What Samantha Brick should have written

by Guest Blogger // 4 April 2012, 17:39

Tags: beauty, gender stereotyping, jealousy, samantha brick

This is a guest post by Louise McCudden. Lou lives in London, and blogs at Left Eye Right Eye, where, depending on her mood, she either writes calm, balanced objective blogs about UK politics, or else rants about sexism, homophobia, mental health, welfare reform, and human rights. She tweets as @LouMcCudden.

A Picasso style drawing of a woman's face with two sets of green eyesAlthough Samantha Brick's article was almost certainly just a hilarious piece of trolling by the Daily Mail, the premise itself - that sexual jealousy between women is a serious, nasty problem - is a conversation conspicuous by its absence from feminist discourse. Is it because it feels dangerous for feminists to admit the element of truth in this particular stereotype, because it's so often used to justify sexism? Is it because feeling bound up in jealousies of other women is, like most sexism, something that hurts non-feminists so much more than it hurts feminists, so it's easily forgotten? Or perhaps we are just too ashamed, or too proud, to talk about it. But Laura Davis, writing about Samantha Brick's article in the Independent, says "everybody agrees" that it's a problem. She's right. And we need to talk about it.

Female jealousy isn't just a myth dreamed up by a man having a pillow-fight fantasy. It is one of the biggest roadblocks to women challenging sexism from a united front. I'm a feminist, but you know what? Sometimes I feel threatened, very threatened, by other women. I'm disgusted at myself for it, but sometimes, especially when I've been hurt or heartbroken, I feel so threatened I catch myself calling other women sluts, or bitches, or whores, in my head. That's not because I'm a hateful misogynist. It's just what misogyny does to weaker women, like me, if we're not careful.

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about how inspired I was by Jodie Marsh's anti-bullying documentary. I still got comments from men calling me a hypocrite because apparently feminists say we want choice for women but then we always judge women like Jodie Marsh, because we're all jealous. Commentators on the internet are notoriously bad for not actually reading the article before letting their rage rip in a comment below the line, but to not even get to the end of the headline? It seemed to be a very clear example of how sexist men, on witnessing female solidarity, immediately feel an instinctive need to pitch women against each other, even in the face of all rationality or evidence.

So female jealousy exists, but what drives it? How often are we taught to be jealous of women for their talent at maths, or their hockey medals, or their civil engineering skills? We're not. We're only taught to envy things that prove beneficial to men.

We are taught, every day, in magazines, news stories, adverts and films, to see ourselves and each other as two-dimensional dolls in a false patriarchal dichotomy. What type of girl are you? Because, the adverts whisper, your husband secretly wants another type. Are you the wife type? Or the affair type? Are you a woman with a good career, to be respected, or do you enjoy anal sex and glamour modelling? You see, you can't deserve love and be good at sex. Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie are two of the most successful women in the world. Both have been married and both have been massive sex icons. But the media narrative tells us that one is the wife, and one is the sexy other woman.

The media's endless limited dichotomy about the roles of women forces us to see ourselves as caricatures of the sort of woman we are - and as a consequence, we see other women as caricatures of the sort of women we are not. In a world where women can only ever be one thing, but are simultaneously told that we must be everything, all at once, it is no surprise that so many of us feel we have a choice: tear ourselves to pieces, or do it to each other.

This isn't to say the divisions between women are all men's fault. The narrative we are pitched in the media doesn't exactly make men look good, either. Men cheat, men lie, men rampantly have sex with anything that moves against their will, men can't be expected to say no to sex - ever, men don't value love, only sex... the list of misandric assumptions goes on. But it's because women are taught we have no choice but to passively accept these qualities in men because it's just "how things are", biologically, that so many women believe we also have no choice but to take it up with other women when we are treated badly by men, instead of with men themselves.

Perhaps female jealousy is just the outward expression of all the hatred we learn religiously to turn inward on ourselves. When we pretend it doesn't exist, it divides us. But if we talk about it, it can unite us. Perhaps the very thing used to justify sexism is, when you look at it sideways, evidence that deep down even Daily Mail columnists are fed up of it.

