Three years ago, I met a woman who hated women. At first, I thought it was personal. She had a very difficult relationship with an unkind mother, she came from a family with painful relationships, she was estranged from her only sister and she struggled to conceive. As she was really beautiful in her youth, I suspect she may have suffered from other girls’ envy. I stood for everything she hated, me with my sisterhood of close women friends, my attachment to my parents and my large brood of children.
“Aren’t you ashamed that you still run home to your parents at your age?” She questioned me silkily. “I left home as soon as I qualified as a teacher and have never depended on anyone for anything since.”
I was on my best behaviour because of her seniority and also the fact that I was her houseguest. That did not stop her from belittling me very artfully at every opportunity. “Oh, you don’t heat your dinner plates up? And you cook for guests, you say?”
But it became apparent over the course of the few days that I was staying at her house that her hatred extended to all members of her own gender. Tellingly, she had a niece and a nephew who both needed help desperately – she tried to save the nephew, but never the niece.
Most of all, she was hard on herself.
She did not have a loving time with the women in her early life, so why extend that same trust, warmth, affection and goodwill to other women?
I left her house with a strong reminder to myself to put more effort into teaching my younger daughter to love other women.
“I don’t like girls much,” my 16-year-old daughter declared. “They are mostly boring and catty.” She plays competitive sports, she is not into fashion, and as she has a steady boyfriend for the past 3 years, she is not interested in talking about boys.
Thus, this is one thing we focus on in our ‘home syllabus’: she has to learn to have positive interactions with her gender. Because there is nothing worse than a woman who hates other women; our evolutionary biology has wired us so that our strength is in building alliances, not tear each other down.
“I find them difficult to get along with,” she groused about her female peers.
We read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale.
“I hate the story!” She said.
Yes, it is a story about women, society and the battle women face because they are women. Though it was written more than 30 years ago, the story is the same as our lives today. In The Handmaiden’s Tale, women are now divided into rigid classes determined by an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible: Marthas, Handmaids, Econowives, and Wives, and fertile women were forced to have children for infertile couples. In the story, Serena Joy was famous TV personality, but upon her marriage to a loser, she became second-rate and lost her sense of self-worth. To compound Serena’s burden, she could not bear children.
It is a complex book, not an enjoyable read (to me), but it opens a rich and fertile area for my daughter and I to explore what it means to be a woman. It is a disquieting to realise that throughout history, women are often betrayed by other women.
We must teach daughters to care for other women. Build each other up, instead of tearing them down. This IS female empowerment – rather than trying to be like men – when we realise that our true strength and beauty lies in our genes. Embrace all women, life them up and be lifted ❤