Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the next president of the United States: Frank Underwood!!!! Wait no, not Frank Underwood but Donald Trump!!??!! That can’t be right, can it?
Between the scandals, the ***** grabbing, the Beyonce shows, it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between fact and fiction during the 2016 US elections. Like most of the world, the results, and the months leading up to them, shocked me. Whether you were pro this or pro that, something about these elections, the campaigns, the debates, the fake/not fake reporting, the Russians, Facebook, the outcome itself…… something struck a chord in all of us. Of the many chords that were struck in me, the one which resonated the most, was how it brought feminism, or women’s issues, back into the limelight. Discussions about how far women have come in the last century, and maybe more importantly how far women still have to go, was the ‘menu du jour’ on every major news outlet, with everything from sexual harassment, to abortion being served as main courses.
Feminism is, of course, a complex, multifaceted issue which can be dissected into thousands of pieces, but the one that shined through for me, was how much we talk about feminism in terms of men; ‘Men treated me this way’, ‘Men won’t let this happen’, ‘Men did this’, ‘Men, men, men..’, even on this topic, we give men center stage. So, I started asking myself, what about women in feminism? What are we doing today to push the feminist agenda forward? Or better yet, are we doing anything that might be holding it back? Are women actually together on this? Are we, that one proverbial army, marching forward in unison to the beating drum?
Asking myself these questions I couldn’t help but think about all the times I’ve heard things like: ‘Well of course you don’t get along, you’re both women’, or ‘Of course she doesn’t like you, you’re younger and prettier’, or ‘Of course you don’t like her, she’s younger and prettier’, or ‘Women can’t work together, it’s a known fact’, or ‘Women don’t like each other’, ‘Women aren’t team players’ and so on. So, is there any truth to it? Do we hate other women for being prettier? Smarter? Younger? More successful? And do men feel this way? I’ve never heard of a man being accused of hating another man because he was younger and prettier.
In these elections did women, some women I should say, hate Hillary for more than just the usual reasons we hate politicians? It’s undeniable that the elections displayed an incredible amount of bias when it came to how Hillary was portrayed; being dubbed ‘Crooked-Hillary’ for instance; had she really done anything that her male counterparts hadn’t? Didn’t they deserve a similar nickname?
But beyond the way she was treated by the media in general, how did women view her? Some of her most ardent critics were women. So, did some women have it in for her just a little more, because she was a woman who had elevated to a level which no woman had before? Did women, consciously or not, feel threatened by her?
It’s no secret that the standards set for today’s modern woman are not only unfair, they are almost completely unachievable and run deep into some of the core issues of our society; about physical appearance and the double standards facing men and women regarding things like aging or body image; about the social pressures of being good at everything from parenting to professional accomplishments and finding the right balance between the two; about the almost innate greeting we have to little girls versus little boys ‘Oh you’re so pretty’, ‘What a pretty dress’, ‘Pretty… pretty, pretty’; which affect not only how women perceive themselves but how they relate to other women.
Has this somehow led us to always feel like we are competing with each other in one way or another? And if so, where did it stem from? Why have women become this way and not men, (or men to a lesser degree)? Was it simply nature, or nurture?
There is certainly more than one hypothesis on why things are the way the are, but let’s examine one possibility, one that takes us back to our very own individual beginning; before we understood anything about the world; before we understood what was expected of us; before we knew what beauty or friendship was; what did we most listen to? What did we most want to be? Aside from the usual rock star and veterinarian, we have all, at some point or another, wanted to be a princess, a princess just like the one in our favourite fairy tale. I can’t count the number of times I helped my mom clean the house while pretending I was Cinderella, imagining myself in my pretty off-white ball gown.
The reality is that most of us grew up on stories which began with ‘She was the fairest in the land’. Before we could speak or even think really, we were bombarded with stories about ugly evil step sisters hating their sister because she was not just beautiful but more beautiful; step mothers trying to kill their step daughter because the mirror on the wall told them the latter was prettier; the ugly duckling who had no friends but luckily in the end turned into a beautiful swan who suddenly everyone wanted to be friends with; and the list goes on and on. And, of course, the only one to get the happy ending is the ‘fairest in the land’, everyone else just get to go back to their miserable lives (or die in some cases).
It’s odd that no one would directly teach the values underlined in these stories to their daughters, but we wouldn’t think twice about reading a classic fairy tale when tucking our little girls to sleep. After all what harm is there in a fairy tale? We might even take pride in passing something on to our daughters that was passed on to us by our mothers. But have we ever thought about what we are in fact teaching little girls through these stories?
Has anyone ever heard of a story which starts with a boy ‘Being the fairest in the land?’, or boys hating one another because one was ‘prettier’ than the other? No of course not, that wouldn’t make any sense, that’s not how boys are! Boys like stories about magic beans and flying to Neverland to live out an eternal childhood with their friends. Even in classic fairy tales, boys or men or the seven dwarfs, live together, collaborate for the good of everyone.
Although, it might not be as true today as it was 20 or 30 years ago, and today we can also say that the truest of loves is sisterly love between Elsa and Anna, neither of which is the ‘fairest in the land’ (although they are still both very pretty); the values these ‘classic’ stories transmit are still ubiquitous in our society and have had a deep effect on how women interact and have interacted with each other for centuries. We haven’t been taught to support each other, we haven’t been taught that we might be stronger if we stand together, we haven’t been taught to admire each other’s strengths.
Instead, we’ve been taught, albeit indirectly, that we have to compete with one another for that happy ending and hatred of anyone who might stand in the way of it, say ‘the fairest in the land’ (or extrapolated to anything else a woman does today) was normalized. So, does it come as a surprise that some of that hatred has seeped into the real world?
Perhaps it’s time we think twice before reaching for that bedtime story or buying that Snow-white Halloween costume. Perhaps these fairy tales should nowadays be reserved for classrooms and taught in a historical and social context and not be featured on children’s bookshelves.
Beyond what fairy tales may or may not have taught us, I believe we each need to do a little introspection about how we regard other women. Maybe each one of us has contributed to the stereotyped sayings about how women feel towards other women. So, maybe it’s time we stop pointing the finger at men and look in the mirror a little as well (not the mirror which tells you who the fairest in the land is). Maybe it’s time we unlearn what we’ve been taught and learn to
acknowledge each other’s weaknesses and admire each other’s strengths instead of feeling threatened by them. Maybe united we stand, divided we fall.
Andreea Vladan is a writer, blogger at Ramblings of a Slightly Neurotic Globetrotter, world traveler and tanguera who is currently mastering the art of tango in Buenos Aires and in a previous life was a manufacturing process engineer for vaccines.