When waxing less-than-poetic about my dislike for a particular actress's portrayal of a character in a movie I wanted to enjoy but didn't, my dad asked me if i was just hating on her because she was a woman. My knee-jerk reaction was to say "Of course not! I'm a feminist, I don't hate other women." (Demonstrably not a valid argument.) I think that I do judge women more harshly than men when I dislike them, though I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps it's because I work in a male dominated industry, or because many of the hobbies I'm most passionate about are in male dominated spaces; I struggled, as a young woman, to be friends with other women beyond past a superficial connection. But as I walked through my life feeling the aftershocks of the UCSB shootings, looking at other women and seeing the universal truths that we all share, I wanted to figure out why.
My dislike for Gwyneth Paltrow (the actress that prompted my father's question) and Scarlett Johansson is stuff of legend among my friends. I have outright refused to see movies that they are in, which complicated my enjoyment of the Marvel movies they've both contributed to. The depth of my vitriolic and in many ways unnecessary and inappropriate dislike for them would be funny, if it wasn't so alarming. There is no one in my personal life that I feel even remotely that strongly against, we have to go down a couple of steps of hate from "would throw into an active volcano with only a little guilt" to "causes me heartburn and I would like them to go away." There are only a handful of people in my life like that. I wouldn't call any of them friends, though they are in my social circles. I dislike them enough to avoid them when at all possible.
But that still doesn't tell me why.
This is the easy answer. The one that some people will turn to over and over again and then shout about Lean In and make me roll my eyes as they try to earn a spot on the "heartburn and go away" level of dislike list. There is competition in the workplace. And some women managed to turn their love lives into competitions. But I am not vying for success against Paltrow or Johannson or even the three women in my personal life that I don't like. Their career goals are not my career goals. I am not competing with these women professionally, and seeing as how only Paltrow and one of the Terrible Trio are (currently) single, I'm not competing with them romantically, either.
More than that, I have fully bought into my friend Michi's genius rallying cry: the pie is infinite. Just because a woman has a slice of pie doesn't make my slice of pie any smaller, not by definition. It's been proven that, when things work as they should, every success that a woman brings to her world paves the way for other women to follow in her footsteps. Women gain far more by standing together, working together, than by struggling against one another in an attempt to control the small sliver of space they have carved out from those who really dominate. Infighting is counter productive. (In case that wasn't clear enough, I am really saying that the real "enemy" in this case is men, in particular men who have no interest in advancing the hiring, promotion, and otherwise advancement of all types of women.)
So competition, a drive to promote myself over these women, cannot be given credit for my dislike of them.
I'll readily admit I'm jealous of the ease that the amount of money that Paltrow and Johansson make would bring to my life. But I would not want to do what they do for a living in order to get it. I am not jealous of the turmoil that public scrutiny brings to their personal lives, the sexist questions that they regularly face with more grace than I could, or the very real danger they face from stalkers and paparazzi. I am not willing to sacrifice booze or dairy products in order to maintain an externally imposed beauty standard that my ability to be employed relies on the way they both must. In many ways my life is a luxury compared to theirs. I like going to work for 8ish hours and having the rest of the day to myself. I like walking my dog and hanging out with my friends and seeing my family without having to have people call people or fueling up a jet, I like not having to worry about walking to the Starbucks without makeup on.
Thinking hard about it, none of the three women I know and dislike have anything that I don't have that I couldn't have if I wanted it. They have lives of their own, careers and hobbies they seem to enjoy. None of that is keeping me from having what I want. If pressed, I suppose I can say they have skills I covet, but I'm aware that I could acquire them with some time and effort put in. I guess I wish I had someone to live with, as two of them do, to help me with walking the dog duties, but hell, if that's the biggest complaint I've got today? I'm doing pretty well.
I might be reading too much into this. I'll admit that. But the further I dug into the way I felt about these women I realized that all of my objections to their behavior came down to just how angry at myself I would be if I began to behave the way they did. I live in fear of being as tone-deaf as Paltrow or as marginalized as Johansson is. Particularly since their arrival in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I've been waiting in dread of being compared unfavorably to Paltrow and Johansson; the sexy lamp test failures, interviews that (perhaps incorrectly) show the latter to be a "fake geek girl,"* and the devastating trend towards "strong female character" syndrome has only heightened those fears. Even when they do things that I like and respect, for example the way Johansson has handled terrible questions about her body and her costumes while in pressers for Marvel movies, my visceral reaction is one of dislike, distrust, and distaste, because I cannot abide the idea of being compared to them. (For the moment we'll leave the deeply problematic roles she takes because let's face it that's more on Hollywood than on her. Not everyone can be Emma Thompson and Angel Haze.)
