Sisterhood is powerful was the clarion call of 1970s Second Wave Feminism as if all women were a united family sharing common feelings, thoughts and problems for no other reason than gender. It was silently supposed women were their own best friends as well as of other women, without bitter, biting bitchiness between them. Recent events and surveys, more than 40 years later, portray that as a fallacious perspective.
A recent survey of 2,000 women aged between 25 and 40 years in the UK revealed that nearly half the women were “put off shopping” in retail outlets with younger, more stylish and attractive sales assistants. The survey, conducted by California-based jewellery company, Stella & Dot, established in the early 2000s, creates flexible, entrepreneurial career opportunities for women and is an Inc 500 Fastest-Growing Company with a sales turnover around $200m.
In the light of the survey’s findings, the latest furore about UK Prime Minister, Theresa May and her $1700 leather pants, displayed in a fashion photo shoot, highlights how some women can be fickle and fraudulent to other women as much as some men might be. The leather pants controversy was initially instigated by no less than another woman, a Tory party colleague as well, MP Mrs Nicky Morgan. This fact invites discussion about how women react, behave and feel about other women on the clothes line beauty stakes, especially where power is at stake.
At the same time, mainstream media has mangled debate about TV celebrity, Channel 7 Sunrise co-host, Samantha Armytage and her ‘giant granny underpants’, focusing on the issue as no less than misogynist bullying by male paparazzi and Daily Mail staff who published the allegedly offensive photograph. Diverse female columnists have scribed hundreds of words about these issues as well as various broadcasters opining their views, but in what I read and heard, there was no mention about Mrs Nicky Morgan as the perpetrator in the leather pants furore. A female attacking another female was not worthy of reporting, instead ascribing the antipathy to some malicious misogyny.
Furthermore, as I viewed the Daily Mail Australia article and photograph of Armytage, I am forced to assume, woe betide me, the paparazzi photographer was male and that no female staffer in the newsroom either demurred or expressed outrage about the photo’s publication, or if they did, were ‘silenced’ by supposedly sexist, male superiors. I don’t believe that. As the Stella & Dot survey results attest, many women do not want to know more attractive women feeling better not just in the company of plain Janes but even more so by showcasing a showbiz celebrity as needing giant granny underpants. Of course, Armytage’s competitive rival on Channel 9, Today co host Lisa Wilkinson, tweeted her disgust at the story adding “I feel for you”. I do not doubt Wilkinson’s sincerity, but nearly three years ago, delivering the Andrew Ollie Memorial Lecture, she acknowledged women can be ‘unkind’ to women, positing competition between women as a possible source of angst. I have no problem assuming the paparazzi photographer was male (maybe beauty is buxom in his lens; now there’s a thought?), but if women can be “unkind” to women I do have a problem assuming all women in the Daily Mail newsroom vehemently voiced their dissent over the photo’s publication. After all, compatible ‘political’ ideology is usually integral to employment. So far, I haven’t heard a woman resigning from the newsroom, mumble a mea culpa or even tweeting an apology, though one soon ensued but was non-gendered management.
Many women’s magazines, with myriad female staff, have been betraying women for decades, especially those celebrities caught unaware of paparazzi lurking out of sight. Fair game is the catchcry of the culture. Cyberspace bullying of women by other women is now sadly commonplace, even without celebrity status. Moreover, the controversy about Theresa May’s pants and their expensive extravagance as asserted by Nicky Morgan, suggests she entertained a more devious design as I couldn’t help notice online that Morgan is fat, flabby and unfashionable by comparison to May and such sophisticated style wouldn’t suit her. Maybe fit her, too. Additionally, Morgan had just been dumped by May as Education Secretary. A hidden agenda or maybe she doesn’t like more attractive and powerful women?
These issues highlight that singling men out as sexist perpetrators denies a conspiracy of silence about who supposedly is a woman’s best friend? Too often it’s assumed that gender defines amicable and supportive relationships, with females still part of a powerful sisterhood united against misogyny.
Chief technology officer of software development company ThoughtWorks, Dr Rebecca Parsons, recently acknowledged that in the tech industry, “men and women are both harder on women than on men…” Women harder on women, too? She apparently regards that as “unconscious bias”, but maybe we need to recognise that reality first and foremost to engender change in attitudes and behaviour by some women to women as much as by some men. We need look no further than the US election result to understand that same gender does not promise a sensitive sorority as more women voted for Trump than Clinton, gender supposedly irrelevant.
Why are we so reluctant to countenance women being ‘unkind’ to women? The Stella & Dot survey revealed that sadly, women are not just inimical to those deemed more attractive and stylish, but are so insecure and unhappy with themselves that 45 per cent of these women experienced anxiety if they shopped where assistants were younger. I can only wonder if they ‘make’ friends with women who are not perceived as a threat by being more attractive or younger than they are lest they feel even more anxious. Choosing friends less attractive and of the same age, they avoid confronting their own sense of inferiority, far less disturbing to deny there’s a problem at all. Birds of a feather flock together as one proverb affirms so women unite to bemoan their unattractiveness and wrinkled visage together as friends. Nicky Morgan’s contempt for the luxury indulgence of Theresa May also seems but a subterfuge for jealousy and bitterness, politically as well as personally, as there is disagreement between them about the implementation of Brexit. No male Opposition MP in the UK even apparently cared about the cost of the leather pants as Jeremy Corbyn’s mind is seemingly preoccupied with more significant political policies. When men in politics have copped it, be it Paul Keating’s expensive Italian suits, Tony Abbott’s budgie smugglers and former NSW Minister Matt Brown who was ‘sacked’ for his dancecapade wearing too brief ‘briefs’, it is generally more to do with genuine moral dismay than with malevolent spite or personal animosity.
Women are in an altogether different playground venting not moral indignation but aesthetically abusive attitudes to undermine other women, too often succeeding in only undermining themselves. It may be that women need to accept their imperfections and those of their female cohorts before casting the first stone at men. Allowing superficial assumptions to accrue as facts, post truth notwithstanding, gets us nowhere. Neither do delusional expectations about sisterhood. We must look beneath the surface to create real change making best friends of whatever gender.