By Kenzie Helmick
Sexism, reinforced by a patriarchal society, has relegated women to second-class citizenry. Our disadvantaged status demands that we stay in the domestic realm, and that our actions, hopes and desires aim to serve men. Because of the benefits brought to males alone, societal expectations consider misogyny possible only from cis-men. Yet despite the consequences we have suffered under a male-dominated society, women share this propensity to be sexist, as well.
The term “girl hate” is used to describe this phenomenon. Girl hate occurs when a woman’s criticism towards someone of her own sex is based solely on how our current patriarchal society teaches us to view women. This form of judgement is the often-unconscious internalization of misogynistic attitudes or the manifestation of a woman’s own insecurity generated by the sexist standards of female beauty, success and general likeability. Typical examples include shaming girls for their sexual activity, femininity or attire. Girl hate is an especially insidious form of misogyny simply because society discounts its possibility, rendering it nearly impossible to clearly define or identify.
Fortunately, an acknowledgement of girl hate has begun to take hold in the general feminist movement. However, after being passed through various perspectives, the term’s definition has been warped, regressing into an idea that blends the line distinguishing girl hate from justified criticism of unfavorable behavior.
In this distorted interpretation, girl hate is a self-proclaimed hero, preventing female icons from suffering any sort of criticism. Now, when white, privileged and mainstream champions of feminism, such as Jennifer Lawrence or Lena Dunham, have yet another controversy, they’re defended by a band of feminists that claim we must unequivocally support the women who have managed to rise through the patriarchal ranks, no matter their actions.
The irony of this misinterpretation of girl hate lies in its newfound definition, which is inherently sexist and counterproductive to the mission of feminism.
By preventing women from ever critiquing other women, girl hate requires us to have a superior level of civility, necessitating that we blindly like and care for everyone. These ideals demand higher and unfair standards for women’s behavior, creating larger obstacles that make meeting societal expectations more difficult. In turn, this standard forces us to put the feelings and thoughts of others before our own, continuing the suppression of women’s expression. While this interpretation is harmful on an individual scale, it also trivializes women as a demographic. Requiring that women are protected from criticism implies that they are too fragile to handle any sort of critical review. This perceived vulnerability only exacerbates problems of sexism that continually portray women and femininity as weaker or inferior.
We need to be allowed to criticize females, especially those in the public eye, to better the feminist movement as a whole, and to ensure that feminism is intersectional and inclusive, as it should be. When feminists do not stand up against, or even question, inappropriate behavior – even that which comes from women – we are accepting and normalizing those actions, actions that can hurt or threaten others. In turn, by supporting questionable role models such as Jennifer Lawrence, who trivialized indigenous, Hawaiian religion, the feminist movement is alienating any minority group that has faced similar treatment, who then feel as though they are not supported by mainstream feminism.
Others still believe we should “settle” for these lack-luster female icons because their representation is better than no representation at all. Fearing that feminism will appear too radical and be pushed aside, the movement has sacrificed representation of minority demographics to take safer, gradual steps towards “progress.” Yet this argument is dated, with the same sort of justification used during the Second Wave Feminism of the 60s and 70s to exclude lesbians and black women from the feminist movement. If we truly want progress, feminism must work to include everyone.
As said by feminist Flavia Dzodan, “MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT!”
Despite the issues of its interpretation, girl hate, in its true definition, is still a prevalent problem, one that every feminist must come to terms with in order to progress both the movement and themselves. Though I have labeled myself as a feminist for the last three years, it was not until this past summer that I became aware of my own contribution to girl hate. Coming to this realization can be difficult: to acknowledge your girl hate, and the causes behind it, is to acknowledge and embrace your own insecurities and the lingering repercussions of enduring a lifetime of sexism. For me, accepting my girl hate meant recognizing my fear of sexuality and my insecurities towards my looks and abilities.
Having this realization is the first, and hardest, step towards ending girl hate. Once we acknowledge our mistake, we must actively work to change our mindsets to begin reversing unhealthy, habitual thoughts towards other women. These misogynistic snap judgements do not have to define our integrity or who we are as a person. These instinctual thoughts are a result of internalizing systematic sexism, not of an innate character flaw or defect. What does define us is how we react to these thoughts, and how we actively attempt to alter them.
Though it takes continual effort, overcoming girl hate and uniting girls in a more fulfilling movement can create a powerful generation, one that is capable of cooperating and challenging current social problems. Letting go of girl hate can release much of the pressure born from our insecurities, as we become more aware of their causes and the greater systematic influence. Girl hate, such as petty judgement or distaste for other women, serves as a distraction, holding us back from advancing our own position or the status of other women in general. Freed from these diversions, we can shift more of our focus and energy to promoting gender equality and empowerment. Moreover, once we realize the full and real definition of girl hate, we can obtain a baseline for fairly and justifiably critiquing women, allowing us to encourage a more inclusive and ethical movement. Ending true girl hate, while encouraging the continual alteration and healthy criticism of feminism, is the only way we can move towards a more effective movement.