Image by J-Urban-Hippie, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Shadow // Posted 04 April 2012 at 19:14

The primary reason why women engage in verbally attacking other women is because male supremacy teaches women from minute they are born female that being a female is the epitome of 'worthlessness' according to male supremacist system.

Only males are human and therefore all females must expend their energies and time pandering to men. It is always far easier to blame another woman rather than see the bigger picture which is how our male supremacist system operates. Women are constantly subjected to negative criticism by malestream media and this latest piece of women-hating is another example. Daily Male for decades has engaged in vicious women-hating articles all of which are designed to constantly remind women 'you are innately inferior to men.' Daily Male commonly uses (and I mean uses as in exploits) female journalists to promote men's hatred and men's contempt for women. These female journalists know that if they refuse to write such women-hating articles they will swiftly lose their jobs. Which is more important - pandering to men in vain hope of keeping one's job or speaking out and knowing men will punish the woman.

Men are not routinely subjected to hatred and contempt because men are default humans (sic) and men continue to cling tightly to their male power and male rights over women. Whilst men are constantly told 'you are driven by your hormones and can't possibly control your sexual urges when you happen to see any female' none of these claims are vindictive or male-hating. Instead men's choice in subjecting women to unwanted sexual advances is dismissed as 'poor man he can't help himself because he is ruled by his penis!' Women however are supposedly the devil incarnate and their behaviour is always far worse than any man's behaviour. It is the male perspective which is seen as the definitive truth and that is why so many women believe the lies men tell us.

By the way misandry is a made-up word because it does not exist. But misogyny exists and has existed for centuries. Incidentally the opposite of misogyny is not misandry (a mythical term) rather it would be men's respect for women but to date that has never happened. Instead men's hatred and contempt for women continues unabated and is now blatantly excused because it is all supposedly just 'male on female banter' not deliberate male hatred/male contempt for those non-human beings - females! Reality check: correct term is male sexual/verbal harassment of women and girls.

Glosswitch // Posted 04 April 2012 at 20:18

This is well argued but I still feel the stereotype of "female jealousy" is largely a misogynist construct. And obviously, just by saying this, it invites comments that actually, it's very real and I just feel threatened by it (as with Samantha Brick's "you're all proving me right" response). I do have some very pretty friends (or at least I think I do - unlike Brick, they're not showered with wine and roses all the time), and if anything, the only discomfort I feel comes with how some men respond to this - there's almost a "don't you know your place?" attitude, as though I must be unaware how badly I compare aesthetically (look, I know. I just don't care as much as you think I should).
Also, I don't think it's true that envy doesn't exist for things that don't "prove beneficial to men". I have a PhD from Cambridge and this has invited some snide comments from men and women. At least, until they get to know me and realize I'm not quite the genius they assumed. Then we tend to get on fine...

Louise McCudden // Posted 05 April 2012 at 09:33

Shadow - thanks for your comment, I completely agree. I do think misandry is real though; obviously it's not as common as misogyny or - more importantly - as institutionally backed up. But it's there. It is also, as you say, obviously not the opposite of misogyny. Anti-sexism is the opposite of sexism, and misogyny and misandry are both forms of sexism.

Glosswitch - it's probably a misogynistic construct but we are made to believe it and all turned against each other, and it does work it's way into a lot of women's consciousness, especially if you, say, have relationships with men who run you down and make you feel worthless, unattractive, etc. Naturally, envy exists for a whole range of things and is a natural human emotion but I am talking about the specific gendered envy which is fed to us by the media, in the same way that working class people are all fed a narrative of resentment towards the unemployed/public sector workers/private sector workers/the disabled/immigrant workers/etc etc etc. This media narrative is really what I'm getting at, and I don't see adverts teaching you that your husband will cheat unless you spend money making yourself better at maths, or mocking famous women cruelly for having less physical strength than others, although that probably happens a bit, but nowhere near to the same extent.

