ImageThose men, eh? Always trying to upstage one another with sexier outfits. Always getting into catfights, and, my God! The jealousy, they just can’t be happy for one another. They may be sweetness and light on the surface, but really they’re at each other’s throats – don’t let that ‘brotherhood’ act fool you.

No, I haven’t heard about that either. The concept of female rivalry seems to be one of the most insidious accusations and weapons in the media to undermine high profile women. The underlying message, as with so many things is ‘Don’t take women seriously. They’re all hormonal and irrational and will only do silly things if you give them an inch.’ Yet I have seldom seen it challenged.

Where did it come from as an idea? Why don’t we hear about football players who used to be in the same club bitching about who gets the best table at an award ceremony and how they ‘don’t speak to one another’ anymore. The other month Grazia had a headline about how, shock horror, J-Lo and Victoria Beckham haven’t had a cosy chat lately. My God! Obviously they can’t stand the sight of each other, there must be something up. It’s not as though they’re people who were moving in the same circles for a while and one of them moved away. When a female celebrity says of another ‘We haven’t talked for a while, but I wish her well’, it’s reported as though it’s some sort of chilly, hissed brush-off, not the comment of someone in reference to a person who is effectively a former work colleague. Apparently in the female celebrity world,  if you’re not BFFs, then surely you’re deadly enemies, stalking one another through the press to make sure the other woman is not getting thinner/younger looking/more popular than you.

It’s a no-win situation for high profile women, of course – the more they go on record claiming there’s no rift between them, the more insinuating headlines you see about them insisting there’s ‘no rift’ between them.

This attitude sneaks down to the more prosaic world of normal women too – the press delights in stories about research that allegedly proves that female bosses don’t like to promote other women, that women in the workplace look down on other women for being fat, or thin, or ugly, or pretty. In fact, when you think about it, there’s an awful lot of reported analysis of what women do in the workplace compared to that about men, as though it’s still some sort of marvellous novelty that women have jobs.

I think that just about every major TV series than involves a largely female cast attracts stories of how the women concerned fight at photo shoots, bicker over dresses or are ‘furious’ that one actor earns more than them. You don’t see headlines like that for mostly male series. The message is that if you get enough women in one place, you’ve got a fight on your hands. What seems to be being said here, again, is that women can’t cope with status – men are natural leaders and gracefully accept the ‘top dog’, but women can’t deal with it and must take part in a neverending and graceless struggle for dominance.

In the X-Factor and its ilk, there’s a lot of talk about what the judges say – usually the male judges. But if there are two young women on the panel, well, then it’s a week-by-week scoreboard of who has ‘won’ the essential female struggle of being the best dressed, with reporting that suggests it’s platform stilettos at dawn for these two ladies, and no mistake. (See articles like this, ad infinitum) Note that it doesn’t happen if one of the women is older – she’s an old hag and out of the running, effectively, even if she’s Darcy Bussell.

I find it difficult to imagine that women are somehow so much more competitive with one another than men are. In fact I suspect it is about the same between genders, but whereas it’s socially and historically acceptable between me, if it’s women being competitive with each other, it’s shallow, jealous and destructive. Men, though, are healthily competitive, it’s in their nature and it helps them get through life and contribute. And if men traditionally achieve through competing, therefore women are supposed to achieve through being collaborative and all getting along, but not doing anything, y’know, world changing.

The media’s catfighting (or passive aggressive) women are unattractively taking on male traits in a big, bad world that their little ladybrains can’t cope with it would appear. The media will allow us our little triumphs in life, but it makes sure to keep successful women’s dignity in check.

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