From first discovering feminism to now, I cringe at my past self.
Not because she was inherently wrong in her enthusiasm for the subject, but she was definitely naive about the complexities of it.
When we’re first learning about feminism, and getting to understand the literature, concepts, and theories therein, it’s hard not to see past them into reality.
These ideas become absolute: We go from passing judgement on someone’s outfit to passing judgement on a person’s interpretation of Audre Lorde.
Because we want to change the way we think about and perceive the world so completely, it feels like we replace our old ways of judging others not with an entirely new way of viewing people, but with a new set of rules. Rules that we can’t, necessarily, always apply to society. Rules that make sense in theory, but in reality are not absolute.
An example of this comes with the term “girl hate” – a theory that wishes to dispel negativity and criticism between women, when said criticism is based solely on the way society teaches us to view being a woman, cis or trans, as negative. That said, this term is arguably overused both inside and outside of feminism.
The line is thin, hard to toe, and easy to fall on the wrong side of – but still, it undeniably exists.
The difference comes in the intent of the “hate” being thrown around, and whether that specifically stems from hating a person purely for acting as a woman.
Hating on another woman for loving shoe shopping, for example, is an instance of girl hate. Hating on another woman because she chews her gum in a really, really irritating way, is just an instance of another person annoying you (though misophonia is an understandable struggle!). The most simple way to work this out would be to replace the woman in the situation with a man, and see if the “hate” remains the same.
But in other situations, this isn’t always clear. It doesn’t always clarify whether what you’re feeling or how you’re acting stems from a place of misogyny, or from a place of simply being a thinking and breathing human being.
For the more complicated cases where girl hate could be attributed, but without 100% certainty, we need to delve a little deeper.
1. Being Ambitious Isn’t Girl Hate
In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists, which is sampled at the beginning of Beyonce’s Flawless, she comments:
Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.
What has always stood out for me in this quote is that Adichie thinks women competing for jobs and accomplishments is a “good thing” – but under the patriarchy, that competitive streak is diverted into fulfilling duties as wife or mother before all else.
Adichie isn’t saying that ambition is a negative thing, but that it should be focused on what is beneficial for the woman as a person, not the men in her life.
In this vein, women wanting to succeed in their chosen field should be encouraged. A streak of ruthlessness and unabashed ambition is encouraged in our male counterparts, while in women it’s seen as distasteful.
Back to pop stars for incisive commentary on this topic: As Nicki Minaj once said, “When I am assertive, I’m a bitch. When a man is assertive, he’s a boss. ‘He bossed up.’ No negative connotation behind ‘bossed up.’ But lots of negative connotation behind being a bitch.”
Essentially, being ambitious at (almost) any cost, being as ambitious as men – and being ambitious and thus in competition with women as well as with men – is not girl hate.
The girl hate can only be attributed when said ambitious woman uses misogynistic values to get ahead of her peers.
2. Disliking Another Woman Isn’t Girl Hate
It’s almost too easy to dislike another woman in our society, as literally any high school girl can tell you. The reasons are endless: My boyfriend used to like them, they’re prettier than me, they’re thinner than me, their hair is the opposite of how I’d wear mine.
Women are taught to inherently dislike each other for almost any reason, in a way that men are not.
Women are taught to dislike each other almost instantly and find an arbitrary reason for doing so after. This is the very basis of the term “girl hate.”
That said, the application of “girl hate” to any situation where a woman dislikes another woman seems counterintuitive. It’s a call-out that many cry out whenever women express negative feelings towards each other – but sometimes, that negativity is justified. And even then, our emotions are often policed.
What’s really important here are the reasons that women may dislike each other – feminism doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and unfortunately, neither do our emotions.
It would also be reductive to produce a list of the wrong and right reasons to hate each other. Often, a distaste for another woman’s personality or actions can get wrapped up in girl hate. You could dislike someone for hating your favorite band and the way they talk down to people, but it’s always oh-so-tempting to add on: “Plus, her hair is shit and nobody should ever wear leggings as pants.”
There’s a clear divide between what opinion is fueled by sexist standards we hold each other to, and which are simply a personality clash.
It’s impossible to feel nothing but positivity for everyone you encounter in your life. As people, we’re bound to come across others that we simply do not like, be that once a week, every now and then, or a lifelong feeling of animosity towards someone close to you.
Our natural emotions are still being policed and regulated under the guise of girl hate. By only expecting positive feelings between women and declaring all else girl hate, women are still being forced into feeling they can only be positive.
It’s a sexist notion to expect only goodwill between women, because women are much more complicated than that. Equally so as the dislike between men that is lauded as a show of masculinity and decisive personalities.
Instead of automatically decreeing dislike between woman as girl hate, we need to deconstruct whether or not that dislike is driven by misogyny or other forms of oppression. And if it’s not? Feel free to feel dislike towards anyone and everyone.
3. Being Criticized Isn’t Girl Hate
Just like the rest of the world, feminism thrives when it accepts and grows from criticism. But as Twitter told us in 2013, “solidarity is for white women.”
