Below is an excerpt from an article I recently wrote for The Thought Erotic, an online magazine dedicated to fostering education, acceptance and agency around sexuality.
When I first moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, I rented a bedroom in a house co-owned by a middle-aged woman and her twenty-six year old son. The son didn’t live there, but the mother did, making her simultaneously my landlord and roommate. Three weeks went by and despite the awkward set up, I thought things had mostly been going okay. No arguments had ensued and we regularly asked after one another’s wellbeing. I made sure to clean up after myself, stay out of the way, respect her privacy and be quiet. So it came as a shock when one day she spontaneously started yelling at me, boldly proclaiming that “this situation” wasn’t working for her and she didn’t like me. Confused by what I had done to offend her, she boiled down her hostility to a single trite creed:
“Women can’t get along.”
The flagrant hostility from someone I barely knew for a slight I didn’t understand notwithstanding, I was floored by the misogyny hurtled at me by a fellow woman.
When I reflect on the event now, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. After all, she was simply voicing a creed that many women are bombarded with from early childhood on. She, like me, like all American women, are products of a culture that insists that, at the very least, it’s difficult for women to get along, and at worst, that women are too catty to be friends. In this insistence, our culture perpetually pits women against each other and teaches us to judge, compete against and stomp on one another. While most of us don’t flaunt the misguided belief that women generally can’t get along, based on my personal experiences as well as everything that the media, film, literature, art and music have assailed me with my entire life, it seems like this belief is ingrained within and has guided the behavior of many women (including me) at some point in their lives.
In a recent listicle on Bustle called, “5 Things You Might Not Think Are Anti-Feminist, But Are,” Claire Warner cites the mantra, “I’m not like other girls,” as damaging to both the women who purport it and the women this mantra judges (in short, all women). Unfortunately, this mantra is all too common. Maybe you even adopted it at one point, perhaps in high school or college. Maybe you dubbed yourself the cool girl—“you know, just one of the guys.” Gillian Flynn provides a spot-on description of “the cool girl” in Gone Girl (the novel and film):
“That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing … the Cool Girl. Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding … Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl.’”
In high school, I more or less stopped spending time with my female friends in favor of hanging out with my older brother and his friends—a bunch of boys. Pretty soon, I came to think of myself as a girl who got along better with boys. I remember saying that I could no longer handle “the drama,” the gossip, the rivalries that I had experienced with female friendships. I liked being with boys because it seemed we could hang out without such petty judgments. We could just casually enjoy one another’s company as we played video games, watched movies or smoked a bowl.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized how damaging this mindset is. Adopting the attitude that “you’re just not like other girls,” that “you’re one of the guys,” that “you’re the cool girl” necessarily assumes that femininity is inferior to masculinity, that women are inferior to men. It assumes girls and women are so unlikely to be cool that you need to pin this flimsy adjective to yourself to proclaim your difference, your separation, from the “uncool” herd comprising the rest of your gender. It assumes it’s up to men to decide what makes women cool. When you insist that women can’t get along because there’s too much drama or whatever other reason you’ve been force fed over your lifetime, when you insist that you’re not like other girls, when you go so far as to eschew female friendships for this reason, you not only seek the approval of men for validation of your identity, you become complicit in your own oppression. As Warner says, you imply that women are lesser beings, thereby exacerbating the sexist, misogynistic attitudes espoused by our culture at large.