How sexism teaches us to feel 'threatened' by other women

Women are constantly fed the lie that we are our own worst enemies. But female friendships can be a powerful fortress.

Women are constantly fed the lie that we are our own worst enemies. But female friendships can be a powerful fortress. Photo: Stocksy

Before I became radicalised as a man-hating, separatist feminazi hell-bent on installing a matriarchy and imprisoning men as its slaves, I possessed a nominal amount of internalised misogyny about the value of women. Women were bitchy and mean. They cared about irrelevant rubbish and talked in loud, shrill voices. Their laughter was annoying and tinny, and they did it too often and performatively. Women were boring to talk to, and they were especially boring if they were pretty and nice and well liked - coincidentally, all the things that I felt I wasn't and that thus excluded me from the club of womanhood.

For a few years in my late teens, I congratulated myself for eschewing the company of women. I was full of praise for men, and prided myself on "just getting on better with boys". I flattered myself that even though they didn't want to date me like they did my female peers, they wanted to confide in me. I thought this was better. I thought it meant I was more important, that they saw something in me that was more valuable than physical desire. I had absorbed the sexism bell hooks outlines in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre, when she writes:

"It is sexism that leads women to feel threatened by one another without cause. While sexism teaches women to be sex objects for men, it is also manifest when women who have repudiated this role feel contemptuous and superior to those who have not...Sexism teaches women woman-hating, and both consciously and unconsciously we act out this hatred in our daily contact with one another."

I began the process of unlearning this sexism when I went to university. It wasn't just that I took up gender studies, although that certainly helped in providing me with a framework to talk about issues that had always bothered me but for which I lacked the language.

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It wasn't that I discovered my male friends from that time were terrible human beings. They weren't, and I still value their impact on my life today. What helped me was discovering the transformative power of female friendship, and the importance of having a good girl gang in your life. The girlfriends I made in those early days of tertiary education remain my friends today. We've grown up together, stayed out late together, gotten drunk and silly together, fought and made up with each other and shared almost two decades worth of emotions.

Women are constantly fed the lie that we are our own worst enemies. We're told that the greatest oppression women face is inflicted laterally, by other women. This is another tool that the patriarchy uses to deflect attention away from it - convince its subordinates that their greatest threat comes from each other and be assured of surviving another day.

One of the most destructive things patriarchy does to women is to alienate us from each other and aspire instead to the good opinion of men. It encourages us to work at being the Official Woman - the woman whose conciliatory behaviour and support for The Way of Things meets with approval from men.

It wasn't until after I rejected that ideology that I realised just how suffocating it was to perform the role of Official Woman. When you measure your value based on how easily you coddle men's behaviour and flatter their intellects, you cannot help but live with in a mild state of fear that you might make a mistake one day. This stereotype of hierarchical power in friendships is often ascribed to women, but I have found that the true model of the girl gang is as far removed from this pattern of jealousy and recrimination as you can possibly get.

Instead of feeling judged by my girlfriends, I find relief in their company. They make me feel safe and supported, because they don't respond to my shared experiences of being a woman with the suggestion that I might be over-exaggerating or imagining things. Their reciprocal stories make me feel validated amidst a narrative which still wants women to believe we are overly sensitive and humourless.

When we are together, we have each other's backs against whatever obstacle or Neanderthal blocking our paths. With the support of my different girl gangs, I feel stronger and more equipped to live freely and confidently in the world as I choose to rather than how I know I'm supposed to cast myself according to outdated, gendered ideas of womanhood which seek only to reinforce the comfort of men who benefit from the lateral sexism bell hooks was talking about.

If you have a girl gang, you will never be alone. Your girl gang will stand up for you when you need it, drink with you when it's necessary (which is probably every day), listen to you without judgment and love you without question. This world can be hard and bullshit, especially for women. But if you have a girl gang, you will build with them a barricade. It will act as your protection, your fortress and your castle and your enemies will never be able to tear it down, no matter how hard they try.

To the members of my girl gangs, I love you all. Thank you for letting me ride with you.