There is a social trend that dictates women must hate each other: the tomboy must hate the makeup artist, the homemaker must hate the career women, the bookish must hate the party girls, but in my experience I have faced more dislike from the women most similar to me than the ones that were very different. Is this real? If it is, why? Why does it feel like the feminists hate other feminists?
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia
Ruchita and I liked each other instantly. She was one of the students at a school of embroidery in a tiny village close to Varanasi and I was there doing a story that had to do with the social treatment of widowed women in India. Ruchita was only eighteen but she was a widow, she was only married for four months before her decades-older alcoholic husband passed from cirrhosis of the liver. She invited me to come home with her and we sat together on her bed watching make-up tutorials. As averse as I am to letting people touch my face, I let her replicate the tutorials on my face. For the week that I was there we met each morning for a walk, she liked to take walks outside the settlement, that was her mode of freedom. We talked a lot on our walks, I told her about my life and my new boyfriend, she told me about her life and how she wasn’t going to let her parents take it away a second time. During one of our walks she held my wrist and looked at the scars on my arm before rolling up her sleeve and showing me similar scars on her own arm. Self-harm transcends many boundaries.
“I know what happened,” she said to me, “You loved someone, didn’t you?”
“No, it’s not that,” I told her, “It’s more like I forgot to love myself for a while.”
It was a beautiful moment, two women acknowledging each other’s pain and struggle, without having to equivocate them or measure them against one another. She hugged me, and I hugged her back, and we just kept on walking. She told me about her brother who lived many states away, and I told her about my sister who moved continents away. When I left we were both openly expressive about being saddened by it, she gave me a lipstick that I lost almost immediately, and I gave her my eyeliner which I had almost definitely stolen from my other sister. I had found it so remarkably easy to talk to her, but more importantly I never felt like I was sitting there wondering whether she actually liked me or not. The same has not been true of my experience with many other women.
I know how that sounds and let me say staight-away, I love women so much I date them. I adore women and I love having conversations with women. My closest friends are women. My deepest connections are with women. All my role-models are women. This isn’t an “I’ve always gotten along easier with men” piece, it’s more nuanced than that. There is, however, some truth to fact that I have been disliked by a lot of women in my life. There was a time in my life when I had a flawed approach to other women. There is no excuse for it, but since I’m constantly being accused of finding a way to the blame the patriarchy for everything let me give that a shot, because my approach to other women was heavily informed by the way society pits women against one another. I was into books and black-lipstick, so I figured that meant I had to dislike anyone who was into dresses and pink lipstick. Society also makes women believe that they can only be on one of those sides when in truth you can be a woman who likes football, tattoos, sarees and romantic poetry all at once. You know, like a human. There’s also an element of competition which is intensified by the fact that there is so little room for women in the professional world and inadvertently we are laid out to measure against one another. However it wasn’t all patriarchy.
This doesn’t make me look good but when I was a teenager I believed I was special, unique if you will, because I was always talking about women’s rights and a liberal outlook and politics, I thought that meant I, alone, was brilliant. This is just ego and has nothing to do with sexism, I think for a lot of us when we grown-up as the “outsider”, the one who is always being told (not even as a compliment) that they are different, we find our identity within that and perhaps it is a human flaw that we gatekeep our identities. As if someone else being like us will dilute our essence and take from us our individuality. Fortunately, as soon as I moved out of my home and opened myself to the world, I grew out of my tendency. I realised that brilliance in others is the most enjoyable thing in the world, and brilliance in women, is something that as a feminist, I had to wholeheartedly celebrate. There was some unlearning involved and there were moment when faced with a brilliant woman I had to resist the urge to dislike them for no reason just because they threatened me. I believe, today, that I no longer approach brilliant women in the same way, and I believe, as a result, I am able to not only locate but celebrate the individuality of all people. However, I still face a lot of dislike and hostility, sometimes outright and sometimes underhanded, from other women.
One would think that this hostility would come from women who are very different than I am, but most often I get along with women who are different really well, it’s women who are very similar to me in personality, ideology, life experience and most importantly, goals, with whom I face these problems. Feminists seem to dislike me the most. It’s not just me though, there are other women who feel this way and some of them, often the younger ones, are left wondering whether they are feminist enough to be accepted within the ranks. It’s not that though, the degrees of feminism isn’t the problem, at least I don’t think it is. I think the problem lies on two levels, one of them I discussed earlier. The other one is that we are all very dishonest people and we communicate terribly. We tell people we dislike, that we like them, while using our behaviour to insinuate our dislike at the same time. We pretend. We lie. We feel like as feminists we have to support other women and in that we barter our authentic emotions for a pretence that makes us look, but not feel, good.
I have two cats and I just got a puppy. They are in the stage where they are still adjusting to each other so while they will exist with one another within the same space and tolerate one another’s presence, they don’t approach each other wanting to know more just yet. They are threatened by each other so instead of probing they’re stewing in a tolerant but wary state of silent aggression. Often I feel like this is the problem with the interpersonal relationships of feminists, we exist in the same space, we have to tolerate each other on principle, but we do not approach one another because we’re so similar, maybe if we stand too close, we’ll dim each other’s shine. However, this problem also contains the solution. My best friends today, are people who instantly and intensely disliked me for a while, and the only way to break that barrier was to ask questions. Whenever I am faced with someone who threatens me, or makes me worry about being less, I talk to them until I discover how wonderful they really are. It’s simple and it works, all it takes is putting aside ego and forgetting to measure our experiences on a scale to see who wins. Ruchita and I didn’t do that, because we knew that we were fundamentally from different worlds, but when the worlds are too similar we worry about guarding and declaring them as ours. Like my cats.
However, the cats will grow out of it, will we?