier than the majority of the women on this planet.

I get to the station and onto the subway and forget about them; until later in the morning when I read Selma’s story about self confidence, soldiering on, nightgowns, cows catty sorts, words and brown eggs.

This is not a new issue – us women have talked about us being catty to each other for decades.  Most of us have probably behaved this way on one level or another.  At the very least we've seen it – starting in elementary school.  There are numerous explanations for it put out there by various factions – from the “you women are petty and shallow creatures anyway” to (what I consider to be the most logical one) the notion that we have a good deal of fucked-upness based on centuries of cultural oppression and objectification. 

I can just see my mother cringe.  She and I differ greatly on the merits of the women’s movement and women’s issues.  I expect that’s related to her devotion to Christianity, one of the biggest culprits in the objectification of us gals as far as I’m concerned, but that’s another post. 

And let me say, this is not a man-bashing post.  I love men, I adore them.  I’ve often said I’d rather hang around with the men at a party than the women.  Maybe that’s got something to do with womens' inherent prickliness toward one another.  But I can say with confidence, I have many amazing men in my life and I do not hold them responsible for my, or anyone else’s, fucked-upness.   Our fucked-upness wasn’t their idea.

I guess you could say it’s more of a women-bashing post.  Because let me put this out there sisters: as long as we are divided, we’ll always be conquered.  As long as we are judgemental of each other and our bodies, our looks, our beliefs, our actions, our intentions – as long as we make catty, underhanded remarks designed to make ourselves feel somehow superior to each other – we will not rise above anything that held us down in the past.

Selma says she thinks people should have to obtain a license before they speak.  How about we just think for a minute about the power of words?  I am still working on rising above someone telling me I wasn’t talented enough more than 30 years ago.  And once, in my early 20s, I was dancing with a guy who told me I was a bad dancer.  At 49, I’m only learning to dance with joy now. 

I take 100% responsibility for my own life.  I’m not shifting blame for my issues to other people – but I am trying illustrate the power that words have.  I would suggest that my best qualities – my strength, self assurance, compassion and competency are no doubt also the result of the many positive messages passed on to me. 

What I’m trying to say is that maybe us gals should think more about these issues that seem to pit us against one another, wherein we see each other as the enemy.  Because there’s room for all of us.  We’ve shown we’re strong, capable, innovative, and, by nature, we work great in team situations.  Imagine what it would be like if we focused positive energy on one another; imagine if we directed our attention away from our privileged selves and directed our energies to our less fortunate sisters, and said “yeah – rock on girl.”  The world, in turn, might be rocked right off its axis.

One of the last signs that I should write this post:  After I drafted out part of this piece, I saw that a friend had posted this on her facebook page:

Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.  ~ Buddha

8 Comments

  1. Reply
    Little hat September 18, 2010

    Ironically, I, a male, will post the first comment. WOW! Jennifer, an impassioned post. ‘The lady’s on fire’
    It may be historic it may be social inculturation, it may be the male hegemony but, yes I agree, women do sometimes behave in strange and destructive ways. On the other hand at least they know they have feelings where many men are blind to any emotional life. I am often envious of women’s solidarity and willingness to share the personal. I observe them as, more often than not, a caring gender who express the full gamut of emotions. That’s what i love about women. I count women as my best friends and preferred company because I can relax and share that vulnerable side of me.
    Perhaps each quality has its productive and its destructive sides – YIN and YANG.
    My son teaches in a primary school at the moment and he made the comment last week (on our camping trip) that the women in his staff room are constantly bitching. I asked him about his response. He said he just disappears with a fellow teacher and goes off campus for a quiet lunch. Interestingly his fellow teacher is a young female colleague who also finds it nauseating.
    I work with a young team of mostly women. I am probably seen as a father figure though I think of myself as a peer. I find them very mature, balanced and intelligent. I may have consciously recruited young people with this mix of qualities but I am encouraged by their attitude.
    It seems not all women are like that. But it does seem a place where many go without too much thought.
    PS I have found your Essex (and London, Cambridge etc). The other Essex is in Massachusetts over Boston way.
    PPS Come and live in Australia – we’re all perfectly balanced human beings here!!!.

  2. Reply
    Jennifer September 18, 2010

    Yeah Steve, you are right, we already do have a good solidarity going in many respects – much of it is manifest in this bloggy world.
    I’m with your son – can’t bother spending time with people who constantly bitch. Life’s too short.
    Ultimately, as you say, we’ve got many terrific qualities and I’m proud of those. As do you blokes. Sometimes we’re not on the same plane in terms of communicating, but thank goodness we try! 🙂
    PS – didn’t mention that the catty tweet and the unnecessarily barbed comment were both by males. I suppose it would do us ALL well to pay attention to the message we send out.
    Thanks for your great response. I love that the first one was from a man!
    Oh – by the way – my pal Selma is Australian! hahaha So maybe TWO Australians (those catty gals) are not perfectly balanced. hehe

  3. Reply
    Selma September 18, 2010

    This is just a fantastic post, Jen. It is something I have thought about for a long, long time. I have seen the cattiness and backstabbing among women and it really upsets me. I really don’t understand the motivation for it although I suspect it may come from a place of insecurity – you know the type of thing: I feel bad about myself but I will feel better if I paint you as a loser. That way of thinking becomes dangerous because it can quickly become habitual. I have seen it be terribly destructive in the workplace.
    I am very happy for someone to pull me up for anything I do or say that might be unacceptable in a one-on-one situation but to gossip about it and turn it into something it isn’t, is inappropriate. There is too much of that kind of thing going on.
    I almost think we need a new feminist trailblazer to come along and deconstruct and redefine feminism in a modern setting. I do firmly believe that many women feel divisiveness is preferable to solidarity. And that ain’t good.
    In the end we have to realise the measure of ourselves is gauged by the way we treat others and that our words should always be placed with care.
    I am so inspired that you wrote this, Jen. You have completely made my day. Thank you XXX

  4. Reply
    Marilyn September 19, 2010

    Great post Jennifer – I remember the old saying ‘If you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all’ but there are those people who forget or just plain don’t care about this then the other saying ‘What you think of me is none of my business’.
    I try I live by the first and I to remember the second when others don’t.

  5. Reply
    Jennifer September 19, 2010

    Really glad to have done so my friend. You inspired it. And I agree with you, there needs to be a fresh approach to feminism – it’s still being demonized, astonishing, really, in the 21st century. What I don’t get is that so many of us have accepted that deomonization. It’s the new “f-word.” Sad.

  6. Reply
    Jennifer September 19, 2010

    Thanks Marilyn. Those old sayings have stuck around for a reason – they’re wise. I’m taking all this as a reminder to live, as you do, by the idea. As for what others think about me, I’m lucky in that I never really cared about that. Anyway, if we stay true to ourselves, people (genuine ones anyway) appreciate that.

  7. Reply
    Tricia September 20, 2010

    Girl – one of the worst parts about having a baby is being judged by the other new mothers – especially about breastfeeding. I suspect this ego based, judgmental thing is just as bad among men, however, given the way countries and religions are always trying to wipe each other off the face of the planet. In the end, it’s all about Hating to make yourself feel better about yourself.

  8. Reply
    Jennifer September 20, 2010

    Yeah and that is going on more and more these days – to a frightening degree. Most frightening thing is, politicians are using it as a tool, pitting us against each other. More divide and conquer.

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