Thanks so much for reading!

nick // Posted 05 April 2012 at 09:49

misandry is a word and does exist , here is the oxford english dictionary definition


misandry (mis|andry)

Pronunciation: /mɪˈsandri/
noun
[mass noun]
the hatred of men (i.e. the male sex specifically). Derivatives
misandrist
noun & adjective
Origin:
1940s: from Greek miso- 'hating' + anēr, andr- 'man', on the pattern of misogyny


If you dont believe in it is one thing, but it does not mean it does not exist.

IronFly // Posted 05 April 2012 at 10:57

I agree with Glosswitch.

This is a fascinating blog post but I don't think it's an issue of being too proud, or too ashamed to discuss the problem of female envy: I think it's just a stereotype with some small basis in truth (as do all stereotypes) but is mostly inaccurate.

I read your post about Jodie Marsh, it's brilliant!

http://lefteyerighteye.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/three-faces-of-feminism-louise-mensch-laurie-penny-and-jodie-marsh-2/

PS. God help us if feminism only meant what's in the Guardian (as suggested in the article) - the same newspaper that peddles £575 leather skirts (as they did last Saturday, ugh, never again am I buying that paper).

Louise McCudden // Posted 05 April 2012 at 12:34

But is it only a minority? What I have found after writing this is that I've got a very different reaction from women who identify themselves as feminists and mix with other feminists, and women who don't. Women who are aware, self-confident, understand how misogyny works etc etc etc are less likely to be so damaged by it. But almost every woman I am friends with who doesn't relate to feminism or has been massively screwed up by the sexism around her said she found it extremely truthful, and made her realise how feminism relates to her life as well, and helped her see things differently, etc etc etc. And even female friends I have who are confident and secure and always stand in solidarity with other women still get treated badly by a man and are made to feel threatened by other women, and sometimes that manifests itself negatively until we check ourselves. Emotional pain does that to people.

So I am not sure it IS a minority but hopefully we can make it so...

Emma // Posted 05 April 2012 at 12:48

maybe I have been extremely lucky in my life to only hang out with awesome women, but throughout my experience, from school and beyond, jealousy about looks has never been ranked any higher than jealousy about achievement, sporting prowess, dancing skills, writing skills, and a whole gamut of other things which some people are better at than others. Maybe starting out at a girls school helps cement the notion that looks are but one attribute people are born with that can rank them in some way above one another. Amongst friends, colleagues (and I've had a lot of jobs) acquaintances I have never heard of anyone on the giving or receiving end of spite as a result of jealousy about looks. It isn't as if I am only surrounded by right-on feminists either, far from it. I think it is a non-issue. I'm not denying feelings of jealousy exist, I'm denying that they are primarily focussed on looks and denying that spiteful woman to woman behaviour exists because of aesthetic spite. I have witnessed women on the receiving end of jealousy because of power; job titles, promotions and so on and that can be just as damaging, but men behave in exactly the same way.

IronFly // Posted 05 April 2012 at 14:45

I do believe the issue exists beyond a minority, and that female-on-female envy can often seem like a different beast to other types of envy due to the intense pressure on valuing women's looks above all else, I just cant see it being much of a seperate issue to other forms of envy. And this is drawn from a lifetime's experience of being surrounded by mostly women who don't identify as feminist.

The exception would be my mum. She won a beauty competition in her early 20s and experienced a lot of extreme bitchiness towards her from women. This was Iraq in the 60s/70s, but I do know 1 or 2 other women who experienced similar in the UK.

For me the wider issue is that of women being defined too much by aesthetics, and how acceptable it is to judge them when they "get it wrong".

