So I’m going to address an issue that’s rarely addressed. Neither in general, nor in the realm of feminism. “Relational aggression”, also known as: “the mean girl syndrome”.
We’re going to talk about it because clearly it’s not some childish phase we leave behind. Oh no. We grow up and it becomes a whole lot worse.
A lot of women don’t realize that this behavior poses an actual threat to the progression of women, the feminist movement included.
I’ve said this before and I will say it again. The biggest threat to the advancement of women and African feminism isn’t always the men in our society, but the willingness of women to participate in the perpetuation of patriarchy through internalized sexism projected onto one another.
It never really dawned upon me that this tendency to tear each other down as women is a threat to feminism; until I stumbled upon a clip on Instagram of Gabrielle Union addressing the issue, and talking about how she used to be a mean girl.
I was intrigued.
Having been a fan of her work for so long, I had no idea.
I immediately went to YouTube to watch the full interview. It was a segment of Oprah’s Next Chapter featuring: Viola Davis, Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard, and Gabrielle Union in 2013.
They gathered as black women in the entertainment industry, sharing their experiences in Hollywood. In the discussion, Gabrielle admitted that she used to be a “mean girl” herself, and a pretty vicious one at that.
She went on to say that generally women, much like herself, tend to act this way because there’s a general “celebration of ratchet” in that you’re supported in tearing each other down. She admitted that even at the height of her career, she regularly engaged in tearing other women down. She did so until her close friend and life coach A.J Johnson intervened and stopped her in her tracks by saying:
“How did your life change? Did you get the guy? Did you get the job? Is your house any bigger? Did money get magically get put in your pocket? What positive happened in your life after you just tore that woman down? Other than you just put out all this negativity in the world. And this women whose power you just wanna take away- you’ve actually just empowered her by speaking of her for the hour that you were. But you gained nothing. You look like a hater now. Everyone had left you looking like a hateful little turd that you are”.
She credits her change of heart to her friend’s words.
I re-winded the video about three times to hear, and ponder upon her friend’s response to her actions.
How powerful is that observation?
So much truth.
As women, we often times resort to petty tendencies to tear other women down, in order to feel more secure.
The truth is we’re in fact jeopardizing the advancement of women with these very actions.
If we set aside even half of the energy that we put into hating each other towards uplifting and supporting each other, we could achieve so much.
But instead we set each other up for failure and perpetuate sexism.
Evidence of this is everywhere. This doesn’t just affect interpersonal relations and social aspects, but more crucial aspects as well.
For example, one would ask, “How is it that Africa has only seen one elected female president when statistics show that in a lot of African countries a large number of voters are women?”
In Zambia 50.3% of voters are women, yet our only female presidential candidate Edith Nawakwi lost the last general elections, gaining only 24,149 votes.
Over 3,372,935 women voted, and the only female candidate received 24,149 votes.
You do the math.
Not to mention only 17% (equating to 22 seats) of the Zambian parliamentary seats are occupied by women.
I mean, yes, we do have a female vice president- that’s great! But, let’s remember that the role of vice president is appointed, and doesn’t really require the support of the general public at all. So basically we’re content with waiting to be placed in powerful positions instead of supporting each other and making it happen for ourselves.
It’s almost as though we’re allergic to supplying each other, but are outraged when we aren’t taken seriously.
Imagine how much stronger we would be if we supported each other. If we celebrated each other’s achievements, and pushed for greater female representation.
Especially in a world where legislation still allows women to be denied necessary reproductive health services, female hygiene products to be unfairly taxed , and gender based gaps in annual wages to be a daunting reality.
The fact remains that each group of people that has sought liberation in the past has required an immaculate amount of unity in order to overcome oppression and/or seek equality, in order to have their voices heard.
If this relentless cycle of females tearing each other down continues, the very notion of women achieving utmost equality becomes starry-eyed vision.
Let’s do better and be better!