5 things women can do today to have each other’s back

Who bit Beyonce?

gingerbread woman biscuit with gold sprinkles, blond iced hair

There is no denying that it could be very tempting to bite into an exquisite and formidable creature like Beyonce simply to soak up her awesomeness, maybe even take her down a notch and make ourselves feel somehow superior. We’ve had a lot of high profile catfights over the last year -  Cardi B vs. Nicki Minaj, Jane Fonda vs. Megyn Kelly, Madonna vs. Gaga. But what might give us some sick pleasure to read about in the gossip columns is actually much more stomach-turning when it hits closer to home. And it does hit close to home all the time.

Why is being nice to other women not as easy as it should be?

Even the most feminist of us are plagued by unconscious bias against other women - colloquially known as Queen Bee behaviour. Like a big angry insect or the evil queen in Snow white, it can make us see other women as competition both on a night out, or the next morning at work when we’re hungover and Brenda from Accounting is looking perky and making one excellent point after the other. Sadly, because of our bias, we actively discriminate against other women, significantly limiting the number of uplifting social interactions and lucrative collaborations we could start - and it also affects how we recruit, manage and mentor women in the workplace, keeping young women from progressing as fast as their male counterparts. Only: Stinging other women is actually an idiotic move if the goal is a beehive with equal opportunities for all honey bees.

Diagnosis. Here are some theories about WHY it can get catty over here

1. Deeply felt inadequacy:

Psychologist Seth Myers reports that patients who talk badly about other women actually do so based on subconscious, twisted admiration. For example, a patient who was relentlessly criticising other women’s parenting style actually did so because she was jealous - in fact she was battling her own infertility issues: “She's not critical of other women because she thinks less of them; she is covetous of what they have instead.”

What seems quite interesting to think about is that the famous feuds mentioned above are actually occurring between women who look similar or are occupying similar positions in our mindspace, which might make them feel a particular kind of envy:

Is Megyn Kelly kicking up such a storm about Jane Fonda’s beauty OPs because she’s afraid her own looks won’t last forever?

Is Madonna pointing out Gaga was quoting her without acknowledgement because both are occupying the role of avantgarde provocateur?

And I think we won’t have to speculate how Nicki Minaj and Cardi B are encroaching on each others’ territory - they look practically the same and are actual rivals in the charts.

2. We’re competing in trying to measure up to impossible Beauty standards:

Myers also found that in 15 years of work with patients of both genders that women “reported far greater anxiety in the appearance department than men”, and that “the pressure women feel from men and the media to fit a certain physical type of thinness and beauty gets transformed to the point that they turn it on each other.”

That leads us to the question of why beauty is this all powerful measure by which we compare ourselves against everyone else - instead of our talent for following step aerobic instructions or writing complaint letters to candy manufacturers.

3. We’ve internalized the patriarchy:

As Noam Shpancer writes in Psychology Today, “As women come to consider being prized by men their ultimate source of strength, worth, achievement and identity, they are compelled to battle other women for the prize.”

Emily V. Gordon eloquently describes what many of us feel when we see women we judge as prettier or higher status: “I hated them on sight, even as I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I thought they were magical, but with a dark magic that could steal my husband.”

It seems that we try to somehow propel ourselves forward in the race for men’s attention by sabotaging other women and making them feel small or look bad.

So what can we do to change things?

Here are our top 5 tips for having each others backs:

1. Surround ourselves with friends, family members and role models who spit conventional beauty pressure in the face

“young women with high family support and low levels of perceived socio-cultural pressure from family, friends and the media regarding the importance of achieving a 'thin and beautiful' ideal had a more positive body image.”

Unfollow anyone who doesn’t propagate realistic beauty ideals - the more ‘real’ women we see - the happier we become.

2. Swap passive-aggression for active aggression (ok not quite :)

It’s actually not that hard to make an active effort to stop bitching about other women behind their backs if we understand we’re simply doing it to make ourselves feel better in a pathetic passive aggressive way. A much less pathetic and also much more helpful thing is to try to give actually constructive feedback if we want to improve a situation that bothers us. Since reading up on this, when I now catch myself descending into a jealous fit, I try to think: what would female Jesus do?

3. Assume we’re Beyonce. Confidence is what everyone is attracted to, and it can be faked.

People see us very differently from how we see ourselves from the inside. Unfortunately, if you grew up with little belief in your own beauty and worth, it’s very hard to believe in it later-on, even if you turn out looking like a supermodel when you’re all grown up. And whilst there is no denying that said supermodels have it easier attracting men in the first place, the women who actually get all the guys (and manage to keep them) are often not those who you’d describe as classically beautiful. I have a friend who looks very much like a little wallflower - until she unleashes incredible moves on the dancefloor. And I’ve been in many work situations where young men all around me were swooning over our 50+ bosslady who walks into the room with everyone’s eyes on her. We all have something attractive inside us, and what we need is to believe that this is enough to fascinate anyone in our realm in order to make it a reality.  

4. Realise that there is a variety of tastes out there - not everyone likes a skinny flat white

The great news: beauty standards have never been more in flux than they are at this point in time. The 90s and noughties were all about being either anorexically skinny or having the perfect trim hourglass figure - now we are at a time when bigger and pear-shaped ladies are actually in the spotlight. And the internet has given us the opportunity for niche looks to connect with people who are attracted to these looks. (We should know - we talk to a lot of nutters who are attracted to big bottomed gingerbread ladies). And whilst discrimination by age and skin colour is still unacceptably high, the media are finally promoting a wider range of looks as beautiful - we just need to stay on their toes to ensure this is not just done to make the headlines.

Thankfully, it’s also not all about looks anymore. Men (and women) are attracted to any number of things - the rise of ‘Sapiophiles’ on tinder profiles is pretty astonishing (for the less sapient of us, we also had to look it up - it’s people who are attracted to intelligence).

5. Become the (benevolent) queen bee of our own universe

Assume that other women don’t want to take what we have - or that they simply will not be able to take it. “we don’t need to lower the stock of other women, either for the future of the species or for our own psyches. When we each focus on being the dominant force in our own universe, rather than invading other universes, we all win.”

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