We’ve heard it all before. A celebrity laments that, contrary to apparently popular opinion, women are actually incredibly horrid and the idea of “sisterhood” is a myth. The media then delightedly seizes upon it in a sexist frenzy to imply that, actually, we’re a pretty ineffective bunch and there’s no such thing as patriarchy because we all hate each other and bring much of the hardship we experience on ourselves.

Certainly, this was the jolly old gender pantomime I had in mind when I took part in a Radio Five Live Debate focused on the question “are women their own worst enemies?” on the Richard Bacon show on Tuesday night. To be fair, I generally find the show to be reasonably feminist-friendly so it seemed the question -on this occasion- was largely just a good-natured attempt to get a lively discussion going. However, I still went armed to defend myself against that particularly pervasive example of modern-day sexism against women: woman-on-woman conflict presented as it’s some excitingly taboo spectator sport.

Okay so women don’t always get on (what a surprise that we’re, er, human) but it seems that whenever we don’t, we can count on some sexist being ready to hand to laugh and point and tell us what bitches we are (i.e punish us for not being “sugar and spice and all things nice”). In my view, this leads to the unfortunate trap where failing to be sweet, lovely and uncritical with other women is often taken to mean not only that you are a bitch but also lend weight to the reactionary notion that, really, all women are.

Initially, I was meant to be debating the issue with a guy from Nuts magazine but, as it happened, I ended up debating with Katie Hopkins of The Apprentice. I did cringe at some of her generalisations about women but I have to say the irony of being pitched against another woman on the topic made for a somewhat different discussion to the one I perhaps would have had with a guy who is in the business of embracing a culture that has a history of dividing women.

If you want to see yet another example of bad press for women serving sexism, check out the suggested reading material I was given in preparation for the debate. In summary, it’s basically an example of a woman who has had bad experiences with other women “projecting her experience on an entire gender.” It’s even got a nicely degrading headline with references to catfights and handbags to helpfully remind us of the horror that apparently ensues when there aren’t any men around. Nice one Daily Mail!

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 9 April 2009 at 10:37 pm

I speed read the ‘suggested reading material’ and guess what? Surging hormones (female ones that is) are supposedly partially responsible for women enacting hatred of other women. But when it is men enacting negative behaviour – guess what it is hyper testosterone, but with the caveat that ‘hyper testosterone’ excuses such male behaviour. Hormones are commonly used but when they are applied to women it is always to blame women but when they are applied to men the claim is ‘but boys will be boys.’

In other words good old misogyny carefully hidden because the good old Daily Male as usual, applies that common tactic of using women to promote patriarchy.

News flash – women and men are human and reducing women to misogynistic stereotypes is so passe.

emma // Posted 10 April 2009 at 8:26 am

i work in a all female enviroment and were always baking cakes and bringing in treats for each other. No bitchiness. I guess these shows fail to acknowledge a society that works on the divide and conquer rule. So if women are in compettiton with each other over weight, clothes etc its going to support some industry and makes its money from that. I would also argue that men are set against each other just as much as women.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 10 April 2009 at 10:44 am

You are braver than me Holly!

It’s so ridiculous though. I mean, there would never be a show entitled ‘Are men their own worst enemies’.

Men fight with each other all the time, but no-one bothers about that do they?

Jaime // Posted 10 April 2009 at 12:24 pm

I love that article, everything is the fault of all women and not just a select few who took the piss out of someone who was unable to manage a civilised office environment.

General snide comments, cliques etc do happen in most offices but shouting matches across the office, tweaking nipples in an interview, stealing a laptop…..are those things tolerated in any office?

Jaime // Posted 10 April 2009 at 12:26 pm

I’d just like to add that none of those things would be tolerated in my office, I’m not certain of the actual procedures but there would be disciplinary action of some kind.

polly styrene // Posted 10 April 2009 at 12:47 pm

So I completely imagined men bullying me and other women at work then? And my female colleagues being the only thing that’s kept me sane? Phew, that’s a relief….

Ledh // Posted 10 April 2009 at 1:15 pm

“The effect a lack of testosterone was having in our office was even more apparent when I temporarily hired two male directors to work on a series (camera operators are usually men because of the heavy equipment). The team suddenly became quieter, more hard-working and less bitchy – partly because they were too busy flirting.”

this really annoyed me. Women (or, actually, the women she hired.) are horrible to eachother but when a man is there they start to obey him and be nice? Really? I don’t believe it. of course a group of women will behave differently than a group of men and the discussions will be different, but she just hired a bunch of irresponsible, horrid people. the same could have happened at a company full of men.

SM // Posted 10 April 2009 at 2:07 pm

But Catherine- a show entitled “Are men their own worst enemies?” would never work, because men are the norm. You can’t pick out whether “men” do this or that because they’re, like, the majority or something.

Beth // Posted 10 April 2009 at 2:27 pm

Put it this way, a man speaking about his bad experiences in an all- male environment wouldn’t make the headlines!

Why don’t we have the equivalent of an ‘old boys network’?

I’ve had bad experiences with girls in year 9, but I’ve also had phenomenally good experiences with girl friends. I’m not stupid and know the kind of pressure we’re under and how much bitterness we have because of a loss of value over everything other than looks and youth.

