A Guest Post by A.
I was having an interesting conversation with a friend today. Both of us are first generation immigrant daughters brought up largely in Canada. She was born here, but I was born in India, but there is not much difference between our experiences. We were talking about our commute today when my friend brought up an interesting incident, wherein another girl (of the same cultural background as us) had been glaring at her the entire train ride. When I asked why, my friend replied, “I guess it was because of the skirt I was wearing. It wasn’t particularly racy, but the glaring was very very hateful.”
Both of us are well aware of how life works. We know that even though we dress largely for our own pleasure, and not for the eyes and acceptance of others, this won’t stop other people (usually men) from staring at us. However, neither of us had ever really given much thought to what to do when it’s not a male who is staring at us lewdly, but another woman who is passing judgement on us from her own pedestal.
Me being me, I immediately became irritated. It irks me when other women do this. I could understand if it had been an older woman giving her a look, because cultural norms change across generations and that’s understandable, even if I personally do not condone it. But another girl, who from the looks of it, was close to our age?
Women are taught, across many platforms, that we are each others competitors for some unknown race for respect. That we should hate and judge one another, because doing so means that one of us is in the “right” and “respectable” and the other is not. Women are taught that there are lines of respectability drawn that differentiate who is worthy of respect and who is not, and that the women who violate these lines (most often by doing and dressing as they please) are open targets for derision and hate. This type of attitude, obviously, is extremely divisive and is an extension of patriarchy. It alienates women from each other, women who otherwise should share a common bond, because aren’t we all in this together? Why do we never talk about sisterhood, about women protecting one another, about women defending one another and supporting each other in our different struggles, even as we sometimes do not agree or would never do the things that they do, because we are all people and all our individual choices deserve respect. The world already teaches us that we should not assert our choices and be subject to the desires of what others (usually men) want for us. Let’s not have women enforcing this attitude as well for the strange mythical prize that is “respectability”.
PS: Also, it should be important to stress that even as patriarchy has largely ingrained in women that we are each other’s competitors and should be “bitchy” to one another, this doesn’t absolve men from the responsibility they have in fostering this type of attitude in women as well. I’m saying this because many men seem to think it’s okay for them to be awful to women because “you do it to each other anyway so focus on that first”. No. Just no. I don’t know where to start with taking apart that argument quite frankly. Have you ever had moments where someone has said something, and you simply can’t form an argument in response, not because there isn’t one, but because of how much of an education it would be for them?