Women are their own worst enemies, right? I mean, it might be men who are more likely beat us, rape us and kill us, but when it comes to actual enemy stuff, cherchez la femme.
Take, for instance, the current fuss over what the Telegraph is calling “the race to install the first woman statue in front of Parliament”. You’d think, given how few statues there are representing women at all, feminists would jump at the chance to have any old suffragette plonked on a plinth. But no.
According to the newspaper report, rival suffragette statue campaigns – Team Pankhurst on one side, Team Fawcett on the other – have failed to reach an agreement over which woman should go where. “Despite the passing of over a century since women over 30 were emancipated,” notes the report, “the divide between [Pankhurst and Fawcett]’s supporters appears wider than ever.”
Honestly, ladies! Haven’t you had long enough to get this one sorted? Look at the men. They’re not distracted by petty battles like this one. They’re doing serious stuff, such as threatening to start global nuclear wars for no reason whatsoever. Why can’t you be more like them? What’s with all the bitchiness and cat fighting?
As Caroline Criado-Perez, who led the Fawcett campaign, has pointed out, there’s something very illuminating about the way in which two feminist campaigns are being pitched against each other here.
“I don’t view them as two ‘rival’ campaigns,” she tweeted on Sunday in response to the Telegraph piece, “No reason there can’t be two statues.” Speaking on this morning’s Today programme, she added that she didn’t see this as “a competition between two women”.
But that’s not much of a story, is it? Far better to pretend this is a tale of feminists failing to keep their eye on the prize due to factional loyalties. That way we can blame them for the very issues they’re trying to overcome.
Embedded in the Team Pankhurst/Team Fawcett narrative are two equally destructive assumptions: first, that here can only ever be one space for a token woman in any given field, and second, that women are incapable of compromise in pursuit of a shared political goal and that this, not patriarchy, is the real cause of their marginalisation.
Neither of these things are true. Women have every right to ask for equal representation in public space. To present a refusal to divvy up less space between them as a failure to compromise between themselves – as opposed a refusal to accept that women as a whole must settle for less – is not just unfair, it is sexist.
And yet it’s a common tactic, not least because it’s effective. One could argue that slogans such as “sisterhood is powerful” and “united we are stronger” haven’t always helped. The pressure on all women to have identical priorities sets an impossible standard, whereupon women’s inevitable failure to meet it leads to accusations of self-sabotage.
Men can fall out with one another – abuse each other, kill each other – because they already have the luxury of being considered complex, unique human beings. Women, on the other hand, aren’t even supposed to want some things more than others. As the saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers.
It’s tremendously ironic that when it comes to justifying why women do the low- and unpaid work men don’t want to do, it’s our empathising and communication skills that are highly prized, yet when it comes to demanding equal access to power and cultural representation, suddenly men are best at listening to others and getting their point across.
It’s almost as though women are no better or worse than men at having different desires and refusing to back down. We’re just less powerful. And less murder-y. Neither of which are reasons to trivialise our disagreements and demands.
Women’s lives are deeply intertwined with those of the men of our own communities. Our loyalties are necessarily divided, more so than is the case with other marginalised groups. That there is female solidarity at all is something of a miracle. That there is so much of it should be a source of pride.
Who do women fear the most? Men. Who do men fear the most? Also men. When it comes to compromise, men have nothing to teach us. Let’s have more and more statues of women so that men can look up to us.