Some of My Best Friends Are Women

by Danielle C. Belton

Women are sometimes mean to other women.

I know, I know. Ha, ha. So “shocking.” Yet, countless articles, studies and people go on and on and on and on fretting about “female bullying” and female “aggression” and how it’s on “the rise,” as if the history of lady business was a bunch of hand-holding and menstrual cycle synchronicity.

But I doubt women have actually “changed” in the last 20 years. More than likely what is publically acceptable has changed, and what we expect (and don’t expect) from other lady people is the real reason for the disconnect.

In 2011, I went on Michel Martin’s show on NPR where, along with several other women, we discussed whether or not women were supportive of each other in the workplace and the marriage market. While Jezebel’s Jessica Coen spoke up for those who’d felt the ire of other lady people, myself, blogger and journalist Latoya Peterson of Racialicious, NPR Digital News Editor Tanya Ballard Brown, and guest host Allison Keyes could only shoulder shrug through the issue.

So-called “catty” women were outsiders and outliers. If you’d managed to make it on the “inside” it was easy-peasey. For every one woman who seemed to be competitive to the point of self-destruction there were many others who were helpful and supportive in our careers.

Every bit of my success is owed to other women. My mother. My sisters. My close friends. “Tell Me More” host Martin, who told me to send her my stories in order to get invited back on the show instead of waiting to be invited back. (“That’s what the men do,” she said.) PBS’s Bonnie Erbe who heard me on Martin’s show and invited me to be on her show. Female producers at ABC News got me on Nightline to discuss another black woman who seems to know how to help a sister out when in need – First Lady Michelle Obama. A female editor hired me for my first newspaper job in Texas. Another woman recruited me for my five year reporting stint in Bakersfield. My friend Toya introduced me to her classmate Fredricka Whitfield, a cable news anchor (also a woman), who got me booked on her CNN show on Sunday afternoons. Even this site, a woman – Deanna Sutton – reached out to me and asked if I was interested in writing for Clutch. At Essence magazine, where I’m a regular contributor, I was welcomed in by new editor Constance C.R. White after meeting her at an event.

Everywhere I’ve turned, especially early on in my career, from author Cintra Wilson to former MSNBC anchor Christina Brown, it was women who said, “Hey, you should check this Danielle Belton person out,” before I crossed over and started picking up dudes on my career bandwagon.

Women are my readers. Women have kept me going. Women are some of my biggest supporters.

Yet, despite this reality, and the reality of Latoya and Allison and myself and many, many other women, the common reputation of women in the workplace and in the love market is “catty” and “bitches.”

And so I wondered – why?

In our gendered society, the most valued traits encouraged in women are to be nurturing, pleasant, never angry and supportive. Hence, there are a lot of very nurturing and supportive women out there. But – and this is a big but – when you are not naturally nurturing or supportive and you also happen to be a woman you are viewed as a holy aberration. A monster. A thing that cannot be a real thing.

Women are supposed to be nice, don’t you know? Except when they’re not nice.

  • L.A. Dreaming86

    Women are definitely expected to be nice all of the time. I’ve lost count the number of times I have had strangers (male) command me to smile or tell me that I am ‘mean’ for not playing their game of, “You’re a woman, so you must engage me even if you don’t want to.”

    I once had a female manager preface a comment about smiling more with a statement about her knowing that I am not a ‘bubbly’ person. I even had a male customer state to me once, “I know you must be single, because don’t no man want a woman who doesn’t smile.”

    As someone who isn’t the typical nurturing, nice, smiling woman, I definitely don’t fake that I am to please other people. I just can’t do it.

    In my last job, I had a female coworker who was hell-bent on being rude and nasty to me. I don’t know what her problem was.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    For me, I tread carefully where another woman is involved! Two women can either end being best of friends, or each other’s worst enemies! I go with my instincts. If my spirit likes you….fine and dandy. If my spirit don’t…it is what it is. I don’t force attraction-I’ll be polite and VERY distant. Meow!

  • TheBestAnonEver, Part 2

    I have three sisters so I am very comfortable around women. I have always quickly acquired a tight network of female friends at every academic institution or workplace I have entered. I don’t know, and have never encountered, the backstabbing woman. I am sure they are out there, but it has never been my concern and I work in a backstabbing prone profession.

    Great read.

  • Candi83

    +1

  • Jloveyourself

    I have a sister as well. I was immediately dubbed the “not so nice sister,” because I stood up for sexist actions in our own household as well as questioning my parents about other unfairness between the girls and three boys in my family. This stigma held me back for years until I began reading and understanding the structure that keeps women especially black women, from being thier true selves unapologetically!! The only way I made it in this world is because of honest black and white women who cared for me enough to give me honest feedback with grace and understanding

    I know many of a sister who played nice and ended up raped, humiliated, or embarrassed because they were to afraid of speaking up for what they believed in. Repression is a disease, let out your true feelings, if someone hurt you tell them, before it’s to late!

  • http://www.twitter.com/ThisIsMissRae MissRae

    +2

  • SincereLover

    I tend to tread the borderline of niceness and being a “b*tch”. I say this because I am a lot taller than most women and I am often told how intimidating I can appear. Yet when people get to know me they find that I am actually nicer than their first impression and most of these judgements come from other women (most of them not Black). This stigma of being pronounced a b*tch has actually caused me to put a guard up because of some mis-judgments. Women can be sneaky and backstabbing but they can also be opposite that is where giving people a chance comes in and trusting your instincts versus a judgment.

  • grateful

    I’m a loner so I constantly get the ‘ why won’t you come out and play’ mantra. I’m both shy and introverted (not the same thing), I smile and am friendly when approached but I do give one word answers on a bad day.I find it better than being snappy. People, esp other women, find it weird that I spend a lot of my time alone,so much that they conclude I’m b*tchy and/or think of myself more highly than I ought when in reality I’m neither (which they sometimes find out later on if they give me a chance).

    Anyway just wanted to put that out there.

  • LADreaming

    I am quite introverted on top of being shy, too. I’ve had people tell me that I need to, “come out of your shell” or they have interactions with me that I find to be very superficial. This is one of the reasons I hate workplaces that are predominately female, because of the expectation to be social and talk about things that have little meaning to me for the sake of conversing.

  • Jay_Z

    I can definitely relate. I have a close group of friends who get me and understand why I am the way I am. When it comes to making new friends, people are definitely taken aback by my personality because it isn’t “bubbly” or as outgoing as they expect it to be. This isn’t because I’m a b*tch or a mean person. A lot of my friends tell me I need to smile more, so people will see the caring and loving side of me. The way I see it is that, it takes time for me to open myself up to you like that, and for the time being I’m just gonna be chill with you. I’m a very laid back person, and sometimes woman can see that as me being defensive or having my guard up. I realized the problem isn’t me, it’s the other women. I agree we need to be more supportive of one another, and encourage each other instead of making everything a competition.

  • Isis

    What AM said

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