Aparna was attractive and charming. Her glamorous appearance turned many heads at the party. Things were moving along. She was making friends and life seemed to go well in the little town she moved to just a month ago. As she soared, she sensed something sinister. It seemed as if an evil shadow was stalking her in the form of insinuating whispers from the ugly realm of envy. It stunned her and left her wondering why and where was all this spite coming from. She no longer has to wonder, for it’s a pervasive turbulence stalking the corridors of history since the beginning of civilization.
From the darkest corners of History to the smallest pockets of the earth, the same familiar script jumps to life – one woman’s jealousy against another. Today it is out in the open. Headlines thunder about it. And social media is buzzing about it. Yet, its uncanny grip on women’s minds is loosening very little. It’s a mean and raw thing and no longer a secret – that women treat each other very harshly. They are envious if successful, judgement-al if not, and generally gossipy for all others.
The results are obvious. Women could be heading the table, instead they are scrambling for seats. They could have risen to embrace the sky, instead they are scrounging the earth for a space. A revealing article by Eve Tahmincioglu, “Women Still Reluctant to Help Each Other,” depicted an episode from the Real Housewives of New York City’s reunion episode to illustrate the depths to which women can descend into vitriolic hatred. Ms. Tahmincioglu, an award winning career columnist for msncbc.com, described the episode where even successful career woman, Alex McCord and Jill Zarin, “seem hell bent on undermining each other.”
Why do women judge other women on how she looks, sabotage the world of career woman, become abusive or rude to her perceived inferiors, and ceaselessly fight each other?
The answer seems to be locked up in the mindset of women. Joan Rosenberg, a psychologist and co-author of “Mean Girls, Meaner Women,” believes this bad behavior women display towards each other is “embedded in women, psychologically, culturally and socially.”
According to some experts, it’s bottled up in a place that drives self-esteem. When that all important psychological vitamin is low, they lash out with envy at a gifted woman or a successful woman or a beautiful woman.
Bullying and bias among women creates another lethal weapon – gossip. There is little doubt that nasty gossip is prevalent and pervasive, causing untold devastation. Particularly gruesome is the character assassination which could result in job losses, marriage breakups, lovers’ quarrels, isolation, helplessness and psychological trauma with far reaching implications for the well-being of the society and country.
Granted that the environment in which women grow up is not very nourishing. For centuries, girls were and still are resented right from childhood in large parts of India. Her food and education are secondary to the boy in the family. Women are new to the game of earning their own bread, and they are not used to mentoring whereas men have done it for centuries. They are too busy with full time jobs, housework, raising children and maintaining social obligations to help each other. Moreover, women have no place to channel their anger, whereas men can do so anywhere, any place without serious repercussions. Unable to vent their anger, they take it out on other women.
However, over the centuries, in spite of enduring deprivation, suffering the death of their dreams, and traversing huge speed bumps of illiteracy, patriarchy, they have rocked the cradle and shaped the lives of men. They hold nothing back when it comes to caring for their families, yet they are often judgement-al and insensitive to other women. Women are often blamed by other women if things go wrong in the family, if the spouse is abusive, if she is raped, or if the family’s reputation is tarnished in any way.
Men hold the big stick as they can not only make laws, but can also subvert them, thus leaving the women with the short end of the stick. Men also have the inherent mindset and advantage of working together as a team of bread winners. They team up to gather their daily bread in offices, in businesses, in politics and in sports. In the process, they enable other members and as in “honor among thieves,” they willingly scratch each other’s backs. They care little about each other’s beauty or looks, much less judge or be envious of that skin deep quality.
Women activists, feminists, social workers, psychologists (WFSP) and women in general are more focused in hating men instead of getting equality for women, and fighting men instead of fighting patriarchy. Going against the entrenched patriarchy requires building the concept of team building, loyalty and solidarity among women – a sort of emotional sisterhood. In this they can take a page out of the team spirit that enables men and which drives the concept, “let’s all work together to get a big piece of the contract, or work towards the common goal of winning laurels for the team.”
Hence, instead of joining the wrecking train, women would find it to their benefit to stop the derailed wheels from rolling off. Fostering such healthy competition would generate pride and confidence and result in a winning mindset, “Together we will achieve any victory, and victory for one woman is victory for all.”
WFSP can ensure this by encouraging large numbers of women to join sports and other team building activities, such as loyalty and mentoring, where working together to achieve a common goal becomes more important than indulging in competition against each other. Instead of pulling down a woman by premature judgement and blistering gossip, they would hail her triumph and give a big thumbs-up for her creativity and talent. To become brilliant it is not necessary to block another woman’s ascending brilliance.
Women in many countries of the world including India are still battling the demons of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, sex trafficking, and poor health. Instead of fostering negativity, criticism, sitting in judgement, spreading the stench of jealousy, and clipping other women’s wings, let’s unleash our kinder selves and lend a hand to the least amongst us. Let us heal their trauma by supporting and agitating for a cause higher than ourselves, cherish their dreams and give voice to their hopes. The sore world badly needs the healing touch of the sisterhood.
As Diane Von Furstenberg summarized, “There’s a wonder woman inside every one of us.” Let’s release the wonder woman and her amazing spirit, and the good genie of compassion from the dungeons of envy.
As more and more women make their way into positions that could rock the world, such as medicine, sports, politics, Science and the Arts, let them not feel alone on all fronts. Instead, enable them to become powerful agents of “hope and change” for the good of all humanity.
Therefore, let the process begin. Let’s begin a renaissance in thinking and find the courage to dial down the hatred, and recalibrate the judgement scale. Let’s give every woman, rich or poor, high or low, stupid or brilliant the same quilt of justice and compassion and let loose the power of sisterhood, so that it becomes a force to reckon with.
It has to come quick and fast, as we need each other more than ever.
A popular Indian actress of the 70’s, Bindu, has said it all, “Women who understand how powerful they are do not give into envy over meaningless things; instead they fight to maintain the beautiful bond of the sisterhood. These are the real women who know that we need each other’s love and support to survive in this world.”