By Leila Kalliel //
Men have oppressed and victimized women for centuries, forcing them into a domestic role they found to be the most convenient. But what lasting effects did this constant mistreatment have on the way we as women view each other? In my experience, these injustices paved the way for an unprecedented phenomenon. Instead of feeling a sense of interconnectedness at witnessing one woman’s success, oftentimes we resent it when one woman surpasses another, resulting in a new cycle of mistreatment by women in which we victimize each other. I suspect that this resentment is kindled by a subconscious internalization of patriarchal expectations. I have gathered that women sometimes victimize themselves and each other because of a combination of ingrained jealousy and resentment, which are both a result of the patriarchal limitations, stereotypes, and coping mechanisms designed to keep us in place.
We could probably spend hours recounting the many kinds of limitations society has imposed on women, but for the purposes of this article I’ll be focusing on those the feminist movement has faced since after women’s suffrage was finally legalized. Before the right for women to vote was legalized in 1920 (barely 100 years ago!), elevating one’s social status was nearly impossible. Women couldn’t own land, file for divorce, or even own their own bank accounts. The only job a woman could really count on was being a stay-at-home-mom, or a sex worker. Countless women were forced into, and had no method of escape from these positions. These societal limitations cultivated a highly competitive atmosphere for young women. As a result, many began to view each other as competition rather than peers, consequently leading to the victimization of women by women.
To this day, I still hear of older women criticizing teenager’s revealing clothing, claiming that they’re dressing that way to try and jeopardize other people’s marriages. These situations are kind of ironic because most likely, the older woman has been criticized for the same thing. These kinds of women further victimize each other by effectively ‘slut-shaming’ them, despite knowing firsthand how hard it can be to feel comfortable in your own body in a society that forces women into a role, and then shames them for it. One would think understanding the societal position of a young woman would warrant some sympathy from another woman, but often we are just too caught up in our own problems to really try and empathize with each other. This is just one such example of how a woman can project her frustrations at patriarchal standards on another woman in the same situation, rather than being angry with the society that forced them into the competitive situation in the first place.
I feel that it’s important at this point in my analysis to acknowledge that blame can’t fall solely on women for being competitive with each other. It was the constant oppression of women by men that allowed jealousy between women to become so common in the first place, eventually encouraging the victimization of women by women.
Victimization between women may also be caused by resentment. Naturally, there are many women who have characteristics and privileges that are not considered ‘traditionally feminine’. Lots of men (for a long time) viewed a domestic woman as their ideal female partner. This left those who didn’t fit into that box as their seemingly unappealing counterpart.
So what if it isn’t jealousy that inspires dislike between women, but disdain? Perhaps, these women resent those who feel comfortable in their maternal role, because they represent the type of woman who is acceptable to men. Some people feel that succumbing to these roles further propagate the oppression and victimization of women by men. But unfortunately, by directing our anger at each other, we further perpetuate the victimization of women by women and set back the feminist movement.
In conclusion, the victimization of women and of oneself is perpetuated by many different factors. Although I have suggested multiple theories as to why this happens, it is likely too complex a topic to be surmised so broadly. It is ultimately a combination of all these factors (and more) that cause women to victimize each other. We forget that we are in this together, and do not have to compete with each other. Although we have made so much progress in the fight for equality, it is important to constantly self-reflect and consider our own role in the victimization of women that still happens all around the world today. What do you think? Can we as women can do more to be better allies to each other? Or is it an issue that is not up to us to resolve alone? Thanks for reading!