Such trasnparent sexism – anything bad we do gets generalised to our whole sex somehow, without consideration of causes related to our perceived role as women or circumstance of the individual. A function of a society all too ready to demonise women.

A tad sexist that the Daily Fail woman made out we’re all a bunch of spitfire hellcats too, one for the sisterhood! She’s obviously practicing what she preaches, probably with a load of bitchy hellcat misogynist males behind her back. Also there’s no such thing as a harmless misogynist!

She made out bitchiness excuses misogyny, and isn’t a direct result of it.

Nothing like crying at the sisterhood than speaking to a whole nation about how stupid and useless women are!

Karen // Posted 10 April 2009 at 8:07 pm

I cant stand Katie Hopkins anyway, however there are many high flying women I really respect, such as the late Anita Roddick. Just because I would disagree with Ms Hopkins attitudes doesn’t mean I hate any woman out there that’s doing better than I am. Men compete to outdo each other all the time, they just do it verbally, trying to outdo each other bragging. I know this as I work with large groups of men. Trust me they gossip far more than women do, another myth!

Victoria // Posted 12 April 2009 at 3:26 pm

I’m expecting my second child, another boy, and have lost track of the number of people who’ve happily told me how much nicer, cuddlier and less bitchy boys are, although they can be “boisterous” (ie they do stuff that would be considered brattish and aggressive in a girl, but is cute and trivial if you have a penis). I feel so sorry that little girls have to grow up with this hostility to their own self-expression (when my son has a tantrum, he’s “a little monkey” – ah! – whrereas the little girls at his nursery are all prima-donna-ish “princesses”…). We live in a society where far more boys than girls will grow up to beat the living daylights out of one another, yet male attitudes to one another are barely questioned. Women, meanwhile, are indeed seen as bitchier, crueller, meaner – if I tear you to shreds, it’s worse, because there isn’t the same destructive “honour” and pseude-“respect” bestowed upon female hatred. I’m very glad to see someone making this point so clearly here, as I think you even get this “women are their own worst enemies” rubbish in some supposedly feminist environments (I may be missing out, but this is the reason why I can’t bring myself to read a supposedly “feminist” book if it’s called “Female chauvinist pigs”, regardless of the content).

Anne Onne // Posted 13 April 2009 at 2:47 am

Exactly. Men are the majority of people perpetrating crimes*, especially violent ones, yet somehow women are seen as the more antisocial, aggressive gender?

Women can be nasty, so can men. If anything, the way women express themselves is a result of a society that denies them clear-cut communication of problems or power. Women have to ‘make nice’, we’re not supposed to argue or fight or want to be in control. That’s men’s jobs, dearies. So, society teaches women to be sneaky, passive aggressive, even, to punish other people when they feel lines have been crossed.

This is all bearing in mind many women are not like this, just like many men are not aggressive thugs out to thump anyone they disagree with. Sometimes women are physically aggressive, often men can be bitchy, too. People see ‘gossip’ or bitching as a female thing, but if you think about it, most men also discuss people who aren’t present, their successes, their love life etc. Most men talk about people they don’t like (I know the ones I know do!), and to think that men are always open about issues they have with other people, or that they never have them, is untrue. Both men and women can be cruel, catty, bullying, passive-aggressive or openly hostile or even violent.

Society just currently encourages women to be more passively aggressive whilst allowing men to be more openly aggressive. when men don’t feel they can be (e.g. you can’t pick fights with your boss) they’re as likely to resort to passive aggression as women. Just that nobody is interested in exploring ‘bitchiness’ in men, since it’s supposed to be ‘woman’ behaviour.

And I wish people would keep hormones out of it unless they have a degree in endocrinology. Unless they’re really inbalanced, their effect in either gender (or between) is not uncontrollable. They’re a small part of how we, as humans with actual decision-making skills, decide how to act, and they get the blame for people choosing to act badly. Also, predisposition does not mean fate. We make a big deal about being different from animals (evolution doesn’t exist, we’re *special*!!!), then the minute it suits us, we’re supposedly no more able to control our passing whims than cockroaches are. I’m thinking we didn’t evolve these funky brains, which can direct pathways that are entirely hardwired in animals, for no reason.

*I understand reasons can be complicated, but that is true no less for ‘bitchiness’ than criminal activity.

Jehenna // Posted 13 April 2009 at 8:18 am

And its not like women have started any major wars or genocide just because we didn’t approve of what the new receptionist was wearing.

I was really astonished at how this woman could allow her staff to make such horrific hiring and management decisions, and then somehow justify this as a problem with OTHER women. As though somehow this terrible gender-based incompetency affects only women other than her. If she ran her business like that, regardless of whom she employed, it was not going to be a success.

Charlie // Posted 14 April 2009 at 4:43 am

Jehenna: Precisely.

I read this and got to the bottom and all I could think was this has nothing to do with women, this ahs to do with a manager/CEO that doesn’t have the backbone to control her staff.

She reminds me of my current, very nice but incompetent, male boss. Lovely man, but I’m glad as a staff we all get along because he is utterly spineless.

sianmarie // Posted 15 April 2009 at 3:19 pm

jehanna and charlie, i totally agree. this woman sounded like a bad manager who thought that managing a company meant she wasn’t responsible for her staff. i have never had problems with women at work, we support each other and have each other’s backs. i can’t bear this horrific generalisation and the facts and theories behind why women can be competitive with one another in the work place.

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