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There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women?

Madeleine Albright (First US female Secretary of State 1997 -2001)

5-friends-you-need-to-dump-right-now-frenemy-fighting

What is the deal with women being bitchy to other women? Is it not bad enough that some men are still offering up sexist, snide comments on internet sites, without women turning on one another?

It is a recurrent theme sadly in books and film as if competitive bitchiness is an accepted part of the female psyche. I’ve heard parents say that school yard bitchiness and bullying is just “girls being girls”. What happened to teaching our children that it’s not cool to be cruel?

We expect to see female bitchiness depicted as a theme in soap operas but worse, this is a mainstay of reality television programs. The first show of the year for My Kitchen Rules saw young twin sisters commenting on another female in the competition as being “old” and a “cougar” in the spirit of “competition”. You can imagine my confusion given it’s a cooking show and not a beauty pageant.  Were those observations even relevant?

I see a lot of positivity and support amongst women, especially in the blogosphere. Women who share ideas and perspectives about the world opening up healthy conversations and dialogues. Women who offer each other advice and kindness. I love a good debate, but unfortunately, we’ve all seen nasty comments in the feeds of Facebook pages, or blog sites, or chat threads, or in Tweets from women about other women (and yes, women about men, men about women – that is certainly true also).

In a world where, as women, we are still trying to find equality in the work place and in the larger world though, why are women so quick to judge each other? Where’s our united front? Sadly in 2014 we are still having to argue against sexist and misogynist remarks about the sisterhood. Women are still fighting for equal pay and equal opportunities in a number of industries. Female athletes still have to fight for sponsorship and recognition. We need only to look at the current Australian leadership to see a lack of female representation in politics.

When women are less than kind to each other are we limiting the cause for unity? Now I am not in any way suggesting that we, as the female species, should be agreeing blindly with all other women in one huge global love fest. It’s ridiculous to assume that could ever happen! Thankfully we are not Stepford wives (shudder), but when did the culture of nasty creep into everyday society?

Stepford

I do believe women watch other women, even more than men do. Perhaps it’s our curious nature. We watch the way they walk, how they hold themselves and how they move. We notice their clothes and their shoes, their lipstick colour and their hairstyle. Women, more so than men, are likely to make snap judgements, good or bad, about other women. We sum up someone by what she does for a living, what handbag she carries, what jewellery she wears, how her children behave in the supermarket or what partner she has on her arm; if she’s single or married. Often it’s quite unconscious and for the most part certainly without any malice.

Occasionally though there seems to be a vibe of competitiveness amongst women which leaves me a little twitchy. In the workplace, in the jungle of school ground drop offs and pick ups, at the local gym. I wonder if it’s a social evolution where in an age of information and perfect selfies, we are all comparing ourselves way too much to others?

Nowhere is it this women-bashing-women phenomenon more prevalent in our society than on social media platforms.

The internet has opened up a whole new world to people wishing to share opinions and express their point of view which is fantastic, but it also allows room for some to spew forth all sorts of negativity. From ‘community’ Facebook pages that actually become a platform for vilifying neighbours and businesses, (I witnessed this only yesterday when a woman expressed an opinion on a community site only for an all in word-brawl to erupt with two other women bullying her for doing so!), to Blogging websites and chat rooms of all descriptions, to Twitter and beyond. The Hashtag seems to be a vehicle for every sarcastic and catty comment under the sun.

#letmebangonaboutbitching! #bitchslapmelater

Last year, for example, Freelance Writer/Blogger, Carly Findlay, found herself making international news when she graciously responded to some pretty awful comments made about her via Reddit. Carly has garnished a large following for her blog Carly Findlay because of her honest, intelligent, humorous and educational accounts of living with a skin condition called ichthyosis. Living with a severe, rare and lifelong skin condition meant that for Carly, it took a lot of courage to share her story as well as pictures of herself.

When she was ridiculed about her appearance via the Reddit WTF page (yes, as in What the Fuck), Carly responded with enormous grace. She suddenly found herself in a whirlwind of positive and supportive interviews – and rightly so.

What’s most disappointing is that despite all of the attention the story garnished and how much positive support Carly received, negative comments reappeared on the Reddit site leading Carly to write an open letter to Reddit via her website. (See details below for Carly’s blog).

I’m absolutely an advocate for freedom of speech. It’s vital to any healthy society, and it’s a very slippery slope to censor on-line content. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, even if we don’t agree with them. Having said that, surely people can use a measured and dignified approach when sharing their points of view? Or am I being too idealistic?

While people in the public domain – Politicians, Celebrities, Sportsmen and women may never be able to shake the ever-present endemic weight of public opinion, how is it ever okay to ridicule or to diminish another for their genetics – their skin colour, their height, eye or hair colour, gender or sexual orientation?  How would it ever be okay to diminish someone for a disability or a skin condition?

