Femininity is policed enough already by society at large. Women attacking other women isn’t helping.
“She dresses like a slut.”
“She’s such a bimbo.”
“She might find someone if she wasn’t so fat.”
While sexism and gender-based prejudice can work in many different directions, when people hear “sexism” they usually imagine ways in which women, on the basis of their gender, are discriminated against or treated differently. They also assume it’s usually by men.
That’s a fair thing to initially think, as most women can likely attest to facing prejudice at some point in their lives. But sexism isn’t just an issue between so-called “opposite sexes” (I hate that term; thinking of men and women as opposites is not helpful). Sexism happens among people of the same gender, and one form of prejudice that needs to be talked more about is sexism by women against women.
Sexism and misogyny are so deeply embedded into our society that they can be invisible; they are there, but masquerading as “normal.” Harshly judging the woman who was assaulted while wearing revealing clothing as risk-taking, the woman who decided to get cosmetic surgery as vain and shallow, and the woman who decided not to have children as unfulfilled are all examples of sexism. And these are examples of ideas and judgments that I routinely notice being circulated by women against other women.
We’ve all been guilty of it at some point—judging another woman for living her life a way that we don’t understand. People talk about reclaiming oppressive language, which can be awesome for generating counter discourse, but as far as I’m concerned, no woman should call another woman a slut. Ever. The same goes for how we may offhandedly critique women’s bodies and promote negative stereotypes.
This isn’t to say that, as a woman, you have to like every single woman you meet. This isn’t to suggest that you can’t dislike another woman or challenge her on something or argue with her in the workplace. You don’t have to let another woman off with something you think is wrong or needs to be called out for because you’re both women. But refraining from feeding into stereotypes can eventually lead to dismantling them.
It’s also important that women who practice feminist politics be considerate and supportive of women’s choices, no matter what they are. As a feminist, I think it’s important to be critical of things that happen in society and think about why we do things certain ways as indicative of larger gender issues. Still, it’s not cool for me to belittle women who choose to change their last names after marriage, or choose to focus on motherhood over careers. Critical thinking is important and necessary, but so is support and respect for all the ways women choose to live their lives.
One major example of women on women sexism is how we police other women’s expressions of their gender. There is no one way to express femininity. For some, it may be dresses and makeup. For others, it may be dressing in a more stereotypically masculine or androgynous way. If they identity as women, they are all still women. Their femininity is valid, no matter how it is expressed.
From slamming women who prefer a look that some consider “manly” or “unfeminine” as not caring enough, to slamming women who we consider to be very attractive and hyper-feminine as caring too much, femininity is policed enough already by society at large. Women attacking other women isn’t helping.
As women, especially women challenging sexism and patriarchy through our work, writing, and advocacy, we need to look closely at how we may be perpetrating daily sexisms against other women without even knowing it. We need to help each other up, not push each other down.
Zaren Healey White is a St. John’s, Newfoundland based journalist, web editor, and blogger. She is completing her Master of Gender Studies degree at Memorial University in St. John’s, having already completed a Master of Arts in English at McGill University in Montreal. Zaren blogs at Of Sugar-Baited Words.