Friday, 1 June 2012


A male friend recently shared a story about a female work colleague (let's call her Beth) who was given a derogatory nickname by some male colleagues. What took him by surprise is that not only did another female colleague (let's call her Louise) fail to defend Beth, but Louise also proceeded to make other not-so-nice comments about Beth. Even more disturbing was that Louise and Beth were meant to be friends. My male friend's conclusion - women can be horrible and we can be particularly horrible to each other. I was dismayed. Not because he was so obviously wrong, but because he was actually right!

Sometimes I feel we women can't win. We're judged if we work full-time, part-time or decide to be a stay-at-home parent.  We're scrutinised if we managed to break that glass ceiling. We're sized up for what we wear or what we don't wear. We're questioned if we're in a relationship or if we're single. We're evaluated on how we parent or if we decide not to be parent at all. Sadly, it is often other women who are the first to pass judgement and are the quickest to express their opinions (helpful or not).

We've all been guilty of voicing our criticism (sorry, I mean 'advice' and 'guidance') over a female counterpart's choice of outfit, friends, partner, hobby, job, style of parenting, family life or anything else you can possibly think of. If we didn't come out and actually say it, we certainly thought it! As for the concepts of female solidarity and sisterhood, I've read organisational studies which found that even women are reluctant to hire other women because of the impact their home and family commitments would have on the business. These women also admitted to being tougher on their female colleagues than they are on their male ones. So if sisterhood does exist, it seems it can morph into the 'Cinderella and her wicked step-sisters' kind.

What's worse is that we often find our harshest critic staring back at us in the mirror. How disappointing is it to find that it is your very own self who takes the greatest pleasure in tearing you down? How many times have we said to ourselves and others “I'm not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, confident enough, pretty enough, < insert any other adjective here> enough”. Here's a simple example. Supermodel Elle MacPherson once lamented about some cellulite on her thighs. First of all, she actually has cellulite?! Second, even the woman who was dubbed 'The Body' still doesn't think she's physically perfect. Finally, she is still referred to as 'The Body', looks fabulous at forty-plus, and has managed to turn herself into a brand and successful business woman to boot. So forgive me, but I can't muster one iota of sympathy or even empathy for her minuscule amount of cellulite. Come talk to me when half your wardrobe doesn't fit, sista! And there it is - judgement. That didn't take long. 

Then there's the guilt. The guilt that sets in when we're made to feel like we're anything less than the perfect woman. Who was this Superwoman? I'd love to meet the person who set the bar against which every other woman is judged. By all accounts, she must be pretty phenomenal and clearly not human. But apparently the latter is just a minor detail as we insist on pitting each other and ourselves against her in what is obviously a 'fair' fight. 

I've noticed that women seem to feel the most guilt and are extremely apologetic when they admit to having 'help'. To quote media personality, Chrissie Swan, "help is not a dirty word". She recently divulged one of her secrets to balancing full-time work, parenthood and marriage - employing a nanny and a cleaner (cue the shock and horror from all the Superwomen out there). Let me tell you, I personally subscribe to Chrissie's philosophy that to assume anyone can pull it all off without help (in whatever form that help comes in) is completely "bonkers". Yes, our mothers and grandmothers did without all these 'mod cons', but you can't seriously look me in the eye and say that they would have knocked back this kind of help if it was offered to them. MOH (My Other Half) and I have good cleaners and a nice man who mows our lawn, and occasionally use a food delivery service to stock up on ready-made, healthy dinners. No, we're not fabulously wealthy nor do we have children, but we do work extremely long hours in full-time jobs and I travel a lot for work. Believe me the last thing either of us want to do on the weekend, especially if I've been away from home for five days, is clean and mow the lawn. We value our quality time together and our relationship much more than that.  As far as I'm concerned, throw me every life line available that will enable MOH and I get one step closer to achieving that elusive balance and that Superwoman cape can go hang!  I have no aspirations to be a martyr or a paragon of virtue. I just want to do the best that I can with what I've got. How can there be anything wrong with that?

When all is said and done, I simply do not understand why we women do this to ourselves and to each other. What drives this kind of behaviour? Does it stem from our ambition, insecurities, ignorance, jealousy or all of the above? We should be each other's biggest advocates and supporters. No one but another woman can appreciate or understand how hard it is to juggle our different roles, find a way to keep all the balls in the air and somehow make it work.  Yet here we are playing the role of each other's and our own worst enemy. We should learn to be our own best friend. I go back to the words of the fabulous Brene Brown - "be kinder and gentler to ourselves as it enables us to be kinder and gentler to others".  We should be glad to be women who have the freedom of choice and be grateful that we are in a privileged position to decide our own path. So we should stand up for, and be proud of the choices and decisions we make! Finally, we need to do what is best and what works for our family and for us. At the end of the day, it is our partner and children (if one has any) that truly matter and it is their opinions that really count.

To all the wonderful women I have the privilege of knowing and to every woman out there, this is what I have to say to you - what you do is enough and you are enough. Don't let anyone else (including yourself) tell you otherwise.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I have definitely been noticing this phenomenon. It seems that women with children who forego their career, women with children who maintain their career and women who don't have children all get critiqued in equal proportions, and often by other women as much as by society as a whole. I'm not sure what choices or situations would result in the lack of judgement or guilt that men seem to enjoy!