Renegade Evolution has posted that she is "walking away from feminism"--something I hate to hear women say. Kim has expressed similar sentiments on her blog, too. But that brings up another subject, endlessly discussed in the women's movement's earliest days.
Can women be friends?
We used to talk about this openly, at least for awhile. No more.
Renegade Evolution is a beautiful woman, and I think some feminist dislike of her and other highly sexual women (most especially sex workers who show a high level of independence), is based on jealousy and rivalry. (At her blog, certain anonymous comments make this rather obvious.) In the early days of feminism, this was a given. We talked about female rivalry as the predictable fall-out of patriarchy, but now, everyone is in major denial.
Well, not everyone. Here are some descriptive excerpts from Tripping the Prom Queen: the Truth About Women and Rivalry by Susan Shapiro Barash. All italics are mine.
Reluctantly I began to admit that I, too, had felt competitive, envious, even jealous of my fellow females. I, too, had walked into a dinner party and done a quick tally of how I stacked up. Was I as talented as the other women? As pretty? As prestigiously employed? During my divorce, before I met my second husband, I, too, had looked longingly at the few women I knew who seemed truly in love, thinking, "Oh, to have what they have." I, too, had caught myself viewing my daughters with something close to envy for their youth and self-confidence, for the advantages their generation would have that were so far beyond my own. I had even wandered through my local bookstore while I was working on my first book, checking out the other women writers, envious of their apparently secure place on the bookshelves when I wasn't even sure whether I could find a publisher.[...]
So I designed a study whereby I could interview five hundred women -- again, from a wide range of ages, classes, ethnicities, and religions -- asking them directly about their experiences with these feelings. I wanted to know the role that women's rivalry had played in their lives, their experiences as both targets and perpetrators of female envy.[...]
What I found astonished me. I heard from women whose colleagues, best friends, and sisters had stolen their boyfriends and husbands. I talked with women whose fear of female rivalry was so strong that they chose to live in small towns, "so there would be less competition"; women who avoided certain parties "because I don't want my husband to meet too many single, beautiful women." I heard about girlfriends dropping a woman when she snagged a promotion at work, or finally found a great guy, or even when she became pregnant. Women described the wear and tear of constant competition, of continually comparing themselves to friends, coworkers, sisters, even to their daughters. Many women confessed that they had spent their lives trying to steer between two painful courses: reaching for the advantages that other women seemed to have and struggling to defend themselves from other women's envy. Although I had known that female rivalry was a theme in many women's lives, I emerged from my research feeling as though it must be a theme in every woman's life. We're just not allowed to talk about it.[...]
In fact, when I recovered from my first wave of shock at the extraordinary stories I was hearing, I was able to boil down my findings to three conclusions:[...]
1. Despite all the efforts of the women's movement to change this troubling pattern, we're still willing to cut each other's throats over what we value most -- jobs, men, and social approval. Although we've moved into the workplace and the public arena as never before, we tend to ignore men when it comes to competing, focusing our rivalry almost entirely upon each other.
2. We'll do anything rather than face up to female envy and jealousy -- especially our own. Between traditional social pressures to be the "good girl," and feminist expectations of female solidarity, we sweep all evidence of a bleaker picture under the rug. Indeed, in these postfeminist times, women are often rewarded for romanticizing female friendship and punished for telling the truth about female rivalry.
3. Even though my focus is on female rivalry, I have also found some wonderful examples of female bonding -- within families, between friends, among colleagues. In these positive instances, I found that the key was for women to have realistic expectations, of themselves and each other. When we stop demanding total, unconditional support; when we accept our loved ones' differences as well as similarities; when we own up to our own rivalrous natures; and when we confront problems rather than ignore them, we can create extraordinary bonds that nourish us throughout our lives.
We can't understand female rivalry without understanding the pressure to conceal it. Although the women I interviewed spoke readily of competing with mothers, sisters, coworkers, and friends, many of them also seemed to buy into the myth of female solidarity, lamenting their own isolation from what they saw as a world of camaraderie and support.[...]
For virtually every woman in this society, our definition of ourselves is bound up in our perception of other women. We see ourselves through comparisons with our mother, our sisters, our friends, and our colleagues. For a whole host of reasons -- some psychodynamic, some social -- we have a hard time seeing ourselves as separate individuals with destinies of our own. Instead, we view our identities as a kind of zero-sum game: we succeed where our mothers fail; we gain what other women lose. We can't envision succeeding or failing on our own terms; we can only measure ourselves against other females. So first we envy the powerful women we see in the media, and then we symbolically triumph over them as they crash and burn. After all, we can never compete against them. Who can be as beautiful as a movie star or as powerful as a princess, a president's wife, or the head of a business empire? If we can't beat them ourselves, at least we can enjoy the sight of them competing with one another, and we enjoy even more seeing them fail.
What does everyone here think? Do you have close female friends, IRL? How have you nurtured that friendship, or was it an instantaneous identification with another woman that blossomed? Are you colleagues? Are you "alike"? What is your friendship based on, if that is quantifiable?
As with the trans issue(s), feminism won't go anywhere without confronting the issue of female rivalry and jealousy, the fact that we all compete ruthlessly with each other (and NOT with men) for what has been allotted to us. We have to stop playing games about it, and confront it, head on.
And to do that, we need to talk.