Kernels of Nonsense is a bi-monthly feature here on my blog where I share my thoughts on various book-related topics. This week I will be discussing my heavy distaste for girl-on-girl hate in literature.
No other type of relationship in literature is more hackneyed, more condescending, more infuriating than girl-on-girl hate.
Whether it be movies, T.V. shows, or books, it’s pretty clear that society believes that women are incapable of actually liking one another. Simply Google “Why women hate each other” and there is no end to the articles explaining this contempt between females. Or ask anyone you know whether they think women hate other women (I did this and every answer was a resounding yes.)
The stereotype goes a little something like this: women do not actually like each other because we are secretly in competition with one another. We don’t like it when other women are in the room because it takes attention away from us. We are constantly in competition with other women over the attention of some male. If another woman gets more attention than we do, our reaction is jealousy and hatred. We only pretend to like other women and any compliments we pay are insincere and even at times surreptitiously hostile because in our heads we really just want to do this:
I’m not saying that this mindset does not exist. I’ve witnessed it plenty of times and even been guilty myself of comparing myself to another woman and feeling either superior or inadequate. But I don’t believe this is the natural way of things. I think society has taught us that women seek the validation of men and that if he gives attention to another female, it somehow takes away from us. It teaches us that we should feel threatened by other women and by pointing out the flaws in another woman, we can then feel adequate ourselves. I remember hearing a girl some years ago tell our male classmates that she didn’t have female friends because girls just didn’t like her. I couldn’t decide what was more tragic: that she felt that being friends with other girls was impossible or that she seemed to wear the fact like a badge of honor.
Frankly I’m tired of media outlets, including literature, telling me that I must feel insecure when there is another woman in the room, that my first reaction should be to compare myself to her, that I should feel insecure if another woman garners more attention than me. Isn’t it hard enough being female? Every woman knows it is an upward battle, that we are at a disadvantage because we are female, so why on earth would we push each other down even further? And why are we allowing this idea in literature? Why don’t we see more female friendships? Why does it feel rare to read about a female character relating to another female? Why was my first reaction upon finishing The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey to hope that in the next book Cassie and Ringer (being the only older female characters) wouldn’t hate each other? Why did I end up being disappointed?
It is my belief that one of the reasons so many female protagonists in books lack female friends is because of this idea that women hate each other. Sometimes I’ll read a book with a female protagonist and she’ll be surrounded by men, and I’ll just sit there wondering where on earth the other females in the world are. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a lack of women in the world, but we all seem to disappear in movies, T.V. shows, and books like we are rare creatures only seen in the dead of night. Worst yet is when these books are written by female authors and you’d think that if anyone would be able to show how valuable females and their relationships with each other are, it would be female authors.
I’m simply starved for books that spotlight strong female friendships because it is all too common that I see either the absence of females or the stereotypical girl-on-girl hate mentality. This is one of the reasons I really enjoy books like Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series. She shows us that women can coexist, that we can be friends without feeling jealous or secretly hating one another. Her books are a wonderful reminder that women should support one another and not buy into the idea that we have to hate each other. These types of toxic relationships in print only serve to perpetuate the belief that women hate other women, which is not only a patronizing cliché, it is also an extremely unhealthy mindset to have of yourself and others.
What are your thoughts on girl-on-girl hate? Is it something that bothers you? Do you feel that it is a correct or incorrect representation of female relationships? What books have you read that either showcase girl-on-girl hate or highlight the value of female friendships?
13 thoughts on “Kernels of Nonsense, #9: Girl-on-Girl Hate”
Great post, and what a great topic that you can really delve into in detail!! I too like to see when women can support one another and develop healthy relationships, but this isn’t always the case and I think that depends on a whole ream of things. In the work environment in particular, a lot depends on culture, but I have witnessed instances were jealousy and competition result in a bitchy-environment and women tearing each other down rather than bringing each other up, and I have been one of those women who prefers working with men (and I mostly still do – bad experiences in the past), though when women can work together productively, it’s fantastic! Personally, I try to break the mould of the girl-on-girl hate when I can, but because it can be so deeply rooted in things like low self-esteem, lack of confidence and negative past experiences, it can be real tricky to do. I wonder if literature and the media reflect the real-life scenario, or if they inadvertently encourage the real-life scenario to continue, catch-22 style.
