Every time someone has said women are their own worst enemy, I’ve shaken my head in vehement disagreement. Every time someone’s said (usually a woman) that men are “lessy bitchy, more honest and less complicated” I’ve found arguments to counter each of those adjectives. I’ve quoted mother-daughter relationships; I’ve flaunted the example of my aunt who raised two stunningly-behaved boys with the express intention of making comfortable the lives of the women these boys would eventually choose to be with. My biggest example has been the shining picture of all those brave, hurt naked women protesting against the army in Manipur after the rape-torture-murder of Thangjam Manorama. What exemplifies better the fact that we are all sisters than mostly middle-aged, probably not very educated, women shedding clothes and any vanity to create a voice for the wrong done to one of theirs?
But over the last year, that conviction has defeated me more than a couple of times. I find the reason women need men, will always be dependent on them – apart from the usual, natural ones — and claim to have better friendships with them is because they are willing to first blame a woman in any situation, even if there is a man involved and in a logical, non-PMSing world you can see that he is as much at fault, if not more.
I am no saint: I’ve been guilty of it myself, squarely blaming a woman in the situation rather than seeing the contributions of other people involved, generally speaking. But that was before I got my wits around things, a few years ago. Ever since, especially if there’s a man involved, I’ve found that while I see how both have contributed to the situation, I do more or less successfully condone both their behaviours; or condemn, as the case may be. (That said, I am no one to condemn or condone but I am not sure what other word I can use without diluting the sense of what I am trying to say.)
Even when it comes to kids, I find other women will first question the mother’s integrity, involvement and love when they perceive a kid is uncared for or misbehaving. I remember a woman asking my then not-yet two-year-old, because her nails were a little overgrown, “You haven’t cut your nails? Mama doesn’t cut them for you?” Maybe I am being oversensitive but I took that as a subtle dig at me. Surely, my young daughter can’t have answered that question, so perhaps it was meant for me. And typically, this is from a mother who is insanely involved in the lives of her kids, with rarely an interest outside her own offspring. Most women with other interests wouldn’t worry about slightly overgrown nails too much, I believe. Blame the guy once in a while, ladies. Remember how difficult it is for you to do everything. It’s the same for the other girl.
Or for that matter, how liberally mothers and sisters will blame the woman their son/brother is married to for any behaviour that they don’t approve of. What makes them think their boy has suddenly lost the ability to think independently? He could equally be responsible for that really ugly – perhaps, cheap? — sari that he gifts them or crappy things that he says. Why call the woman he is married to controlling? (If you ask me, I have so much faith in women that I think men’d do loads better to be controlled some.)
Look at situations where women are the boss. Women subordinates will bitch and moan about every aspect of her being – her fashion sense (or the lack of it), her perceived inability to run a team, probably her husband and kids too, and not to mention what they see as favouritism to a male colleague. I don’t see these women complaining when a male boss favours them over men colleagues. Neither do I see them nitpicking at his mismatched shoes and belt or his dirty fingernails. Heaven forbid the otherwise well-dressed woman boss who walks in with cracked heels or chipped nail paint.
In a complex, messy situation, involving both the sexes, the thin veil of civility and politeness will necessarily be worn when two women confront each other in front of a man. (I am talking about reasonably intelligent women who sadly believe calm words are stronger than fists. You might come across as more sophisticated with the former but a fistfight is immensely satisfying. You should try it sometime, girls.) Take the man away and it’s likely to go two ways. Either they’ll be cold and ignore each others existence. Good way to go, I think, but leaves you with no closure and an avenue to constantly bitch about yet another chick. Or they’ll call each other words, enlist their own army and cry war. This is good also. Because you aren’t repressing any of the anger or hurt that you are feeling. And a bitching gang-bang always makes you feel superior, right? Except, this approach requires you to be prepared for defeat – either by the same coin or by silence. Either way, you have a war-ravaged entity to clean up afterwards.
My sympathies will always lie with the woman. Always. It’s a promise I made to myself in my effort to create the sisterhood that I see around me. A sisterhood that I see is in the same existential pain as me. This incessant need to retain their bodies according to an ideal of beauty, the crazy race to be a better mother, a better sister, a better girlfriend, a better everything, not just a good something. Always better in comparison to someone else.
I may not like her, I may see through her and I may tell her exactly what she is but if she’s been wronged, then that’s where my sympathies will lie.
I have tried to understand what it is that makes us so ridiculously competitive in the minutiae of our lives. Is it because the majority of us don’t play sport seriously? Yeah, I know it sounds silly, but think about it. Playing sport or following it passionately builds an attitude of resilience, partnership and appreciating someone exactly like you. It gives you that famous spirit of being a good loser. And you’ll admit most women are sore losers for most their lives. Or until they reach their 40s and have accepted themselves. Sport I believe gives you a little more than your little world to focus on.
Is it because we are, since childhood, encouraged in subtle ways to compete against everything – including the boys? For affection, attention and approval? Is it because we are taught we are “little princesses” but then we grow up and find out the princesses are common as pimples? That we have crooked teeth, bad hair and not the greatest sense of humour when we are out fraternizing with other princesses?
At risk of sounding like a violent person, which I probably am, I’d much rather sock someone’s nose in, receive a black eye, be bereft of fistfuls of hair and leave scratch marks on someone else’s pretty face than war coldly.
I, a feminist, say this sadly, in the end. Ladies: 0, Gents: 10