Are women our own Worst Enemies?

This is an often repeated question, and one that has come up in some of my conversations and some I've seen around the web recently. Why are we women the worst critics of each other? And I'm not talking constructive criticism here, but nit-picking of the most bilious kind.

Omotola Jalade, a well known actress who has been working in the entertainment industry for over 10 years, still has her age and looks questioned, and yesterday got into a heated Twitter exchange. No one can deny that such unwarranted stabs can be very irritating. Thing is, most of these comments are from women. Especially online where they can be anonymous, women go around spreading poison to other women, even ones they don't know.

Some have blamed these sorts of woman-to-woman attacks on how the society we live in has conditioned women's behavior by denying them of real power over time. This powerlessness results in low self esteem, and the belief that men are out of bounds but not other women as rivals. Some psychologists point to evolution and insist these subtle or overt hostility between women is genetic and stems from competition for men, and for resources for our children.

No matter the genesis of these traits in us, I am of the opinion that at this stage, we women should be more self aware when dealing with other women. Let's regard each other less as rivals than as partners in a society that is still not the most conducive for us. We were limited in days gone to our looks or being able to get married or have children but times have changed a bit since then.

Now, we can get educated and we can have careers, in addition to having marriages and children if we want. In the work place as well in the public sphere, we can actually help each other excel. Let us focus less on how good or bad we look, or how a more beautiful woman will get more attention, or how we can put an  ugly one in her place. Let us think on ways we can support each other.

Ashley Judd in promoting her show, Missing, was harassed by the media for looking "puffy". She replied on the Daily Beast, decrying the culture where women join in to tear down other women. She writes;

The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.

That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. ... A case in point is that this conversation was initially promulgated largely by women; a sad and disturbing fact.

I hope the sharing of my thoughts can generate a new conversation: Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate? If not in the conversation about me, in parallel ones about women in your sphere? What is the gloating about? What is the condemnation about?

How can we as individuals in our private lives make adjustments that support us in shedding unconscious actions, internalized beliefs, and fears about our worthiness, that perpetuate such meanness? What can we do as families, as groups of friends? Is what girls and women can do different from what boys and men can do? What does this have to do with how women are treated in the workplace?

I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women.
Some high profile women have taken up that call immediately, and very publicly too. We indeed can be models, mentors and partners instead of enemies. Beyonce recently posted an open letter on her website addressed to American First Lady, where she praised Mrs. Obama as “the ULTIMATE example of a truly strong African American woman.” She added, “I am proud to have my daughter grow up in a world where she has people like you to look up to.” Michelle Obama soon tweeted back. "@Beyonce Thank you for the beautiful letter and for being a role model who kids everwhere can look up to. -mo" As you can imagine, I was absolutely thrilled by this exchange. I admire Beyonce a lot and Michelle Obama inspires me.

This post is my own way of continuing the conversation. I have also tasted that Hollywood coolaid of remarking on people's looks, especially women. But it's never too late to have a re-think. We need to learn to compliment and support ourselves. This is the only way we can become better people and make the world better for women. Like Ghandi said, we should be the change we wish to see.