I think it is a combination of art imitating life and life imitating art. It’s a vicious cycle that is reinforced by all sort of media. The only way I think we can change this is to start with ourselves, to realize our worth isn’t dependent on comparing ourselves to other women. It’s sad when you see other women hating each other. And in my opinion this internalized misogyny is far more harmful to women than if it came from a man.
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I also prefer working with men for the same reasons as Rachel. The jobs I’ve had in female dominated workplaces were bitchy train wrecks, whereas the jobs where I’ve worked with men in the mix didn’t have such big problems. In one job in particular, it wasn’t even a competition over guys, it was just plain boredom turning ugly. It’s a shame because I went to an all girl’s school and we generally got along okay!
I’ve been sitting here trying to think of a book with good inter-female relationships… I’m coming up with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and maybe Jane Austen. Both of those have their fair share of bitchy females too, but I guess it is part of human nature.
Awesome topic for discussion!
I think we’ve all had negative experiences with other women, and I think it’s important to understand where it’s coming from. But we’ve all had wonderful relationships with other women as well and it’s a shame that it is the negative experiences that have become cliché. I will definitely check out those books, thank you so much for suggesting them. It’s funny that you mentioned that boredom drove women into being very ugly with each other and that reminds me a lot of Jane Austen in which the women of that time really didn’t have much to do. I think of Caroline, who always felt the need to put down Elizabeth and her family, so she could feel superior in the eyes of Mr. Darcy.
I’m not gonna type a long comment because I’m half asleep but basically my reactions when reading this “YES. THIS. GOOD.”
This especially needs to change in the genre of YA, where teenagers are reading books and need reminding constantly that actually friendships shouldn’t be ruled by jealousy over some guy. Ugh.
Women are raised to bitch and slut-shame each other, I mean just look at the way the tabloids tear into whatever female celebratory has- god forbid- gained an extra pound or two after childbirth. I’m going into a very masculine line of work, and I honestly find it less intimidating than entering an all female environment (speaking as someone who attended an all girls secondary school). If girls can judge other girls so harshly, then what is to tell the men that it isn’t okay to do it either. Hmph.
Society holds women to much higher standards than men and a lot us end up feeling completely inadequate. Having to always live up to society’s ideal image of a woman is down right depressing. And then we’re taught to criticize each other and you’re right, doing this does nothing to stop men from slut-shaming women and calling them any other names under the sun.
Thank you for writing this post! I have never really thought about girl-on-girl hate in the past but your points were spot on and made me realize that it is an incredibly ridiculous element that always seems to appear in books. And now I love you even more for mentioning the Gallagher Girls series! One of the best things about that series is the never-ending relationship between Cammie and her BFFs! Ally Carter manages to make the girls’ friendship stronger than ever, even when male characters are introduced into the storyline, and that is what I love best about the series.
I haven’t been able to think of any books that focus on strong female friendships but I hope you find a book that is just that!
This is something I never really thought about growing up. I just sort of accepted that women hated other women. But then I really started noticing how harsh women could be on each other and I noticed that I was going out of my way to compare myself to other women. And I vowed that I wasn’t going to end up being a woman who hated other women. It’s so important to appreciate each other’s strengths and not feel inadequate because of them. I love the GG series and all the female characters are strong in their own way and this fact never diminishes other females’ worth.
I mostly agree with you. I think some level of competition is natural, and that some women naturally are going to strive for attention and put down others – just like some men are the same. However society does have a HUGE impact and tends to worsen the problem.
I do think that competition is natural, but when this competition is taken to another level where you feel you have to compare yourself to another women, this is when the problem starts. The prevalence of girl-on-girl hate vs. guy-on-guy hate in any form of media is pretty telling. Insecurity is responsible for a lot of girl-on-girl hate because we are constantly equating self-worth with recognizing the deficiencies of other women.