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.