My sister made an observation about the most commonly heard statement that women are women’s worst enemy. It opens up many potential research and action area. She writes to me,

You have talked about crab feminism before to denote the reaction of feminists that dismisses other women’s achievement or points of view as not being feminist enough. I feel this is symptomatic of an inherent women nature that of competing with other women. This is an area that really deserves attention. Women really are each others worst enemy. When a woman is mistreated by her husband and in laws deep down she thinks my husband is not so bad, it is my MIL (Mother in law) who provokes him against me. Similarly if a mother is mistreated by her son she thinks my daughter in law is inciting my son against me. Women solidarity is rare. Feminism explains this as conditioning done by patriarchal society but I feel women’s psychology has not been probed properly.

She wrote this in the context of my often expressed disappointment with the lack of solidarity in the Indian feminist movement. I partly agree with her observation about women’s psychology, that they are jealous, possessive and extremely competitive. In that feeling of competition sometimes some women try to dismiss each other, pull each other down and collectively hold back the entire group. But so do men. And why this psychology? Where does this it come from? Who is a ‘woman’ even?

Women’s psychology: Both Women and psychology are fluid categories

What do we mean by ‘women’ and ‘psychology’ that itself needs to be questioned and redefined.

  1. Psychology isn’t pure science independent of social conditions and gender biases (For that matter there is no such pure science that is free of biases, feminist criticism of positivism have proved that much).
  2. ‘Woman’ is not a fixed category. Simone De Beauvoir said, “One is not born a woman but rather becomes one.” Judith Butler further observed that Gender is a performance, sex and gender are true only to the extent we perform them as per the society’s expectations, we are what we perform to be

So we get two fluid concept, psychology is shaped by a number of social and political factors and a person with female genitals puts up a gender performance in a way so that she can be a woman.

Social conditioning starts from the moment a baby is born with a vagina. She’s told that she has got this one chance at life, in youth grab a man and keep him. For old age, beget a son and keep him. While the men are told that the whole world is at their feet, they are free to conquer the world, go out there discover, explore, invent, build, destroy…the world is your canvas. But women are told this house and its people is your world, you live or die here, and you have this single throne that you have to hold on to.

With smaller territory, single post, and limited means of survival, competition among women becomes higher. The subconscious immediately starts to build a defense and survival mechanism which is always trying to cancel out any other woman competing for the throne. And this is happening for thousands of years.

Feminism, women’s solidarity needs to be taught as part of human history:

But these are just theories, I am not a big fan of theory. I always ask “so how do we put it in practice, what do we do?” We already know the answers,

  1. We need to treat girls and boys equally.
  2. Give the girls a calling other than marriage and motherhood. We need to tell them that there is always something else to look forward to in life, even if the marriage department doesn’t work out well.
  3. Tell them that motherhood is just a biological fact, which does not define our very purpose on earth, it does not make or break our worth in the society. You have sex, you get pregnant that’s motherhood. All the frills and glory attached to it is social construct.
  4. Financial empowerment – By making them free from the bondage of marriage and motherhood we should let them chose their life’s calling without prejudice, let them be financially independent and allow them to take their own financial decisions and support them in their endeavors.
  5. And lastly inform them about history of gender based oppression, women’s movement against it and the achievements. And although I mention it in the end, this should begin at the earliest stage of a child’s intellectual growth. Women and Gender Studies should become part of school syllabus from VIth standards. Just like we are taught about world and human history, how the earth was created by a big bang, how from monkeys we became humans, how we progressed from kings and czars to democracy, how from being colonies we gained independence – similarly children at school MUST be told about how from being unequal and oppressed women gained equality, voting rights, education rights, and what are the present challenges

Just like nation, nationalism and patriotism are human constructs instilled in our minds by stories and signs, female solidarity have to be created and nurtured the same way.

Solidarity is built by telling stories of courage, revolution, struggle and sacrifices for a cause. Sadly, all stories of human history is man’s story. The French Revolution for example completely left the woman out of the so called ‘liberty and equality.’ Post revolution, ‘democracy’ arrived, but French women didn’t get voting rights, only men did. Their declaration of independence didn’t include women. When we teach political history at school, do we teach the children about this flawed democracy? This gross injustice, this utter disregard for half of the world’s people?

Future generation of women need to know about these gaps in history, they should know stories of women’s oppression, revolution, struggle and sacrifices, only then they will know that women are meant to be equal and together they are meant to lead the world – they are the universal, not the other.