Ladies, it’s time we have an uncomfortable conversation.
I know, I am also still in my warm and fuzzy, fist-up feelings over Oprah’s Golden Globe Awards speech, the solidarity and the #Time’sUp initiative. We are at a watershed moment for women where we are finally raising our voices and telling our stories about the many ways that men have harassed us, violated us and undermined us.
But for this to be the truly transformative moment for women and girls we must also have a full-blown, honest discussion about all the ways that women harass other women. Yes, often the most violating and traumatizing harassment is from men, but everyday women harass other women in ways that are equally disgusting and unacceptable. And because it comes from other women, it feels both unexpected and doubly painful. And we are equally stifled or conflicted about how to speak up about it.
It is wonderful that vile men are leaving powerful positions, making way for the many over- qualified women who have been waiting in the wings to step into those roles. But it would be foolish to assume that promoting one woman necessarily elevates all women in that environment.
This is not trickle down feminism.
In fact, when I speak at career-oriented events, there is always one brave female attendee who sets off a flurry of conversation and “#MeToo-isms” talking about a female boss or supervisor who was their harshest critic, biggest blocker or most strident harasser.
Every day women sabotage the careers of other women by being unsupportive or just plain mean. Is this too not harassment? Does this not equally scar women, limit their career advancement and cause fear and emotional stress?
In a recent Forbes article, the founder of The Workplace Bullying Institute noted that women are often worse bullies at work then men. And while there may be legal protections against sexual harassment or racial discrimination, that kind of same-gender torment can continue unchecked.
If the harassment and put-downs are not direct, they are indirect. I can’t recall how many times in my career in magazine publishing I watched a white woman push through the male dominated culture by trading off of her father’s or husbands’ alumni status or job title. And when she got to the “table,” she very kindly shut the door for anyone else. They call it “rope ladders”—climb up and yank the ladder up behind you. Think about that LATimes Magazine cover and all the “empowered” white women who didn’t bother to notice or make mention that there weren’t any women of color included. Isn’t it #Time’sUp for that too?
In workplaces, this is especially damaging for women of color who may have not that same level of social capital to play the husband-game or college legacy game (I’m a first generation college graduation myself) as other women might.
Women who are mothers consistently report that their worse oppressors at the workplace are often older women —usually a mother herself —wearing her “I did it without any help, now you do it too” T-shirt with pride. And blinking lights. Or a woman who does not have children and has zero empathy for the challenges of balancing motherhood and work.
Everyday women who are breastfeeding report that it is other women who are often the worst shamers of all time. These breastfeeding mothers are actually using their bodies for their biological purpose and deserve the same rights as any mother using a bottle. In November, Brittni Medina, a breastfeeding mom at Disneyland 'was shamed by two other women, who thought they should provide snarky commentary on when and how she fed her child. The two haters were famously snapped in a photo that went viral, with their arms folded and looking very judgmental. Every time I read that story, and the countless ones like it, I wonder how many women spoke up for that mother in Disneyland or the one on the airplane or in a shopping mall when she was being harassed unnecessarily and, by the way, illegally.
Everyday, women are shamed and ousted from public places for simply feeding their baby while other women sit by and do nothing. Whether you breastfeed or not, the fact that women are being harassed for doing what heir bodies do as a natural part of childbirth is something all women and every self-proclaimed feminist should be riled up about.
#Time’sUp on being complicit, ladies.
If this is really a #Time’sUp moment then let it be deeper than male Magbad actors, let it be about all bad actors—even female ones. Let it be that all women stand up not just against men but also for each other— to take a stand for other women who are being bullied at work by other women, shamed for breastfeeding by other women, or using rope ladders on other women. None of us can be silent about these injustices against women anymore. At the same time, we must also ‘do the work” as womankind to make sure our own circles are more supportive and equitable and raise our daughters to do the same.
Then, it can truly be a new day.