But these are only my experiences and I don't want to silence a discussion if others have differently.

claren // Posted 06 April 2012 at 04:09

I have never felt that jealously is more of a female trait than a male trait. However, I do believe that more women have been brought up to believe that looks are important, and so perhaps there is more looks-based jealousy among women. Some of the most bitter jealousy I have seen is among the men I went to school with. In the last 15 years, paths have diverged, and a good share of my former classmates are working in the city earning huge salaries, while others stayed in our home town and are much less financially successful. Many of this latter group are very resentful and angry that they haven't managed to achieve what their schoolfriends have. I don't think I've seen anything similar among women.

JP // Posted 06 April 2012 at 09:55

For me, Brick’s piece seemed something akin to the phenomenon of white people loudly complaining about the very few instances when racial prejudice works against them - in poor taste, and demonstrating a truly obnoxious level of ignorance and complacence about the bigger picture. The privilege held by conventionally attractive women is enormous, and one of the few “privileges” that I’ve never heard discussed in feminist circles. Maybe this in itself is a bit of an elephant in the room…

Yes, some women feel threatened by women who are prettier than them. And some of those women allow their resentment to take the form of unfriendly and sometimes downright nasty behaviour. But whether or not we choose to behave in a civilised manner, we definitely have good reason to feel jealous of women who are better looking than us. We live in a society that places disproportionate importance on women’s appearance, creating a hierarchy between women based on one facet of who we are - a facet that, unless we choose to wear a burqa, is on display for everyone to assess 24/7. Is it any wonder that some of those further down in the hierarchy feel resentment for the privilege bestowed upon those at the top?

In my opinion it’s in extremely poor taste for someone in a privileged position to say, “Hey! There’s this one instance in life in which my privilege backfires and I feel all sad about it!” which is kind of the impression I got from reading Brick’s piece.

Another thing that this made me think about is that often when a conventionally attractive girl or woman has a disagreement with another girl or woman, people will comfort her by saying, “She’s just jealous of your looks”. When I was a little girl this frustrated me - I wanted advice on how to improve my social skills, and all I got was bullshit. As an adult it makes me absolutely furious that some people think I can be comforted simply by them telling me I’m prettier than my adversary. That’s my take on it, but however this line is interpreted by any given individual, it’s definitely symptomatic of real belief in this hierarchy, a lack of expectation of attractive women to be considerate towards others, and most unpleasantly, a total lack of respect for the feelings of less attractive women.

To put it bluntly, there are many possible reasons why someone might not be liked by others, but when it’s an attractive woman being disliked by a less attractive woman, many people will always assume jealousy. It’s possible that Brick’s problem is that she’s internalised all of this “She’s just jealous” stuff, when jealousy might have nothing to do with her not getting on with people. I feel a bit mean saying this as I don’t know her - would like to reiterate that I’m just putting it out there as a possibility.

I should also point out that whenever I’ve used words like “pretty” and “attractive” here I mean them in the most conventional/patriarchal sense.

Louise McCudden // Posted 06 April 2012 at 21:37

Really interesting comment JP!

Being surrounded by people who big up your attractiveness goes the other way of course; you can be made to feel very unattractive by the people in your life, especially if you've been in an emotionally abusive relationship, or a neglectful one, or whatever. Self-esteem isn't always an accurate picture of how we actually look. And it isn't even consistent, sometimes we might feel attractive and then sometimes we might feel repulsive and awful.

Also, a lot of it isn't about attractive vs not attractive, but the way we are taught to see ourselves as different types of woman, only capable of offering one particular type of attractiveness.

lil1 // Posted 06 April 2012 at 21:52

I thought at first the jealousy article was an April Fools' joke. Sadly not.
It clearly wasn't intended to tackle any root of the issue it brought up at all, in my opinion more to perpetuate it.

Sorry but the whole idea of believing in "misandry" as a viable from of prejudice existing in the same way the misogyny does, doesn't do it for me. We can't ignore the fact that on the whole, men have had the command on language and terms for the majority of its formation, and this term might just in itself be an extension of that privilege. If we are looking for a term to descibe female resentment of the group that has historically oppressed them, I don't know, I'd like to see a more appropriate concept than "hatred of men" and something not that misleading.

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