Have you ever noticed how the majority of negative comments under a woman’s picture or a video online are often written by other women?
They blame each other for not looking good enough, for not having the right body, nails, or clothes. If you start paying attention, you’d be surprised to see how much judgment and shame women receive from other women on a daily basis.
So, what pushes so many of us to act this way in the world where you’d think women suffered enough? The reason is simple, though not always intentional due to our background.
Internalized misogyny: the underlying premise
Living in Russia, I particularly notice how common internalized misogyny is. A lot of women act this way due to the patriarchal household they grew up in. They are so used to this behavior and the pressure from other men that they don’t have any other choice but to believe those stereotypes in order to oblige men and be convenient to their potential partners.
Growing up, most of us go through these phases of only being friends with guys, only being interested in guy things in order to be accepted and pass for a “different kind of girl” who is worthy of a man’s friendship.
Just think of the phrases and sayings that we all heard so often growing up : female friendships don’t exist; if you have female friends, they are most likely jealous of you; female friends will betray you or steal your man; female friends are gossips and always talk about you behind your back.
You can clearly see this kind of message in most of our childhood movies that promoted unhealthy competitive relationships between girls from an early age -—it was impossible to find a single supportive female friend group where girls wouldn’t try to poison each other’s life.
In my childhood, movies like these were the only representation of female friendships, and it made me believe it was the only way to treat other girls around me in high school. And while some of it can be true when we are kids (kids are crazy regardless of their gender), I can tell you with confidence that men gossip just as much and sometimes even more than women.
They too discuss you behind your back, discuss your sex, discuss other women’s appearances and behaviors, and they too can judge and betray you.
You can’t confidently say that one particular gender is better at being friends, because as you grow up, you realize that every gender sucks at it. The only way to navigate friendships is to stop following your misogynistic beliefs and start seeing everyone as a human being.
Don’t look for the best and most loyal gender because you won’t find it. Instead, look for the good people, and they’ll become the good friends you wanted so much.
Growing up in a competitive environment
You can feel this competitive spirit in all former Soviet countries where the female to male ratio is particularly low for various reasons.
According to Pew Research Center, the gender ratio in Russia is currently 86.8 men per 100 women, and the ratios in Latvia (84.8), Ukraine (86.3), Armenia (86.5), Belarus (86.8), and other former Soviet nations are similarly low. The mix of demographic specificities and patriarchal background forces women to grow up truly believing that they have to outrun every woman around them in order to be picked by a potential husband.
While unpacking your internalized misogyny, it’s important to realize that men are not just some pets women can steal from each other any time they want. They are grown-up humans who carry full responsibilities for their actions, such as flirting, cheating, and leaving. So, no matter how you or the other woman look, it is his and only his decision to harm any of you. No matter how jealous of them you might be, they too have their insecurities, problems, and issues.
So instead of making them feel worse by putting them down, choose to uplift them, cheer them up, and make them feel better about themselves.
One of the most important life lessons I’ve had in my life was to unpack my sexist beliefs I never even thought about and start teaming up with the other women, even if at first they acted bitchy and perceived me as competition. But instead of inciting hatred and bitching back, I choose to show them that we are on the same team by being friendly, giving them compliments, and making them feel safe rather than intimidated.
Women get enough blame and judgment from patriarchal remnants. Knowing and experiencing that yourself, why would you want to add to it?
As women, we have to stick together and support each other. It doesn’t mean we can’t be friends with men or choose sides, but we have to at least respect each other and understand the same problems we all fight on a daily basis as women. We have the same fears and insecurities, and using those things against other women shouldn’t be the way we uplift and validate ourselves.
Writing a negative comment about another woman’s body or appearance won’t improve our self-esteem but could contribute to ruining someone else’s. As a result, we have two more unhappy and hurt women in this world. Is this really something women want?
Of course, it’s the easiest way to get a man’s approval and validation by putting down other women, their problems, and their life choices. Or saying we don’t need feminism and devaluating the issues it raises just because some men are afraid of women setting healthy boundaries, learning their value, and demanding equal respect.
For men like that, it’s easier to find a girl who allows them to treat herself like trash because “she’s not like those awful feminists, she’s not like the other women,” but is it really the best tactiс to go with?
Do you really care about that mediocre guy so much that you are ready to deny so many issues your fellow women are dealing with? Issues even you might deal with someday? Why would you side with men against feminism that fights for YOUR rights and the things you have and value in your life?
You might not care or understand this movement, but why would you seriously want to openly fight against it and even blame victims of abuse? Is it really the only way you can get a man’s validation or boost your ego? There’s clearly a lot more to unpack, then.
For me, the way a woman treats other women shows a lot about what kind of person is standing in front of me. Because a confident and self-aware woman wouldn’t ever hurt or shame another woman just to feel better about herself.
Understanding or not, the least we can do is support the problems other people deal with and not devalue them.