By Caitlin Panarella
Two weeks ago, I read with great interest “The All-Girls School Experience” by GUWIL blog writer Brooke Claflin. Having attended an all-girls’ high school as well, I agreed wholeheartedly with her message. My experience with single-sex education helped me grow in confidence and maturity in a safe space, and I formed many incredible friendships and mentorships. I felt so much unique support and encouragement within my community. These memories constitute a great deal of my experience in an all-girls high school.
The other piece of my experience, however, allowed me to see how classmates, friends and I interacted with each other and referred to one another negatively. I have recently realized that this phenomenon is not singular to high school, and it has a name: girl hate. Girl hate is a manifestation of internalized sexism, where girls act in ways to subtly or overtly tear each other down. While I never experienced anything of Mean Girls proportions, I did witness girls, even supposed friends, making each other feel insecure, bashing other girls through gossip and creating a harmful atmosphere of competition.
Internalized sexism is buying into the stereotypes of a patriarchal society and holding other girls to unrealistic expectations, as well as generalizing all girls as catty, shallow, slutty, etc. while simultaneously distancing oneself from that stereotype. Girl hate often stems from a feeling of not being “good enough,” which leads to women attacking other women in order to elevate themselves.
This harmful attitude can become manifest even through compliments. When you flatter a friend, do you also criticize yourself? Do you tack on comparisons to other women? Do you say things like, "Oh my gosh, you look amazing. I feel like such a mess standing next to you" or "Your outfit is so cute, why I am I such a slob" or “Don’t worry, you look so much better than she does”? While well-intended, statements like these reinforce the idea that one woman's success is another's failure. As women we have this instinct that to elevate one woman, we have to compare her to the "wrong" alternative. We reassure her that she's amazing, unlike the other women.
To be clear, there is no wrong way to be a woman.
While it may seem tempting to write off experiences of gossip and insecurity as a rite of passage with, “Girls will be girls,” or, “You’ll find your true friends that way,” these tendencies can have harmful outcomes. Childhood and adolescent experiences of girl hate can translate into the workplace later in life. Feelings of insecurity make women less likely to find solidarity with female coworkers, less likely to speak up, less likely to ask for raises. (According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the gender wage gap in America still approximately pays a woman eighty cents for every man’s dollar.) It can also become manifest in “imposter syndrome,” the feeling of being a fraud or that you do not deserve your success.
Girl hate does not look like just one thing. Girl hate is judging moms who choose to work, or moms who choose to stay at home, or moms who do not have the luxury of choosing. Girl hate is shaming women who dress or act in a supposedly “promiscuous” way, or for being a “prude.” Girl hate is thinking, “You’re not like other girls,” is a compliment. Girl hate is criticizing Hillary Clinton for being too “shrill” or lacking a presidential “look.”
Why do we operate under the assumption that there is only so much success or happiness to go around? That one woman’s achievements detract from another’s? The only thing these assumptions accomplish is perpetuating the idea that girls are catty and shallow, and breeding more and more insecurity. We should be operating under the assumption that we are all fighting against that same glass ceiling, and so a win for one girl is a win for all girls.
Girl hate can appear in many different forms, but its solution boils down to this: we girls have to stick together. So let’s make an effort to back each other up. Call out sexism where you see it, and celebrate when your fellow students or coworkers succeed. Compliment your friends without add-ons of negative comparison. Give credit where it’s due, and form alliances for support. We are more than our stereotypes, and we need to recognize that in each other first.
“Girl on Girl Hate” (Youtube video by Laci Green)