I was invited to a talk celebrating the achievements of women the other day. Each month different women gather together to celebrate the achievements of another in their particular field and that person is invited to speak about their journey and success. I declined because I was busy, and also lazy since it was at the other end of London and everyone knows Londoners don't leave their postcode zones.
But there is another reason I declined and I'm almost ashamed to say...but it's because sometimes I see other women as the enemy and in a room full of women, I find it difficult to bond. I know, isn't it terrible??
From the age of about 11 I was taught at all-girls schools so you'd think I would know something of the solidarity of women in that environment but it was the complete opposite experience for me.
Everything was about competition and since teenage girls tend to be obsessed with the same type of things, it just felt like we were all trying to outdo eachother. I was a minority in every class and one of the things I quickly learned to do was to walk into a room and take just a few minutes to assess it in order to ascertain my "place". I can identify the alpha females, the followers, the tag-alongs, the wannabes and I can usually gauge who's in control allowing me to decide either how to fit in or how to step up.
Reading back over these words just feels so wrong! I so want to be part of a Spice Girls empowerment movement but I've just found women too hurtful, too spiteful, too mean.
I remember a playground rhyme I learned when I was younger, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!". It was taught by many teachers and parents as a retort to playground bullies but *newsflash*, it's kind of BS. Physical wounds are skin deep but words? How can you possibly get a measure of just how deep they go? We women typically wound one another not only by words but by looks, by attitudes, by behaviour - and this goes on way past the playground.
A friend of mine took me to see a show a few years ago and one of the characters used this word I had never heard before: Schadenfreude. The word literally translates as harm-joy in German and is defined as: 'pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.' Schadenfreude. I admit I get a little schadenfreude-y when I see someone fall over but I would like to think I am pleased to see people prosper rather than fail.
Do you know anyone who fits this description? People who are with you through the hard times but can't quite get excited for you when the tables turn and you're winning at life. People who are happy when you're in the same low down situation as them but as soon as your life changes for the better - you get a boyfriend, new job, baby - there is a shift of balance and, it seems, relationship.
I think this is why I find the idea of "sisterhood" so hard. Maybe I didn't have the best examples and I'm potentially overly sensitive in general but I wish for a society where women can genuinely support one another like we did with the burning of bras and pushing for the vote. Whether we bond over periods or pregnancy, breasts or the female orgasm or the push against the glass ceiling or wearing/not wearing heels/make up to work. Whatever. I just wish we could do it together.