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Mean Girls: What To Do When Girls Judge Each Other Because Patriarchy Taught Us To?

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By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:

Hello everyone. Just as I was settling into summer, the monsoon began, so now I’m battling the need to curl up on my sofa with a book and not work all day. However, sexism will not fight itself, so let’s begin!

S asked:

When you see girls dissing other girls for reasons patriarchy tells us to (the clothes she wears, the number of partners she’s had, her body weight), how do you start a conversation with them to get them to stop?

Dear S,

A funny thing has started happening ever since I began to actually live feminism, and not just talk a big game. You know what I mean: I started putting practices to work, measuring them against my own standards and seeing what changed in my own life. Of course, this is a long drawn out process and has taken me several months to get to this point, but I find myself actively checking my mind when I start to do things I’ll call the Lazy Mind Reflexes. The Lazy Mind Reflex is tempted to go on loving a poet you’ve always admired even though they raped a woman (and then wrote about it in their autobiography. Same for an actor, a director, a singer and so on). The Lazy Mind Reflex will make excuses for a sexist remark because you like the person who made it, instead of questioning it and taking it apart. The Lazy Mind Reflex might even make some sexist remarks of its own.

Specifically, this morning I was thinking about my interactions with other women, especially the ones I don’t like very much. I see them at parties or whatever, and I’m tempted to wrinkle my nose and walk away. There’s no one particular reason why I don’t care for a person, just that they rub me the wrong way or whatever. But then I was wondering why exactly so-and-so was someone I disliked. And in doing that, I began to very scientifically take them apart in my head—was it her behaviour? The way she talked? The way she existed even? And, when, by the end of it, I couldn’t come up with a concrete reason, I realised that my Lazy Mind Reflex had taken control and forced me to react to this person in this way.

I may never be best friends with this person, but at least now I know that I don’t dislike her. And that’s a step forward from being like, “Ugh, I can’t stand her, why is she even here!”

Now, I’m not saying that feminism is about making you a saint. You may fundamentally disagree with someone so much that being around them stresses you out. You may be jealous. You may think she (or he) says mean things and you can’t be around someone so ungenerous. But a lot of times there’s no one thing to make you not like someone. It’s just… there. And it is that you need to question.

Since I hit my thirties, another funny thing happened. I woke up one morning, and I looked just the same, but in the mirror, I looked fantastic. Nothing about me has changed, and yet I feel fabulous. And it’s because of that I can go out now and admire what other people are wearing in a wholly appreciative fashion. When in my callow early twenties, I might have judged someone for wearing something too tight/too short/too low etc, now I’m like, “Wow, it’s amazing to see a confident woman.” More often than not, I find women criticise other women because they feel threatened in a strange sense. Why can she wear that when I don’t? Why can she talk to boys while flipping her hair around while I’m nervous around the opposite sex? It comes from being insecure yourself—this need to pull everyone else down.

One of the best ways in my experience to get this sort of remark to stop is to say, “Well, I think she looks great!” or “I think it’s fantastic that she has such great body image.” I’ve tried this a few times with excellent results, the person I was with looked again at the woman she was criticising and said, “You know, you’re right!” The evening got a bit brighter. We were all on the same side. You know that feeling you get when someone random at a bar walks up to you and says, “I love your outfit!”? That’s what it felt like then, except with the compliment aimed at someone else.

A group of girls is a little harder to reason down. I think that’s the reason the movie ‘Mean Girls’ did so well. We’ve all known mean girls. Some of us even were mean girls! Some of us continue to be.

mean girls

In this case, I’d suggest making them think beyond their Lazy Mind Reflex. Ask questions like, “what about her is threatening to you?” Be warned: people often take a while to shake off old habits, especially something like pulling someone else down (it’s a bit like smoking a cigarette; you know it’s bad but it triggers some sort of pleasure centre in your brain). But if you make that your question, especially if you ask it in a non-judgemental way, sooner or later, people are going to start to ask themselves the same things.

Sometimes you need to rage against the machine, and sometimes you need to rage against your very own brain. But the best part is, after a course of questioning the things you automatically think, you’ll emerge on the other side a better human being.

Love,
Aunty Feminist

Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at auntyfeminist@youthkiawaaz.com or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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