Set the scene: you are a woman and a man enters a door before you. He saw you behind him, and didn't hold it. You might mutter a sarcastic 'thank you' in response, before shoving the door open yourself. Now, imagine the same instance, but its a woman who failed to help you out. Your reaction might be 'oh well' or ,'I didn't expect anything different'. Feminism, as a whole, focuses on what men shouldn't do. How often does the movement examine the way women treat each other?
There is an urban myth that women secretly, or not so secretly, hate other women. Maybe there is some truth behind it.
'Homosocial love', the special, idiosyncratic bond between two heterosexual males has long been celebrated in the arts. Fast-forward to Britain in 2014. In offices, shops, schools, the term 'mate' is regularly bandied about by males who are complete strangers. Popular contemporary films centre around male companionship, for example 'The Hangover' or the indicatively named 'I Love You, Man'.
Largely female communities, conversely, seem to foster competition, jealousy and oneupmanship (or oneupwomanship). I have regularly witnessed girls screaming at the 'bitch' to get out of a night club's toilets, laughing at her outfit choice or speculating on her sexual habits. This unkindness is not always so obvious or conscious; would you even think to offer a fellow young woman a hand with her bags? would you let her cut the queue? Reluctantly, probably. Films and TV shows such as 'The Devil Wears Prada', 'Mean Girls', 'The Bachelor' and 'America's Next Top Model' showcase strong females pit against each other in a clash of false-nails and weaves. Although these presentations have largely rosy outcomes, their focus is generally the intense, quasi-animalistic bitchiness and hostility of female-dominated environments. Where are the Hollywood examples of (non blood-related) women loving each other and working together?
My argument does not suggest that women cannot or do not have fantastic same-gender bonds, they do. My concentrated group of girlfriends is fiercely loyal, rallying and loving. Yet, outside of close-knit friendship circles such potency is, seemingly, directed in a distinctly uncompassionate way. When I try to count the number of times female strangers my own age have treated me with kindness, I fall short.
Perhaps our wariness of other women is instinctually, historically or psychologically mediated. In nenderthalic times, women vyed to secure the most suitable mate, and rivalry over love-interests still tears female friendships apart. Women have also had to compete for the relatively small number of positions made available to them in the workplace over the centuries. How can you get along with your 'sister', when she has the job you want or need?
As time has passed and women have gradually gained more rights, inter-gender relations have not necessarily improved. Modern women largely have the liberty to follow different paths: some to marriage, some to have children, others to full-time work. Strangely, we supposedly liberated, progressive women often tend to judge those who did not pick the same route as ourselves. If a woman chooses to be a working mother, she may be branded 'neglectful'. A woman who decides not to have children at all is presumed unloving, unfeminine.
The pattern of women judging other women for making different choices is also seen within the feminist movement. One of the major crises the cause faces is how to respond to women who remain skeptical of it. Sadly, rather than treating 'non-believers' with kindness or attempting to shape their minds in a healthy way, some females within the community have been quick to shame the naysayers.
Call me crazy, but isn't feminism about the harmony of the female sex, not just its promotion? The human condition is an idiosyncratic one of different sameness; the movement must accept its diverse members' divergence and doubt, while emphasising their mutuality. We can't be 'in the same boat', if the voices of those who haven't wholly decided whether they want to be onboard yet are forcibly drowned out.
The only way not just the feminist movement, but perhaps the human race, can positively progress is if women begin to love one another. Give up your seat for another woman, call her babe or friend. She might look at you oddly, but so what: the warped notion that courtesy and kindness have to be exclusively male-to-female or male-to-male transactions must be dispelled.
The future generation will learn by example. Exposing little girls to tiny, but significant, instances of mutual human respect and female-to-female homosocial love will undoubtedly be what makes them want to say 'I am a feminist' when they grow up.