Third-wave Feminist thinker, political consultant, and author Naomi Wolf published a recent column in Harper’s Bazaar regarding the subject of female rivalry. I assume this was drafted in response to Susan Faludi's inflammatory piece about intergenerational conflict within the movement itself. The underlying issue here is how the mainstream media gets lazy, referring to the same few designated "experts", who are believed to represent any minority or identity group in totality. It's insulting, but also far too commonplace. No single voice can speak for everyone and closer examination would reveal that no movement needs or desires a designated spokesperson.
Returning to Wolf's post, to make her argument she uses the example of an upcoming movie, Black Swan, that tells the story of two competing ballerinas, played by Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. I found the column fascinating, particularly in how it asserts that the onset of preteen cruelty is just the beginning of destructive behaviors waged between women based on competition. While reading this piece, I was thinking of most of my Female friends who manage life as best they can within the incredibly competitive DC young professionals scene. Additionally, the recent tragedy of LGBT suicides among young adults has made me realize that the same basic elements for violence are present in older adults, only that they are expressed and channeled differently based on age. These are, of course, no less cruel or sadistic, just found in a slightly different formulation.
Wolf states that,
Women tend to mix up love and longing with hostility, to be attracted to what they wish to condemn or destroy.
As a man, I know I can’t completely relate to that statement, though I am quite familiar with the concept of sour grapes. If I were much less self-aware and Feminist, I’m fairly certain that women I couldn’t attain could be easily dismissed and slandered as bitches or whores. How often do we see those same words spewed forth between women in the middle of having a knock-down, drag-out fight when not having so quickly turns to all-out hate and resentment. I certainly have seen anger and jealousy flash across the face of the man who sees a woman he wants with someone else, but I’ve seen this same phenomenon present with women, albeit magnified, with more participants, and on a much larger playing field. On the subject of personal grievances, men usually fight their wars alone, but women often engage the enemy in packs.
Having discussed the visual evidence, Wolf then takes a stab at the cause. The passage below is one of the most thought-provoking of the entire article.
In any vividly felt female rivalry, there can be an element of identification and attraction within the overall sense of hostility between women. It may be part of why close female friendships can become so risky emotionally that aggression or betrayal is the only “safe” redirection of energies. In Black Swan, the lesbian subtext of this relationship between the battling dancers surfaces directly. The element of attraction in same-sex rivalry is worth exploring. Data from the front lines of psychology shows that while straight men respond to straight stimuli and gay men to gay stimuli, women of whatever orientation tend to the bisexual in their physiological responses, though this arousal does not always register on the level of conscious awareness. How many times in the tensions between ostensibly straight women has an untenable attraction been redirected into a safe resentment?
So, is this internecine conflict merely a colossal case of love/hate? Do women get so emotionally invested in fighting each other because of a repressed sense of pure desire? Wolf certainly seems to think so. A former girlfriend of mine was fond of telling me that all women were bisexual, regardless of whether or not said fact was consciously acknowledged. Perhaps she was right, at least on some level. In between a biological imperative and cultural mores is the truth, and in this situation, it's difficult to know where one begins and one ends. But even more radical would be positing whether this same degree of animosity is true for everyone, regardless of gender. The concept of the man crush has found popularity recently, and I myself know the disappointment of being emotionally invested in a hero who has greatly disappointed since taking the Oath of Office.
Wolf states that women ought to strive to be introspective enough to discern the difference between true friends and snakes in the grass. The emotional intimacy and sharing commonly present between female friends proves to be particularly problematic when storm clouds appears on the horizon. What she is saying for certain is that radical self-awareness solves a variety of problems.
Women can repress the knowledge of the solution that lies within them, or they can risk the discomfort of close examination, which almost always lends itself to exponential growth once adopted. The enemy, then, is ignorance, not any other external scapegoat. Scapegoating and projecting both seem to be the tactic of choice for many women when engaged in conflict, but Wolf emphasizes that it needn’t be this way. We expect those in the world around us to look inside beyond the easy answers or the way things have always been done, but we have to be just as willing to change for the sake of health, too.