As feminist issues the world over continue to gain recognition and support, there is a significant problem that has yet to be addressed, though it may be one of the strongest barriers holding us back: girl hate.
Feminism will never feel like a chapter out of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but the practice of women attacking women instead of working through differing opinions to affect change only keeps us from moving forward. In order for feminism to grow, women must be able to respect other women’s choices, though they may disagree, and continue a constructive dialogue on why feminism exists and what it supports.
Sometimes this is as simple as explaining to women who are opposed to labeling themselves as feminists that at its core, feminism is the effort to create equality of the sexes and genders, a goal that all of us should be able to stand behind.
When Katy Perry accepted the title of Billboard’s “Woman of the Year” by saying “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women,” many of us cocked our heads to the side in confusion, wondering why the singer just said something equivalent of, “I don’t like chocolate, but I’m a HUGE fan of Godiva!”
I respect Katy Perry’s opinion that women are strong – in fact, I agree 100 percent. What I don’t agree with is her misinformed view that her opinion isn’t backed by feminism. By equating that it isn’t, she is putting down all the efforts of women who advocate the strength of women through feminism, and that in turn hurts all women.
When it comes to more polarizing feminist topics, instead of discussing ideas, people sometimes validate their opinions by directing their anger at women for being women, which is particularly harmful if done by women themselves.
One such topic is that of bodily autonomy and abortion, where we have women such as CEO and President of Concerned Women for America Penny Nance, who argues that a woman’s control of her body stops the second she becomes pregnant, even when that pregnancy is the result of rape.
“It is very difficult to talk about the rape issue because it is such a horrific crime,” Nance has said. “We understand, though, that the hopeful message is one of life. We don’t want to further injure women who have been raped and the baby doesn’t know the difference… we consistently believe in life, and we believe in a life of the mother exception.”
And instead of discussing birth control as a means to protect women from unplanned pregnancy, poverty, high rates of abortion and as a human right to have control over our reproductive health, we have women calling each other sluts for their choices of sexual expression, and some actively campaigning to restrict or eliminate those rights.
Instead of discussing equality in the workplace, including equal pay and equal opportunities for promotion, women are being called unfeminine or described as having “anti-family” values when they decide to eschew motherhood for career goals, or god forbid when they try to “have it all” by balancing the two. On this topic we have author Suzanne Venker, who shames women for not allowing nature to take its course by stepping aside and letting men rule over them. “Men want to love women, not compete with them. They want to provide for and protect their families – it’s in their DNA. But modern women won’t let them,” Venker writes in her Fox News editorial, “The War on Men.” By not offering women the same choices that men unquestionably have in balancing a career and other values, all women lose, both the single female CEO of a Fortune 500 company and the stay-at-home mom.
In essence, girl hate is women’s denial of women’s rights by victimizing women instead of advocating the goals of freedom of choice and individualism for us all.
A prime example of girl hate surfaced last week from journalist Ann Coulter, who referred to women who advocate for freedom of reproductive choice as being “murderers.” Her comments brought me such frustration on behalf of womankind that I began to feel the very thing I am writing against, a hatred for Ms Coulter for speaking those words against us.
In such moments I have likened Ann Coulter to a robot designed by the patriarchy, one made to systematically set the women’s rights movement back by decades each time she opens her mouth.
However, in a more likely reality, Ann Coulter is just an extreme conservative who argues against liberal points of view on controversial topics. Comments she makes in her books, television appearances, speeches and syndicated newspaper column are sometimes followed by “I’m kidding,” but it is often hard to tell.
One example of this was in 2006, when Coulter said “We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens’ crème brulee,” speaking of the partial writer of the Supreme Court opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Roe v. Wade. “That’s just a joke, for you in the media.”
More recently, Coulter used an opportunity when speaking on Fox News about gun control to support the idea that we should have a public record of the names and addresses of women who receive abortions.
In the context of the news segment, Coulter may have thought her argument made sense: After the tragic mass shooting that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut in December, New York newspaper the Journal News published the names and addresses of residents with handgun licenses who lived in the paper’s area of coverage.
But instead of staying on the topic of gun control during her appearance, Coulter went on to propose the release of names of recently-paroled criminals, celebrity body guards, rent-controlled apartment tenants and women who’ve had abortions.
“I think mothers might want to know what other women on their street might be willing to murder a child,” Coulter said.
By Coulter’s logic, women who have had abortions are now on par with mass murders.
Ms Coulter has the right to her opinions, regardless of how misguided we perceive them to be. However, no matter how limited access to abortion may be, abortion is legal – murder is not. Nor is access to anyone else’s medical records, which would be an invasion of privacy, which is also why abortion is legal under Roe v. Wade.
Coulter’s argument does not add to the discourse of gun control or reproductive health. It unfairly oppresses women by shaming a human right that we feminists have fought to maintain.
If we ever want to see progress in women’s rights, we have to stop the repression of women, and that starts on an individual level. We must understand that when we turn other women into villains for their choices, we’re putting a person before an outcome.
And yes, I guess this even applies to Ann Coulter.
Instead of hating on Coulter, we should direct our anger toward the restriction of reproductive rights. Instead of hating other women for their choices, we should hate the patriarchy and the boxes it tries to confine us to. We should use these opportunities to build better arguments, to educate, and to come together as a united force.
If we can’t count on each other for support, on who the hell can we?
Written by Lauren Slavin