When it comes to the women I know, I think that their relative proximity to me is at the root of my dislike. We all four are white-passing, educated women within a few years of each other. We aren't too different in appearance. We share a number of interests and overlap significantly when it comes to hobbies and passions. It would make sense for a mutual acquaintance to blend us together into some sort of meta-person, conflate details about our lives. So why do I feel so immediately betrayed by the idea of someone might confuse me for one of them?
Because I am afraid of what people will think or do if they conflate us and our behavior. These women have been called** more than casually racist and classist, sore loser or too overtly sexual and "socially inappropriate." I will survive if someone think after a casual perusal that I share these features and habits with them, right?
This is where I panic. Because as UCSB shooting proved to us, getting compared to and lumped in with other women is dangerous. Women are routinely assaulted and killed for refusing the attention or advances of men, the stories are far too numerous to ignore at this point. And for every success hard-won by women, there are voices shouting that women are the problem, that women are responsible for the violence done to them. In a true mindfuck, we can't even count on other women for protection; wealthy women often use slut-shaming to marginalize women of lower socioeconomic classes.
So I am afraid of "too overtly sexual" turning into "cock tease" turning into "she had it coming." I'm afraid of how other women's behavior reflects on me, not only with men that might do me damage because of it, but women who would, too.
I know it's more likely that any actual harm would be done to my reputation in small circles of people I don't care about than that I get physically hurt because of what another woman has done (or what someone thinks they've done), but the chances of physical harm are not zero. I don't know if that guy at Starbucks looking at me has both a nasty divorce and concealed carry under his belt. I don't know if the man touching himself under his coat while he stares at me on the train has just been thwarted by a third restraining order. And that's hyperbolic, I get it. But on top of the more pedestrian worries about casual entitlement to my body and my time, there are very real fears to be had about violence that become even more scary when every "what a bitch" when I say no is loaded with "just like all those other bitches" who say no. I am shouldering the weight of every other interaction that person had with a woman (especially a woman that looks like me) and that is a terrible burden to bear.
And many women I know work hard to avoid that weight. Friends I've lost because in their insistence on being "just one of the guys," they've put themselves and me in more danger. Hyperbole again? Not really. When I got pissed that a male friend of mine touched me without permission (hard enough to leave bruises) and reamed him for it, he stared at me for a second and said "But [mutual female friend] said it was cool." He thought he'd been granted permission by that one woman to treat all women as she allows (perhaps prefers) him to treat her. Every time a woman laughs at a poorly executed rape joke or allows her mass of male friends to use misogynist language or tries to discredit other women's objections to sexism, she is making a choice. I support her right to make that choice, but I want to remind her that there are consequences that result from her choices, harder to see and perhaps more insidious than she realizes.
In an attempt to distance myself from the risk of comparison to other women, I may now and then swing too far and become one of "those girls," the ones who dismiss and insult other women as "crazy" and "too full of drama." I may abandon women who would support and bolster me when I need them, who I can find sympathy and camaraderie with. I may walk away and chose to side with fear and oppression over people who have seen and felt and been many of the same things I have seen and felt and been, because in the short term it feels safer and more sure than the alternative.
Turns out I didn't need to do nearly as much soul searching as I though. Rewatching Star Wars would have been a lot faster than working all this out on my own (though I sometimes find it hard to believe lessons taught by short green things that aren't Kermit). I fear what happens when people make assumptions about me based on the women around me. It makes me hate them, though it is a casual and unformed sort of dislike, easily fixed by antacids and a glass of wine.
I think now I'll start hating the people that make me fear, instead. They seem like they deserve it more.
*When she and Ryan Reynolds were still together, she'd just dipped her toe into comic book movies with Iron Man 2 and he'd gotten both Deadpool and Hal Jordan under his belt, she was asked if the house was all comic books all the time. She said something to the effect of yes and how much she was enjoying it, then when asked more about her own comic book preferences, flubbed the answer. The manchild backlash in my social circles was painful and I can't find this interview for the life of me despite my best Googling. PLEASE TELL ME IF YOU REMEMBER THIS OR IF IT WAS A SCARLETT JOHANSSON HATE FUELED FEVER DREAM.
**Not by me.