When I sat down to write this final post on our Feminist Legal Theory Blog, I started to think about the themes that came up during class discussion and throughout our posts. We discussed the role that media, educational institutions, and gender norms play in the feminist movement. Another issue that came up in discussion, but perhaps was harder to write about, is women’s treatment of other women. My colleague, Hanestagless, touched upon the topic in a recent post. Many of the post commentators noted the prevalence of this problem. So, is there any truth to the notion that women are our own worst enemy?
You don’t have to go far to find studies and commentary about this topic. A paper recently released out of the University of Ottawa, titled, “Intolerance of Sexy Peers: Intrasexual Competition Among Women,” suggests that hostility towards female peers increases depending on how the peer is dressed. According to authors Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma, the less conservative females dress, the more their female peers judge and dislike them. The findings prompted Pasadena City College professor Hugo Schwyzer to write an article in response, titled, “Short Skirts Magically Turn Women Into Bitches.” (Note, although I found the Professor’s commentary interesting, I did not appreciate his using the term “bitches” to described female to female animosity). He concludes that his female students are more hostile towards each other in spring then in winter (when we wear more clothing).
Author Susan Tardanico, a regular contributor for to Forbes, recently published an article addressing what she refers to as “Relational Aggression.” In her piece, “The Psychological Warfare of Women: Are We Our Own Worst Enemy?” Tardanico explains that the same episodes of judging and criticizing amongst college women (as discussed in Schwyzer’s post) also occur amongst female executives. She uses the example of a female higher-up who, following her promotion, is essentially ostracized by her female co-workers. She questions why this happens so regularly and her answer is Relational Aggression, or as she puts it, “the single most damaging and often-used weapon in a woman’s arsenal.” I find it sad, but likely appropriate, that she deems this behavior a “weapon.” It’s likely appropriate because at the end of the day, it’s just that. Behavior that discourages female empowerment is destructive and counterproductive.
How does this destructive behavior play out in the real world? Tardanico points to an interesting study released in 2009, titled “Holding Women Back,” that researched the “glass-ceiling” within the female labor force. The study questioned what it was that is “holding women back.” The answer, as Tardanico reports it: “information about developmental opportunities is not shared (and therefore not known); recently-promoted women have little to no support when transitioning into a new role; and there is a startling lack of female advocates and mentors.” The suggestion being that opportunities aren’t shared, support is scarce and female advocates are lacking, because other women are holding back.
If this is true, it is something that we can change. Both men and women can take part…but especially women. Although it may take generations to make it “better,” it starts with a simple “just be nice.”