There are many insidious ways for the patriarchy to keep women in their place. I have written before about misconceptions of the role of women, as well as the way women are described in books. What I want to touch on today is the portrayal of women as rivals.
The stereotype of feuding women is old. You can see it in all types of media, from books to movies to television shows to the way female celebrities are pitted against each other in the media, whether or not there is actually a feud between them (usually not). Usually women are portrayed as fighting over the same man and jealousy plays a huge factor. Or women are supposed to be envious of another woman’s success (in the case of celebrities).
It is very rare indeed that you see healthy female relationships in the media. Especially in (badly written) books, the female protagonist does not have close female friends. Her friends serve to highlight how amazing the female protagonist is, how all other women pale in comparison to her. The ex wife/girlfriend/partner of the love interest of the main character is often a bitch, bitter and angry about losing her man to another (more beautiful) woman.
Successful women cannot be anything other than jealous of each other. The media loves the narrative of successful, powerful women fighting with other successful powerful women, tearing each other down. Whether this narrative is true or not, does not matter. What matters is the message that women – especially successful women – cannot be friends and be happy for each other.
This message serves the patriarchy very well, which is why it is so prevalent. As long as women are feuding and fighting, they will not band together. The old saying “divide and conquer” is very appropriate here. As long as we are fighting each other, we can’t fight the patriarchy. Women who build each other up, support each other and celebrate each other are stronger as a result. Much stronger than the patriarchy is comfortable with. You can see the result of women working together in the #MeToo movement. Rather than dismissing each other’s story, or resenting the attention another woman receives, women supported each other in this campaign and as a result, the #MeToo campaign took off in ways no one would have expected.
Women are not each other’s enemy. Instinctively we know that. And whenever women get together in spaces specifically designed for women – like with the Scarlet Ladies – the love and support these women provide for each other is phenomenal. But the patriarchy wants to prevent this at all costs. The media keeps drilling the message into young girls’ minds that their female friends are their rivals. That their girlfriends cannot be trusted and that they have to strive to be better than them. Thinner, richer, more beautiful, with the most popular guy.
This competition between women is drilled into women from an early age and this narrative is very pervasive. It is so entrenched in society that we hardly ever question it. Healthy, strong relationships between women are rarely portrayed in the media. Women lifting each other up, celebrating each other’s success, amplifying each other’s voices is not something that is portrayed very often. I think Sex and the City was the first time – for me – that I saw a tight group of female friends on television who didn’t resent each other in some way. Sure, the friends had issues with each other occasionally, but they worked out their issues in a mature way.
The fight against the patriarchy doesn’t end. I feel like I am constantly writing articles clamouring about what needs to be changed, but that is because there is so much wrong. But luckily we have the tools to make changes. If you are a writer, screenwriter or other creative, you can start by changing how you write female friendships. If you write romance, don’t cause the main character’s conflict to be another woman. Don’t have the main character compare herself favourably against her love interest’s ex. Write strong female relationships where women support each other.
Even if you are not a creative, you can change this toxic message. Lift up other women in your life. Support your female friends, your sisters, your colleagues. Don’t compete with other women, especially not when it comes to appearances. Dismiss unsubstantiated rumours of female celebrities feuding. Resist the urge to put own other women to make yourself feel better. Find a group of women to spend time with and share experiences with so you can feel how amazing it is when you band together to make the world a better place.
We can fight the patriarchy if we stop being rivals and start being allies. And that is exactly what the patriarchy is afraid of. Make no mistake: men know we are powerful together. It is in the interest of the patriarchy to perpetuate the myth that women are natural rivals. So let’s put an end to that nonsense and let’s examine our motivations when we feel slighted by another woman. Is it because she has really slighted us or is it because we have been conditioned to think that all other women are our rivals?
Together we are strong. Together we are unstoppable and we can change the world. Let’s break down the patriarchy together.
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