Friend or foe? How strong is the ‘women supporting women’ movement?

Women are their own worst enemies. This is a line you will come across on many social media platforms with women verbally tearing each other to shreds, over business, work, relationships, among other things. 

Strangely, these social battles are waged, in many cases, by the very same women singing the praises of girl power, feminism, and female friendship in their lives.

In the era of women coming out to pledge support for other women, creating hashtags on social media, and posting photos about how much women can help other women grow, incidents of back-stabbing or gossiping between women, as well as malignant comments about female celebrities on social media, have instead, been seized as proof that hostility is a natural state among all women.

A literature review by Tracy Vaillancourt in 2013 found that women by and large express indirect aggression towards other women, and that aggression is a combination of “self-promotion” making themselves look more attractive, and “derogation of rivals” being catty about other women.

Women are a key part of our modern workforce who may have been freed from their reliance on their male providers during the 20th Century. This, however, is not believed to have lessened female rivalry. Rather, this phenomenon is believed to have simply moved into the professional sphere.

This perception dates back centuries ago, where women were pronounced incapable of “true” friendship and rather than enjoying the long-lasting friendships found among men, bonds between women were depicted as short-lived, unable to withstand women’s quarrelsome nature.

On women, a book published in 1851, by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, declared that the feeling between male strangers or acquaintances was “mere indifference”, for women it was “actual enmity”.

Why women?

Immy Mulekatete, the head of information and communications at Never Again Rwanda, says that although not common in all communities, feminine rivalry is a daunting reality.

“Feminine foes are caused by different issues that stem from some women just being catty in character, some women fighting for their supposed boundaries while others fighting those they think are better than them,” she says.

Girl Talk ambassador, Bonitah Kobusingye, says that women, although a group that’s courageously powerful, can also be a group that’s really hard on themselves, yet it’s hard not to play the comparison game in today’s social media world. This, she blames on societal upbringing that encourages women to compete for what they want other than lift others up.

“I know that with how we are raised to do things for a man, we tend to grow up with a keen eye to please them.  I remember even in school we had teenage girls who were jealous over other girls that had the best shoes or clothes.

“I feel women were raised with that character, to know that we have to compete and be more deserving. Stories of women pulling other women in the work space is so common and we tend to believe in it that we think its only women who do that, yet men also sometimes compete to please a woman.

“I feel like society should be blamed because women are not told to be kind, but fight what for what we want and be better than the other. We are not taught to navigate ways to be kind, and not bring other women down, and it challenges the idea of women empowerment because we are supposed to support our own friends and then as a group empower each other,” she says.

Jessica Intsinzi, a fitness trainer believes that the overall cause of female rivalry is lack of self-esteem, lack of self-appreciation and not knowing ones values and always wanting to be better than another, rather than being a better version of oneself.

“We are not all meant to do the same, we all have our destiny and by denying to acknowledge the above leads to insecurity in oneself,” Kobusingye says.

Research done by authors Susan Murphy and Rita Heim, suggest that, “Women consistently fail to support other women in the workplace and often actively set out to undermine their authority and credibility.”

Their book, In the Company of Women, explains how indirect, or “relational” aggression can hurt women and hinder them from achieving success and harmony in their adult lives. Gender studies have shown that when a goal is in sight, men generally use direct action to attain it. Women, on the other hand, have been socialised to express aggressive actions through indirect means, using behaviour such as shunning and stigmatising.

 Egidie Bibio Ingabire, a journalist with Rwanda Television, is against this notion. She says contrary to what many believe, women are not always competitive and jealous, and that this perception only brings the image of female empowerment down.

“Women who are jealous of their fellow women simply do not believe in themselves, are sometimes less qualified and have insecurities that they deal with. Smart women instead try to lift others to let them show what they are good at.

“If everybody is good at their job and can do it, then they are in good position to help society at large. I hate it when people paint women as those who are always gossiping, jealous of each other, and are unfriendly,” she says.

Mulekatete adds that the bottom line is that there is no tangible reason why women should compete and hold grudges. However, social media can fuel the feud or change the narrative. Given that more women than men use social media, that ubiquity of some women who are catty can spiral the rivalry but overtime.

She is, however, optimistic that the feminist movement will sweep all this competition off and promote woman to woman empowerment.

Dealing with female rivalry

Kobusingye says that the competitive mentality among women poses a huge challenge for women empowerment and feminism.

“As women we are supposed to flip the coin to the other side and realise the benefits of lifting each other up. We have grown up with the competitive mentality that we use it in the work spaces, and at home, yet it’s so wrong.

“It kind of contributes to society’s belief that women should be competitive and proves that what men think of us is true. We need to do what feminism is telling us to do, and navigate ways to maintain healthy relationships, and instead of showing your friends that you care about them only on their birthdays, how about you do it every time? We should all practice these ideas that we preach on social media,” she says.

Nadia Keza, the managing director of International Travel Agency (ITA), says competition at work should only be tolerated during service delivery. She advises women facing female rivalry or competition from the same sex, to simply focus on their job, work on excellent customer service and sell good products.   

“The goal should be to work together and grow your industry. I know people deal with people they know but when they have good service elsewhere and a good product, they will move on. Customer service is key,” she says.

THEIR SAY

Women are capable of being great leaders and role models, but because of our position in society over the past years, women work on the principle that there’s not enough room for all of us, therefore, they must do what it takes to get theirs. If we lack the confidence to help us reach our goals, we are more competitive and anyone is a potential threat. Self-confidence and esteem is all that we need.

Doreen Mutesi, Procurement officer

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While most women want to be kind, they struggle with a darker side - feelings of jealousy, envy, and competition. Every woman, however, goes through stages of growth at different times. This doesn’t mean one person is better than the other, or one area of growth is stronger than the last. It just means we’re different and we have to celebrate that.

Amy Sugira, IT specialist
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The ‘women supporting women movement’ is real in our country and around the world just like competitions and rivalries are similarly ongoing. Thank God we live in a country where women are appreciated and supported although we also have cases of women competing against each other. For some who are feuding in the music industry, like Cardi B and Nickie Minaj, it’s simply business, and the more they talk, the more they earn. Women need to focus only on their positive energy and realise that it has been a struggle to have a voice, which should not be taken for granted.

Nina Muhoza, Artiste
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The ‘women supporting women’ movement should not just focus on its popularity or gaining more followers, but put what they preach in action. What do we do that shows that we support each other? It doesn’t make sense being part of the movement yet we don’t practice love and sharing.

Yvette Mbabazi, Founder of Icyeza
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editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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