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The Reason Why Hating Other Women Is Actually About Hating Ourselves

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By Rohini Banerjee for Cake:

“I don’t like her because she wears too much make-up,” I heard my cousin remark about one of her peers the other day. Both her and the girl she was talking about are barely 15 – an age that’s an important formative milestone for young women (both physically and mentally) – so I was taken aback at how casually my young cousin put down a fellow woman for a reason so baseless.

It made me think of my own teenage years, a time when I too was struggling with exploring and defining my own identity vis-a-vis womanhood. It’s not an easy terrain to navigate because society, popular culture, and domestic pressures are constantly trying to define your femininity for you. And in a situation like that, analysing and engaging with one’s femininity often means comparing it with that of the women around you – and when their choices don’t coincide with yours, you start seeing them in a negative light.

“I identify as a feminist, and yet find myself judge other women unwittingly,” says Anamika, a 25-year-old IT professional, “know how problematic it is, but it’s so deeply instilled that I cannot stop myself sometimes.” Anamika’s predicament isn’t hers alone. Girl-on-girl hate and the processes that incite it are so insidious that one often doesn’t even realise when one is participating in it. There are myriad ways in which this hate manifests itself – whether it be body-shaming, or judging and criticising sexual choices, clothing choices or even (like my cousin did) something as trivial as make-up.

Struggling With The Male Gaze

Divya, who just started college a few months back, admits that she’s fallen prey to it multiple times. “I was never the popular kid,” she says, “Which is why I was and sometimes still am jealous and resentful of the girls who hang out with boys and party a lot.” With time, Divya has realised that this jealousy was irrational; a result of the sense of competition with other women that she had internalised from a young age.

Feminist scholars and psychologists have actually found basis to this argument. Patriarchy teaches women to subject themselves to the male gaze, to model their personalities and physical appearances to appease heterosexual male standards of desirability; and that’s what causes all the harm. Psychologist Noam Shpancer writes in Psychology Today, “As women come to consider being prized by men their ultimate source of strength, worth, achievement and identity, they are compelled to battle other women for the prize.”

I have watched many a female friendship crumble because of this reason and have sadly been privy to this myself, though in a different way. As a teenager grappling with femininity there came a point when I tried to denounce it and along with it, the women who embodied that womanhood. I briefly cut ties with female friends and hung out with boys instead, often chiming in when these men were benevolently sexist and laughing at or ridiculing other women for being “stupid” or too “self-absorbed” (or various other baseless reasons). I turned myself into “the cool girl” stereotype, became “one of the guys”, and, in trying to reject male standards of desirability (and the female competition fostered by it), I ended up being horrible to the women who didn’t ascribe to my choices.

Hating Women=Hating Ourselves?

Shpancer’s theory also ties in with evolutionary psychology, or, what we call natural selection – an innate urge to level the playing field to ensure that we have access to the best genetic material for our survival. But in the modern context, this competitiveness becomes a more intimate one for women because it is linked to our perception of ourselves. Because patriarchy constantly tells us that we are inadequate, the urge to appear less so gets manifested in pulling down other women – and that’s our version of natural selection.

“When I look back, I realise that a lot of my hate towards other women was more about my own issues rather than theirs,” says Sharda, a homemaker in her fifties. Having moved to a metropolitan city after growing up in a more conservative, patriarchal small town family, Sharda has had to overcome a lot. Initially, she used to morally judge women who were more sexually liberated or opinionated, but over time, she realised she was internalising and embodying the same misogynistic beliefs that her family had perpetuated. “When I think about it, I realise that my disapproval of the neighbour’s daughter wearing short skirts and going out at night was more because I was envious that I didn’t have those freedoms when I was young,” she concludes.

And this is an important phenomenon. Like my 15-year-old cousin, many of us still haven’t broken out of the gender expectations that society thrusts upon us, and that angst gets manifested in how we regard our fellow women. We see in them what we ourselves lack – whether it’s conventional attractiveness, intelligence, competence or simply, the access, freedoms and opportunities that aren’t available to us, and that’s why we end up resenting all of that. It’s ourselves that we’re actually hating, not really them.

Though it’s a hard and long-drawn process, perhaps the only healthy way to unlearn this hate is to seek the company of fellow women who have gone through the same thing. As Aunty Feminist says, we can start this off by doing the little things, by complimenting our fellow women, telling them how amazing they look or brilliant they are, and that would eventually solidify into a stronger network of mutual support and positivity. Patriarchy pits us against other women using our insecurities because its foundations are threatened by female solidarity, and so, coming together is the most powerful way of challenging it.

This article was first published here on Cake.

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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