I’m going to be 2015’s biggest cheese ball and start this post off with a quote from Chimamanda Adichie. This quotation explains one of the challenges you may experience when learning about black feminism and trying to live more positively.
“We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.”
You may recognize it from the popular Beyonce song we’ve all had on repeat since December 13th 2013. This quote has been in the forefront of my mind since I’ve come down here and as I’ve started to notice interactions and body language between women in public spaces. I can’t help but have this quote at the forefront of my mind as I listen and observe the women around me. Maybe it’s strange, but whenever I’m out, I feel highly in tune to the people around me. I notice body language, the way they say certain things, the way their eyes move and pretty much everything else. My intuition and my sensitivity to body language are heightened when I’m not alone.
The insights I’ve gained through observation have led me to believe that there is a crisis in women’s interactions here. There is nearly tangible tension amongst women who are not close friends. It feels hostile and unwelcoming. This tension creates a social environment where instead of helping, loving and supporting each other, women are constantly in competition. And for what? I haven’t been able to pinpoint that quite yet, but I think Ms Adichie might be onto something. When women are constantly challenging each other in the social realm instead of being supportive and loving, we cannot be liberated from a dominant male culture.
In public, women try to test you. They may size you up, looking you from head to toe with a judgmental face. Occasionally, some may flirt with your romantic partner in front of you. A lot of times, there is just a general sense in casual conversation that your weaknesses are being assessed and judged, that you are being categorized. The categories that exist here are unfriendly. There is a strong perception that you can only be two things: the “good girl” or the “bad girl”. (Think Madonna vs. Jezebel and the connotations of both of those things.) The thing is, we are all guilty of judging and trying to compete with other women, women who we may not even know. It doesn’t have to be this way.
In situations like this, where making external changes is nearly impossible without changing your own attitude, I prefer tactics of passive resistance, or resistance through changing my own behavior. When someone is sizing me up, a bright smile throws them off and surprises them. When someone is flirting with someone who I’m on a date with or sizing me up in that situation, I show how little I am bothered by it instead of making a face or any other response. Acting jealous and competitive shows an insecurity that I do not have (or perhaps a confidence that I DO have!). When people try to categorize me, I let them try, but I happen live in such a way that makes putting me in a box difficult. I’m smart and soft-spoken enough that I could easily be a “good girl” but I know my “wild” hair and “too short” dresses could easily catapult me into the category of a “bad girl”. It makes life difficult for the average judgmental person. Yet, not everyone lives like I do, and they don’t deserve to be subjected to judgment for their choices either.
Where I live in the United States, the cult of womanhood amongst black women is different. We do have a culture of supporting each other, regardless of how close we are. There is a positive environment amongst women of color that I would love to see replicated here. Living in a nearly homogenous white student population, we only have each other. This has forced us to stick together for survival purposes; so I don’t think this difference is a cultural difference between the U.S. and St. Lucia entirely. The difference still exists however, and it has opened my eyes as to ways that you can change your own behavior and dismantle this unspoken hatred between women.
1. Try to compliment at least one female friend a day. Tell her you like her hair-do, her nails, something. Make it genuine. Don’t just compliment for the sake of it. Training yourself to see things that you actually like about the women around you will get you started eliminating a lot of implicit negativity you may have towards other women. This is the easiest one, so if you find the others more difficult, try to do only this for at least a week before moving on to the others. The results will be worth it.
2. Catch your negative thoughts about other women. It’s hard to police your own thoughts, but the positive feelings you get from doing this far outweigh the inconvenience of having to self-monitor. When you see a woman and feel the need to judge her clothes, hair, body or man, take note of the negative thought you had. Don’t eliminate it! Form the thought in your head, go so far as to say “Wow, I thought she was wearing really terrible clothing.” Acknowledge the negative thought and then assess.
Where did this judgment come from? It may come from jealousy or anger or it may come from nowhere at all. It doesn’t matter if there is a rational reason. Once you have understood the source of your thought or comment, force yourself to find one nice thing to say about the woman you have just judged. It doesn’t even have to be something real! You can think to yourself, “But I bet she is a really good cook.” You just need something to replace the negativity in your mind and practice mindfully choosing positivity.
3. Do not engage with negative looks, comments or behaviors. We are tempted to respond when we feel threatened. If another woman gives you a dirty look, sizes you up or flirts with your partner, her behavior does not reflect on you, it reflects on her. She may have her own insecurities or other factors that lead to that behavior. While you aren’t in control of her actions, you are in control of how you respond to her actions.
I do not advocate accepting abuse lying down, but if a situation is not dangerous, there is no need to engage with negativity, for your own sake. Respond with a smile, or neutrality if you can’t manage that. This tends to jar people, and while it may not change their minds, it will give you some peace and perhaps an upper hand. Responding to hate with love is not always the solution, but in this case it can serve as an effective way to break down barriers between women.