New feature: Why are women so critical of each other?

All to often, the feminist promise of sisters supporting each other does not reflect reality. Rosjke Hasseldine considers what is holding women back from leaving the war of attrition behind in favour of solidarity

Germaine Greer said at the Fem 08 conference in April that “what worried her about the future of women’s equality and feminism was women’s own misogyny”. As soon as she said this, an audible murmur of agreement rippled through the 400-plus delegates at this popular conference. Though many of the topics that day evoked reactions, and Greer’s own speech overall was controversial because of comments on other topics, this statement seemed to evoke the most audible reaction of collective agreement. It was as if every woman in that auditorium knew what Germaine was talking about and spontaneously reacted from their own experiences with female prejudice.

This is not the first time I have experienced women agreeing en masse about women’s criticism of each other. I heard a roomful of female university students share their experiences of female misogyny. My female clients and those who attend my ‘women’s power circles’ tell stories of girlfriends, female colleagues and female relatives criticising them for speaking their truth, for standing up for their rights and for not putting up with being silenced or dismissed. Too often I hear women admitting that it is women’s criticism more than men’s, “that you have to watch out for”. Why do so many women feel unsupported and criticised by other women and feel that they are not given a hand-up in their careers? Where is the good old boys’ network for girls? Where is the feeling of sorority and solidarity amongst women?

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