We’ve never really bought into the myth of sisterhood, but this excerpt from Phyllis Chesler’s “Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman” about women’s sexist aggression toward other women is dead on.
Love your sister as you love yourself—the quiet, daily practice of sisterhood—requires a strong and independent mind and spirit. To practice sisterhood, a woman must first love her (own) self. She must be clear about her psychological boundaries and be able to guard them well. Only then will she have the capacity to respect and not violate another woman’s boundaries.
Sexism is not only about mistrusting or disliking women. It is also about idealizing or demonizing women either as fairy godmothers or as evil stepmothers. Sexism is about expecting women to be family-like intimates. Women must learn to resist the illusion of….. instant intimacy and the assumption that a new-found intimate is a true friend or ally.
A woman does not have to like another woman in order to respect her or to work together. She does not have to be like her either. On the contrary, diversity and difference are preferable to uniformity and conformity.
As we have seen, women often confuse a difference of opinion, character, or circumstance with unfair criticism and rejection. Women are not used to remaining connected to those with whom they disagree or who are different in other important ways. Certainly many mothers, daughters, sisters, and close friends struggle over this. To many women criticism signifies disconnection and abandonment, the transformation of the Other as Good Mother into the Other as Evil Stepmother. This is one reason why women tend to tell each other one thing directly, but quite another thing indirectly, behind backs.
Many women are not trained (as men are) to work with non-intimates. Nevertheless, a woman must learn how to resist personalizing her differences with other women, especially on the job. She must be educated to do so.
Many women have been taught that a good woman is someone who remains connected to an abusive intimate. Let me suggest that women must learn how to remain connected to women who are both different from themselves and not intimates. To do so productively will require radically new approaches that may be found only through trial and error.
Indirect aggression is often more harmful than direct aggression. There are many more things to do when you are indirectly aggressive. You can verbally taunt and shame a woman, but you can also whisper, gossip, slander, and ostracize her behind her back; you may also influence everyone you know to “cut her dead,” socially, without having to give your victim any explanation; you can also befriend your former friend’s enemies, turn her own allies against her, and appropriate those allies as a resource for yourself.
Sexism is complicated. It means that a woman will unconsciously enact and uphold certain double standards. For example, women are trained to have compassion for men, to forgive men when they fail them, to allow men second and third chances. Women must behave in a similar fashion toward other women.
Women are also trained to respect male accomplishments and to express gratitude towards men when they do something that they are supposed to do, for example, protect and employ women. A woman is not taught to respect another woman’s accomplishements or to express gratitude toward another woman when that woman assists her. A woman must learn how to thank another woman for every small act of kindness—as opposed to expecting everything from her and being angry when she doesn’t get it all.
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