Wednesday, July 11, 2007

on judgment and 'sisterhood'

i was thinking yesterday about the ways that groups of women look and talk about each other. particularly, though we say we support and respect one another, we can't help but make some really hardcore value judgments about our so-called 'sisters' or friends. i've found that they usually revolve around how we raise our children (or have decided not to have children) or who we have sex with. (funny how we don't spend quite as much energy when it comes to how we make professional decisions - just about reproduction and sex.)

let me know if any of the following sound familiar:

' how can a mother stand to leave her child in day care?'
'why go out with him if he's not, you know, The One?'
'i can't stand these women who can't control their kids.'
'if i had to be a stay at home mother i'd commit suicide.'
'why can't these women use birth control?'
'i just couldn't have a one night stand. it's not for me. i think i'm worth more than that, you know? but, hey, i'm not judging you!' (my favorite)
'how can you sleep with someone and not feel anything? it just seems so...cold.' (a variation on the above and also a favorite)
'why have kids if you're not going to raise them?'
'i would never have an abortion but i'd never tell another woman she couldn't have one. but i really think they shouldn't be allowed to have one after the first trimester.'

'i could never be one of those women who stayed with a guy after he hit me.'
'she's born again. whatever.'
'slap me if i ever tell you i'm moving out to downer's grove.'
'choices, people, choices! if you're drunk, you have no business being at a bar!' (strange logic but you know what i mean.)

the way we live; where we live; who we sleep with; how we act. our feminine censorious eyes leave nothing untouched.

i'll own up to mine. i've said at least half the things up there; if you do a thorough search of this blog you'll probably come across them. i've even felt superior while saying them, comforted by how 'together' my life is compared to some other woman's life. but that's what it is: comparison. by comparison my life is pretty good. i've made pretty good decisions in comparison to ... what? and if that woman's situation didn't exist for comparison, what then? would i still think i was hot shit?

that's a cheap sort of comfort.
i have a friend who would say 'it is what it is' when there was someone or something she didn't 'get.' she'd shrug and just say, 'ok. it is what it is.' and she'd move on. why can't we move on? why are we compelled to watch other women for perceived shortcomings and then prey on them? it's like we're baptist or something. (or HappyMom. remember her?)

but i'm not saying that we should suddenly become silent female switzerlands, neutral on everything. i don't think we have the capacity for that kind of forbearance. in my opinion, being judgmental comes with being human. we can't help it. our judgments make it easier for us to determine who's in the 'tribe' and who's out. but let's be honest about them, for honesty's sake, if nothing else.
and let's be honest about the limits of sisterhood. i was having dinner with a coworker tonight and we were venting about the office and one of us (cough) said: 'just because you're feminist doesn't mean you can act unprofessional and not get called out on it.' i guess i'm sort of conflicted about the 'all for one/one for all' model of sisterhood we get presented with alot.
eh, i'm blathering.
i made a list of my value judgments over lunch the other day. it was a list of binaries that accurately summed up the so-called 'neutral' values that inform my judgments on. (the privileged term is first):

middle-class/working-class AND middle-class/wealthy
whether or not i acknowledge them, these values color my world (and i suspect that it's not even a complete list.) they taint every conversation, every interaction and i'm not aware of them half the time.

it was a useful exercise; feel free to share some of your own, if you like.

posts i've come across this week about judgments we make:
The Park Slope Parent Trap - New York Times
Trusting Women Who are not You - Feministing
Broke, part 1
Broke, part 2


Anonymous said...

Now, I don't mean to get your dander up; I just want to let you know there ARE different realities. And before I say my peace, I ain't recruiting... But as a lesbian sistah and in reference to my large circle of lesbian friends (sistahs and otherwise, mothers in the bunch as well)... never are our interactions defined by the "otherness" as you indicate. just food for thought is all...

Anonymous said...

The reality is and others who decide to compare yourselves to others(notice i said decide),you don't have to look at others.Part of contentment is be happy with your choices not someone elses. Now if I am truly concern for someone, then it's not being censorious, but loving, I should be concern that my friend is downing alchol every day and she looks like crap! If my friend decides to marry someone that is not someone I would married, who am I to decide and think someone else is right for her base on what!?? My concern should be, does he love her? Superior thinking comes from being insecure.It's very easy to compare. Much harder to love others more than ourselves.

ding said...

Anon: no dander risen - i appreciate your input!
you're right; this is totally from my personal social perspective and i do think that what i describe is more common among straight women (especially straight women who don't necessarily self-identify as 'feminist'.) and, again, this is totally from observation! no scientific studies or anything like that.

and you're right; we don't have to look at others. and, yet, we do - and i don't think we're aware of it. i think your point about loving/accepting others without inserting ourselves into the mix well taken; it is much harder to do, i think. one needs to be intentional about that, more purposeful.

Molly Malone said...

i liked this post.
i agree with one of the Anons that a lot of it stems from insecurity. i'd be curious how much of that is inherent in women and how much is conditioned. we're never "perfect," and we've been told that since we were kids.

ding said...

thanks, molly.
it seems like such a chick-lit cliche - insecurity breeding contempt for one another - but for the majority of us, it seems to be par for the course.

of course, this is a huge generalization. i'm sure there are intentional groups and communities of women who actively support one another and very rarely give each other the stink-eye. but those seem rather the exception than the norm.

i think i fall into the nurture camp; i think these patterns of female stink-eye are learned.