Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sexism is at the root of girl-on-girl crime

Tina Fey lectures on girl-on-girl crime in "Mean Girls."
One of my on-going themes for perpetual exploration is what I've dubbed "girl-on-girl crime."  Simply defined, it's the ugly way women treat each other in social, business and political situations that result in a sabotage of success.

So, just why do we do we treat each other this way?  We use derogatory terms like bitch, cunt, bimbo, hag and the like.  We are jealous of other women's successes, so we talk them down through malicious gossip.  Girl-on-girl crime also goes beyond the verbal to direct acts of violence and petty tricks that are sometimes under the guise of jokes.

The answer is actually very simple:  We are socially conditioned to do so, and the culprit is sexism.

That's right. I said sexism.

Here's an example from my own experience.

In a newsroom, I overheard a male reporter say, about an alleged crime suspect, "He's been bumping off chicks since before I was born."  I labeled him sexist.

I also encountered a female editor who treated me with disdain from day one.  I got the whole package:  dirty looks, snide remarks, attempts to sabotage work and refusal to help.  Classic girl-on-girl crime.  I labeled her a bitch.

While both assessments might be true, the reality is that are both sexist -- and so am I in this case.  None of us are immune to this social conditioning.

This was an epiphany for me, and underscored the need for constant self examination.

In her book "Feminist Theory from Margin to Center, Second Edition," feminist writer bell hooks says this:

"Between women and men, sexism is most often expressed in the form of male domination, which leads to discrimination, exploitation, or oppression.  Between women, male supremacist values are expressed through suspicious, defensive, competitive behavior.  It is sexism that leads women to feel threatened by one another without cause.

"Sexism teaches women woman-hating, and both consciously and unconsciously we act out this hatred in our daily contact with one another."

If sexism is defined simply as, "behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles," this is what hooks is talking about.  Men and women internalize sexism differently.  Between women, it manifests itself through girl-on-girl crime.

So what's the answer?  Again, hooks makes it so simple:  We must unlearn sexism and its ensuing behaviors.  She says:

"To build a politicized, mass-based movement, women must work harder to overcome the alienation from one another that exists when sexist socialization has not been unlearned, e.g., homophobia, judging by appearance, conflicts between women with diverse sexual practices.  So far, feminist movement has not transformed women-to-woman relationships, especially between women who are strangers to one another or from different backgrounds, even though it has been the occasion for bonding between individuals and groups of women. 

"We must renew our efforts to help women unlearn sexism if we are to develop affirming personal relationships as well as political unity.

In other words -- we need to get over ourselves.  And that requires a constant effort of self examination, because none of us can do it perfectly.  But, recognition is the first step towards change and a redirection of the negative energy of sexism to the positive energy of sisterhood.

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