I must admit I’m not a fan of those stories with groups of women who are bitching and backstabbing each other the whole time. I mean, I know it happens, I’m not in complete denial about how horrible women can be with each other (if you want to see a good portrayal of the cruelty of women to one another, watch Memoirs of a Geisha) but more often than not, it’s just not edifying or encouraging to see it shared in a story.
For example, I’d previously heard good things about a particular film, (if you want to know, it was Pitch Perfect) but when I asked a friend about it recently, her first words were “the women are all a bit bitchy”. If that’s your first impression – that’s not a good thing. To be honest, I get enough of women (and not a few men to be fair) being utter bitches, backstabbing and scrambling over the metaphorical bodies of their opponents in real life to want to see much of it in stories, where I want to at least feel good about both myself and those around me. I want to be reminded that when women work together and put aside the false competition encouraged by (let’s be honest) men that they can be powerful figures of love, co-operation and community.
Just look at a film like Mean Girls for example – I’d like to hope the intent of the makers of the film was to show the negative consequences of being a “mean girl” and that in the end friendship, positivity and faithfulness are the way to go. In practice however… it feels like a glorification of the Mean Girl ethos – but maybe that was just me? It was simply that it made me feel uncomfortable. Now, being made uncomfortable through story isn’t in itself a bad thing. It’s a very important way for story-tellers to challenge perception, to wake us up to potential character flaws in ourselves, to highlight injustices around us. But (and I’m just speaking personally here) Mean Girls – and the other films just like it – just didn’t feel like that. It made me feel uncomfortable simply being a girl. That I was somehow deficient in and of myself because what the underlying message is – well it’s that girls naturally act this way. That their natural way of being (and why men must figuratively – and sometimes literally – smack them down and keep them in their place) is one of pure animosity to each other and to men. That the strong quickly destroy the weak and if you want to stop from being destroyed, you must behave the same way – though not difficult, because girls you’re pre-wired that way. But you know what, apart from one or two exceptions, it’s just not my experience. The majority of the female circles I run in are real communities where we co-operate, love and laugh. The ‘Mean Girl’ experience is one that is simply alien to me. (I mean that in the context of my friendship groups, not the evil bitches at school who bullied me)
It’s not just Mean Girls of course – that’s just a film that is one of the best examples of such subliminal misogyny. You can trot out the films and characters that tell us over and over again, girls (women) can’t offer a positive community because they simply can’t and won’t get on. Heathers, Clueless, Bring it On, Cruel Intentions, Easy A, Grease (believe me, watch the interactions), Never Been Kissed…. and so many more. (ed – I actually like most of these films, they’re good. But disappointing that they’re still selling this “Bitch” archetype.)
They’re each one reinforcing the thought that women simply can’t get on with other attractive women because we’re naturally wired to see them as a threat, as competition (and to be honest, we can’t get on with the unattractive ones either – but then who defines attractive and unattractive in the first place??) Yep, it all comes back to snagging ourselves a mate. Because in this utterly twisted view of us ladies, when God said “It’s not good for Man(kind) to be alone” he meant, a boy and a girl need each other, end of. Their twisted version of community is a girl holding out, waiting until a guy notices her – more so than the others – and then staking his claim. And of course He won’t notice you if there’s that other girl, will he? Their version of community can’t conceive of female only community, or females communing with males that they’re not “hunting”. Their perverted version of community witholds true interaction and friendship from women because a woman must find all her fulfillment from a man…. I’m wandering off the point somewhat now aren’t I?
So what do we do about this false imitation of community? What steps can we take to “unteach” ourselves the lies we’ve been told about girls? We can of course fill our minds and hearts with stories that show us the truth of women. That show us yes, we disagree and we can fight, but essentially we can share real love, co-operation and community. I’m not saying we’re all perfect happy princesses who spend all our nights braiding hair and having pillow fights – in fact that picture can be almost as damaging as the “we’re all bitches” one, because it’s so obviously not true – and also slightly sickening and “stepford” *shudder*. No, as I’ve said before, the best way to turn your back on the negative, “tear-you-down” and damaging stories of life is to instead fill our minds with the positives, the beautiful, the excellent and the pure. (more on that in this old post “packing your soul with rightness, nobility, purity, loveliness, admirability, excellence and the praiseworthy.“) What we really want to do is look at the antidote to the idea that being a mean girl is the norm. The antidote to the thinking that women can’t connect at a truly communal level. The opposite to the thought that a community of women is a danger to be avoided. It’s the idea that together women can build each other up, can make one another laugh, can augment and supplement the community they have with the men in their lives; can be soul-mates (and I don’t mean lovers – the idea you can have more than one soul mate, only one being your lover is one I’m currently playing around with in my head… expect something to come out on that – maybe).
So what positive stories of women in community are out there… actually quite a lot. Some of which I’ve already had a look at and given some thoughts on – Frozen, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Chocolat. But I want to look at some films in this particular context over the next couple of weeks. I’ll have a look at Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and Steel Magnolias. There are plenty more out there – discover them yourself. Stories of community, where women are strong together, where women and men work together and are friends (despite what Harry might say – Men and Women CAN and ARE friends – this is the key to true community).
But know this my friends, girls – you are not required or programmed for bitchiness or animosity, either towards your fellow females or to the boys. Boys – we know there are lots and LOTS of you out there who aren’t out to control, hurt or suppress us girls – Just get out there and show that the ones who do are the minority. And let’s both share the creation of community, of layered and connected communities, where there are girls, boys, Men, Women and kill those myths.
(NB I’ve edited this post – won’t be spending weeks and weeks on the “rebuttal” films and tried to be a bit less harsh on the chaps – Keep calling me out on that folks!)