Let me explain: As a member of many online feminist communities, solidarity – and conversely, girl hate – are phrases bandied about when an argument breaks out. Often, this argument developed from a much-needed debate involving the intricacies of feminism. And more often than that, the debates stem from criticism against white feminism.
The only feminism there should be is intersectional feminism. This may seem like an extreme argument, but white women and cisgender women, especially those that are both, benefit more in society than people of color, or trans and non-binary individuals.
Because of this, many issues that other marginalized groups suffer from need to be addressed and supported by white feminists before all else.
For instance, feminist critiques of female celebrities, from Lena Dunham to Kim Kardashian, are often greeted with responses like, “Why must we hate each other? Women need to support other women.”
But when these celebrities are being criticized for something like racism, this dismissal of valid critique under the guise of “solidarity” is actually a step backwards for women.
By not allowing women to critique each other on social issues and concepts, we demean the intelligence that women actually possess. By critiquing someone like Amy Schumer for racist actions, we insist on better representations and messages for all women.
If said comments discussed her appearance and not her ideologies, they’d fall under the title of girl hate. The difference between the two is one of accountability and topic – if you would criticize a man for the same words or actions, it’s unlikely that the debate stems from girl hate.
When another person gives you criticism, especially when it’s a subject they’ve experienced rather than one you’re simply educated on, you should listen. Similarly, these people don’t have to give you this criticism with care: They do not owe you that.
Projecting an opinion into the world opens anyone, including women, to criticism. Just because that criticism is between women, or harshly worded, does not make it girl hate. It’s not seeking to destroy solidarity, but to build it, as we can work together on tackling issues that affect all different types of women.
4. Being Competitive Isn’t Girl Hate
In an article for Dazed and Confused, Evelyn Wang critiqued girl hate as “a male invention, a reduction of female competition based on a male fantasy that all women inherently despise one another, that has been unwittingly perpetuated by many well-intentioned feminists.”
She continues later in the piece, “Characterizing all female competition as girl-hate, holding women to a higher standard of ‘morality’ and civility, and punishing women for a behavior deemed normal for men is sexist.”
Her point doesn’t totally remove the meaning of girl hate, but instead analyzes it as an excuse to rob female relationships of the complexity of our male counterparts. More specifically in this case, robbing us of the element of competition.
As Wang comments in her article, “Where is the condescending, self-satisfied plea for gentlemen to stop competing with each other in the workplace or academia and start supporting each other?”
While Wang is passionate in her belief that girl hate is dismissive of our intricacies as women, I can’t help but feel that she has exaggerated the lack of a problem between women holding misogynistic standards for each other.
It is sexist to celebrate a conduct in men while simultaneously deriding the same behavior in women, but that doesn’t mean female competition can’t stem from sexism, too.
Again, it’s important to recognize where our competitiveness is coming from. Are we fighting for the attention of men, simply to outdo other women? Or are we in competition for jobs, for academic achievement, or for personal growth?
Addressing the reasons for our competitive nature is much easier when we focus on the outcome of such competitive behavior: If the aim is to better yourself, go for it. If the aim is to make other women look worse, then you may be playing into the patriarchal idea that women must always be at ends with each other.
5. Being Unfriendly Isn’t Girl Hate
Being constantly expected to be pleasant, to smile, and to be approachable and friendly is a struggle that all women deal with and most women wish wasn’t a requirement for our gender.
When a man asks me to “smile,” more often than not, it sends me into a worse mood than before. That said, while many other women understand how I feel when men ask me to smile, it seems that the same is not expected between women.
If a woman is unfriendly to another woman, is cold to another woman, is distant with another woman, she can be seen as a bitch. Or in the feminist lexicon, a proponent of girl hate. We do not presume – as we do regarding men and their dislike of “resting bitch face” – that this woman simply doesn’t want to be friendly today. This double standard isn’t only unfair, but it’s toxic.
Just as a woman doesn’t owe friendliness to men, she doesn’t owe it to the rest of the world either. Presuming a woman is being unfriendly due to a sexist preconception of other women, is in and of itself, a judgement you shouldn’t be making.
Before proclaiming girl hate in this situation, try and analyze when and where this person is being unfriendly. Maybe certain places make her anxious, maybe she’s guarded, maybe it’s none of your business. Regardless, being unfriendly on occasion is within the rights of every woman.
As with everything, the complexities of girl hate are just as complicated as the intricacies of feminism. It may seem easy to apply the label to certain situations, but they may require more thought than that.
A woman is allowed just as much nastiness, ambition, and competition as their male counterparts – and to rob them of that power is, in my eyes, an act of girl hate.
Gina Tonic’s dream as a child was to become a ballerina Barbie fairy princess. She’d say she’s about halfway there. She currently lives in Manchester, UK but she’s from a teeny-tiny town in the south of Wales. Her passions include personal style, feminism, writing awful short stories, and anything glittery.