I’m not being a bitch but…
When I was in grade three I had a love-hate relationship with Melanie Bentley. We were BFFs but her hair was longer than mine. You see the problem?
When Melanie turned up at school with an above-the-shoulder bob cut, after her little brother put chewy in her hair, her devastation was obvious and her social fall was inevitable. Outwardly I commiserated and shared her pain but inside I was singing ‘HALLELUJAH! PRAISE THA’ LORD!’ I’d like to say that I left such pettiness behind in the schoolyard along with My Little Pony and my copy of Wham’s! Fantastic. But I’d be lying. As the years flew past, I grew up but my quest for point scoring didn’t. I simply changed the terms of the competition.
The Time cover.
When I became pregnant things got even worse. It was evident quite early in my pregnancy that I was not going to win the Who Gained the Least Weight During Pregnancy competition. My only option was to redefine the rules of the game to who was doing it toughest. ‘Morning sickness,’ I’d scoff. ‘I’m sick all day, every day’.
There was no let up when I left hospital. Yes, I had an epidural. Lose a point. But I was determined to breastfeed. Gain one point. I have milk supply issues so I’m sitting up all night on a breast pump stimulating supply. One more point for me. Did I mention being hospitalised with mastitis? If that doesn’t get me another point I don’t know what does. But my daughter has a dummy. Ouch! Two point deduction.
Why do we do it? I can’t speak for all women, but in my case I think it’s all about inferiority: I feel unworthy so I run down other women to make myself feel better. My internal logic works like this, ‘I’m rubbish but at least I’m not as rubbish as her.’
Feminist writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin wrote over 30 years ago in Ms. magazine, ‘When a woman’s identity is deprived of nourishment it fights and the most convenient target is another victim. When we are depressed and frustrated, we tend not to examine the real causes behind her discontent. Instead we find a woman who is worse off than us and then we feel better for a while.’
Part of the problem is that our culture portrays female competitiveness as normal and even desirable. Women’s magazines are forever ranking women on their outfits, diet success, babies, husbands, careers and so on. Reality TV shows like The Real Housewives franchise and Next Top Model have normalised female competitiveness. Women are encouraged to believe that slagging off their sisters is the only path to getting what they want.
But we haven’t got what we want, have we? Working a full day for less pay than male colleagues and then coming home for the second shift of domesticity is not winning. Nor is sacrificing your identity, independence and income to stay home and raise the kids only to be reduced to ‘just a mother’. Spending an average of 45 minutes every day, and much of our income grooming before we are even able to leave the house, and then still feeling ugly an unworthy is no victory either.
But perhaps the tide is turning and women are beginning to realise that when we try to feed our self-worth from the trough of other women’s failures or differences we are all left unsatisfied. We can’t fight for things that matter when we are spending our time bitching about and undermining each other.
When TIME recently tried to spark the mother of all catfights by putting a woman breastfeeding her three-year old on the cover, they were hit with a backlash. Many of us did not take the bait to bitch about the ‘other’ women or even to bitch about the women bitching about the women.
The real controversy was TIME’s pathetic attempt to pick on women and thankfully many women saw it for what it was.
Women, it seems, aren’t having it any more. We’re exhausted by the competition and sick of the media preying on and creating insecurities.
It’s just one example, but I’m heartened by the reaction to the TIME cover. It’s a glimmer of hope that we can end the insecurity that gnaws at our self-worth and prevents us from making real change that benefits us all. It’s a reminder to me that the habits of a lifetime can be overcome.
Kasey Edwards is the author of Thirty-Something and the Clock is Ticking (Random House) and the forthcoming Kill the Fat Girl: A Girl's Own Manual to breaking free of bad body image and living a full life. www.kaseyedwards.com