There's no question that we all love gossiping. The social exercise built upon a mutual bond of secrecy, common tastes and our insecurities as people. Both men and women are known to indulge in this everyday pastime. Now think about the last time you gossiped with someone. Did it involve maligning a woman? Did you comfortably exchange observations like "Oh you know, whenever she comes to work, men just can't seem to focus thanks to her revealing clothes." Or "I hate that b**tch! Bossing us around like she's the smartest of all!" Or "I can't believe he left me for someone as ugly as her."
Add to it the latest reaction to Kiran Gandhi's pad-free running at the London Marathon. You'll find reactions ranging from "Since when did parading around in period blood become symbolic to feminism?" and "I'm all for women's right to choice but when did lack of hygiene raise awareness?" and the best one, "Yes, I'm a feminist and no, I don't hate women." Stop here if you have never said or heard a woman say that.
Maybe I took it bit too far with the last one. Usually feminists are targeted for hating men, not other women. The bottom line is that if you have ever passed ill judgments about a woman's appearance, choices, intelligence etc than you really aren't a feminist.
Women have to struggle harder to reach the same goals as men. We are paid less for same jobs. Our confidence and intelligence aren't sufficient to make us marriage material. Even our work is less valued. Take Catherine Nichols for instance. When the author sent out her manuscripts under a male pseudonym, the responses were eight times more positive than when she wrote as her real "female" name. The agents she approached were men as well as women.
As women, we are constantly policing other women. If she puts on bold red lipstick, she's looking for attention. If she's wearing a sleeveless dress with unshaven arms, she's trying to make an unsightly feminist statement. If she doesn't smile often, she's too uptight. If she makes a good presentation, she's trying to make other women look dumb. All these are instances are examples of internalised misogyny which makes women despise one another for irrational reasons.
Growing up as an introvert, my teenage years until the early 20s presented a particular problem. I was often confused about where I fit in. The more I tried, the less I felt accepted. I went on from being adjudged as "too emotional", "assertive", "eccentric" to "masculine" etc. It was easy for my male friends to relate to me because of my lack of typical feminine attributes. I remember being told by a female friend in the last year of college about how most girls disliked me for the way I walked. It was a major blow to my psychological ease of movement around college premises. I couldn't understand how my walk was masculine and even if it was, why was that a reason for disliking me as an individual? Basically, because I didn't conform to the eternal feminine archetype -- I wore baggy clothes, walked like a man, didn't know how to put on makeup, had more male than female friends and didn't gossip as much as other women -- I was labelled as arrogant, egotistical and "too smart for her own good".
"Next time, you begin to hate another woman ask yourself, 'Would I have felt the same way if she was a man?'"
I am not faultless. I have hated women without any rational reason. I remember watching Deepika Padukone the first time in a theatre and uttering to myself, "Arrggh, can she get more vulgar than that?" Her revealing clothes made me hate her. There on I boycotted all of her movies. What had she done to me to elicit such a reaction? I realised later that my antipathy towards her reflected on my own insecurities. Society had taught me to humanise women only if they conformed to what society deems "appropriate" and her being a celebrity, made it convenient for me to hate her.
Gradually, I realised how patriarchy conditions women into being competitors for everything from looks to boyfriends to college scores. We are conditioned to believe that our self-worth is directly proportional to how much we can prove our superiority over other women. We become insecure for about our breast size, complexion, personality and attractiveness. As adults, we compete for everything from male attention to jobs to wedding couture. Our friendships are bonded as long as we aren't contemporaries fighting for the same benchmark of success.
Until women stand together in solidarity, there is no way our society is going to change for the better. As feminist Anita Sarkeesian said in one of her talks, "Even if an individual woman can make patriarchy work for her, it is still a losing game for the rest of the women in the world." Next time, you begin to hate another woman ask yourself, "Would I have felt the same way if she was a man?"
Contact HuffPost India