All my favourite people are women. I am a classical crazy feminist. I have been protesting, lobbying, and marching in the streets for women’s rights my entire life. My support system has always been women: the strong willed and hilarious aunts who raised me, my sweet, clever, kind friends. My home in Cork could be mistaken for a coven, with five women, two female cats and one idiotic but adorable female dog. Our kitchen table has seen countless meetings stretching late into the night, drenched in laughter, whiskey, and whispers of how to build a better future. I have been in love with women who have meant everything to me.
Despite all of this, I have a confession – I am a misogynist. That’s more than a little embarrassing to admit because I spend a lot of time consciously or unconsciously preaching morality, espousing every social and environmental issue I can get my hands on. However, I think it must be true. In the same way that we are all somewhat racist – yes, you are – because of the society in which we exist, I think it must also be true that we are all somewhat misogynistic.
“We are consciously thinking for only a minority of our waking time. Our unconscious processes and biases, and their subsequent responses, dictate a lot of our reactions to others.”
We are consciously thinking for only a minority of our waking time. Our unconscious processes and biases, and their subsequent responses, dictate a lot of our reactions to others. In an uncomfortable moment of self-recognition, I have realised that for every time I celebrate and rejoice in another woman’s achievements, I also find myself suffering this twang of envy, of hatred, when I see another female success.
Where does this hatred come from? Most likely a place of fear and self-preservation. Because I have become accustomed to being in the position in which “successful women” are the minority. There are few women in science who have not. In the room full of men, in the tutorial full of dudes, the one woman on the panel, the 20-30% of female speakers at a conference have been successful enough to break those barriers. I gave a presentation in the lab this summer to a room of 14 men and one woman, and that was standard practice. Anything other than this norm is scary and new. A multitude of women in positions of power in any one field is something of a rarity in Ireland.
“I hate other successful women because we live in a system which automatically pits us against each other in a battle for recognition and token diversity.”
I hate other successful women because we live in a system which automatically pits us against each other in a battle for recognition and token diversity. I hate women who are successful and cool because I’m supposed to be “not like other girls” and if the other girls are also cool and successful, what does that make me? What is my distinction? I hate other women because there doesn’t seem to be enough room for us all.
As women, we have been taught to hate ourselves to the extent that we reject our own femininity. I call myself a girl because who the fuck would want to be a woman? Women get raped and no one believes them. Women get paid less. Women don’t sit in the big rooms or call the shots. They don’t become heads of unions. They don’t win the big awards. Women are weak. Woman is a dirty word that we are happy to shed because we will never measure up to it, and we wouldn’t want to.
This week I did field work in a saltmarsh in Booterstown. As we were mapping out various vegetation communities with the GPS, the conversation turned to women and which ones were permissible to date. Irish, English, American, Canadian, and Australian women were all struck from the dating pool for failing to meet various criteria. Being half-Irish and half-Australian, I was absolutely sunk. It doesn’t matter what we do, a woman will never be enough. This doesn’t stop us from trying however – I break my back constantly for validation. I lose the satellite connection in the marsh and it takes multiple attempts to get a professor’s attention to fix it. The guys holler from across the sand dunes and one of the staff members comes bounding over. Is it assumed they always have a more interesting question?
Throughout history, women have had to work so much harder to get the same or comparable recognition as their male counterparts. I am perfectly willing to fight off hordes of mediocre men with inflated egos for acknowledgement, but when I meet another woman at the same level I get scared. Because I know how tough she must also be.
What to do? Not a very difficult answer as it turns out. Recognise the emotion. Recognise where it comes from. Recognise how it might affect your actions. And if those actions aren’t reflective of the person that you want to be, then change them. I will never drag another woman down because I envy her, but I often almost do.
It is worth noting that despite all these internal conflicts, I find female friendship to be one of the best things a person can experience. It is a feeling of protection, solidarity, and invincibility. This is a feeling I would not trade for anything in the world. It is something worth struggling through the negativity for. It is what we fight for