Apparently for some people, the anonymity of the internet gives them carte blanche to just unleash their inner asshole.

There is an underlying feeling that if you put yourself out there into the internet blogosphere that you should “expect” some level of criticism even if you’re not a celebrity. Really? Does writing a blog mean I’m openly asking to have my character assassinated? I don’t believe so.

A lot of women’s blog sites reacted last week over the ‘Strippergate’ scandal. In case you missed it, Sunrise presenter David Koch and his female co-host Samantha Armytage found themselves the focus of a scandal when David Koch brought out a pole in response to his co- host’s comments about “stripper” shoes. It was all well and good until the popular site Mamamia picked up the story, believing Koch’s stripper-pole antics to be sexist.

The unexpected down side of the furore that followed was that Samantha Armytage was offended by the Mamamia story, and felt she as a women was being attacked.  On air she said, “I found it to be far more insulting … to be labelled by a woman who doesn’t know me, who obviously doesn’t watch the show because she didn’t know what’s going on, who would describe me as a ‘piece of candy’ for my male co-host, which is utterly ridiculous.” Ouch.

She is obviously a smart woman who is capable of taking care of herself. I’m not suggesting any of this was deliberate and both Mia Freedman and Samantha Armytage received both positive and negative comments following the story. (Via Twitter Freedman and her Editor-in-Chief Jamila Rizvi however received rape and death threats which is just indefensible). It’s just an example of how quickly things on line and via Twitter can escalate, and how followers who weighed in moved form healthy debate to threats and name calling.

Sophia Loren

Mia Freedman, of Mamamia said in response that “debate is healthy”, and on that point I wholeheartedly agree. It isn’t a bad thing to disagree or have an alternative opinion to someone else. In fact it’s healthy. How incredibly boring would the world be if we all droned on with the same diatribe? Both Mia Freedman and Samantha Armytage are switched on chicks who can handle themselves. You have to admire both for that.

The positive outcome of Strippergate is that it did get a lot of people discussing everything from feminism (and are we are man-bashing too much or becoming too PC), to our right to wear whatever shoes we want, to social media etiquette.

My little blog has not been without criticism. I’ve been called a slut in response to talking about dating and sex in my 40’s (gasp!).  I’ve been criticized for my use of the word vagina. (So I can swear but not say vagina? Ummm?). Other bloggers offered great support when it happened, suggesting that you know you’re onto something when you start to attract haters!

I sincerely didn’t know that was a hazard of writing a blog.

I must be really doing something right then because just this week I received a comment on the blog website from someone whose negative comments about my character suggest she doesn’t think much of me. Which is absolutely her prerogative.

The comments were made after my last post “Love and other gushy stuff”. While I concede that my loved up state of being might seem like vomit-fodder to some, it’s my life and what I’m feeling right now. My being in a relationship and being happy caused annoyance.

While I appreciate the effort it would have taken to write a comment, people have free will to follow or not. It takes a lot of energy to harbor bitterness about someone else. If all that energy was spent looking inward and worrying about ourselves and our happiness rather than others, imagine how cool the world might be!

I have been really lucky since launching this blog to have met some incredible women via the internet. I chat with some on-line and I’ve met others in the flesh. I’ve met  professional writers and talented bloggers, who have inspired me and offered advice. I now follow a lot of great blogs and websites headed up by some very cool women of all ages and backgrounds. I’ve chatted with followers of my blog and they have shared their amazing stories or made me laugh with their witty observations about life, marriage, divorce and dating. I’m incredibly lucky also in my life to be surrounded by gorgeous female friends who are unique, beautiful, strong, hilarious and brilliant, and of course, my lovely daughter.

This is the true power of the sisterhood surely?  Sharing ideas and experiences, being supportive of the differences, sharing the joy of another’s successes and their happiness and offering kindness in harder times. Standing up for one another when women are being oppressed makes sense. More sense than the energy it might take to tear others down. Politely agreeing to disagree when we don’t get along. Wouldn’t it be great to teach younger generations of women to be kind to themselves, to build their self-esteem. To broaden awareness that confidence doesn’t equal bitchiness?

Women-holding-hands

I’m happy to send out a universal hug to the sisterhood, hoping that we all stay a little more mindful before we post comments, knowing that someone’s life may be affected by our words. I believe most women are awesome, but there is an element of nasty that is seeping into our society, like a black fog snapping at the ankles of good graces. This is, of course, just one chick’s opinion. If I’m wrong, I may just get bitch slapped later!

Have you ever been on the tail end of Social Media backlash?

Footnotes:

For more information and to follow Carly Findlay, click on the link below:

http://www.carlyfindlay.blogspot.com

For more information on Mamamia or to follow, click below:

http://www.mamamia.com.au