It’s known as ‘venomism’: venomous feminism.
The concept of a’vindictive sisterhood’ was touted as early as 1851. In an essay on women, German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer declared, “It is natural for a feeling of mere indifference to exist between men, but between women it is actual enmity. ”
Thanks for mansplaining that, Arthur.
As I wrote in my book The Good Girl Stripped Bare, this is otherwise known as ‘bullshit’. Girls are not predisposed to clawing each other’s eyes out.
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But our 15-year-old daughter Gracie has spent much of her life marinating in stereotypes perpetuated by the mass media. Consequently, she’s influenced by the narrative that women naturally tear each other down.
Her attitude began to change this week when a powerful new female force, in the form of Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame, addressed the National Press Club. Both 26 years old, and born just weeks apart, their firm friendship is a joy to behold.
Their courage is simply extraordinary.
Tame, who was repeatedly sexually abused from the age of 15, spoke for many when she said the freedom to speak is a beautiful thing. “I haven’t always had it,” she said. “Many still don’t. So if those of us with a voice don’t fight for what is right for those without a voice, then what hope is there?”
“It’s become my whole-life mantra,” Higgins said, “… to make it easier for other women to speak.”
These words – and the image of these women standing, side by side – are transformative, particularly for younger generations.
Five years ago at a barbecue, an older family friend ran his eyes over our pre-pubescent daughter.
“You’re a pretty little thing,” he leered. “All the men will be looking at you instead of your mother!”
Our daughter silently stared at the ground, hoping it would swallow her. Sadly, attitudes like these remain commonplace: girls and young women are viewed as sexual commodities.
Part of the solution is harnessing the rage of women – and our allies. This requires fortitude, focus, and a strong sisterhood.
Veteran broadcaster Caroline Jones – the patron of Women in Media – often flips the famous Madeline Albright quote on her head: “There’s a special place in heaven for women who help other women.”
When I worked with a group of women to expand WiM nationally, several naysayers said the mentoring program would never work. “Women hate other women,” one male colleague said. “It’s the scarcity mentality: there aren’t enough jobs.”
Fortunately, he was wrong. To this day, WiM has overseen hundreds of mentoring matchups, as women guide, nurture and lift each other up.
Now, I’ve worked in some pretty robust environments over the past 35 years. Some people can be awesome. But this happens regardless of gender.
It’s time to end this counterproductive narrative, and broaden the conversation around ‘sisterhood’.
In her speech, Higgins spoke about the need to address the horrifically high rates of sexual abuse of women in marginalized communities.
Co-founder of Media Diversity Australia and author of How to Lose Friends and Influence White People, Antoinette Lattouf, wants us to focus on the ‘International’ in front of ‘Women’s Day’.
“I feel indebted to Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins for their strength, intelligence, and determination,” she says. “To me, true sisterhood means listening, supporting, and amplifying Indigenous women, those living with a disability, older women, and those in remote and rural Australia.”
Every generation moves the conversation forward, toward much-needed action for victim survivors.
As Tame said in her speech, “What is the point of life if not to connect, to communicate honestly and openly with one another in the pursuit of progress with whatever means possible.”
Tracey Spicer AM is an author and broadcaster.
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