I just saw the recent cover of Time magazine. “Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Successful”, it’s admonishing us, in relation to Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, out with a new book encouraging women to “lean in” to our work lives.
I found this cover more than a little disappointing. Its just another popular play on the false idea of women hating women. You could argue that the title of the cover is calling out men as well, after all a large chunk, perhaps even a majority, of readers of the magazine are male but there is something about the perpetuation of women hating successful women that is showing up in the zeitgeist more and more lately. With Sheryl Sandberg publishing a new book and Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, rescinding the option of working a home and Anne Hathaway being alive, there seems to be much to criticize about these prominent women. And apparently the biggest haters are women themselves.
So why am I so sure that the Time magazine cover is talking to women? Because rarely do articles call out men’s attitudes towards women as hatred. They use the terms sexism and misogyny, which does mean hatred but is rarely used that way, however, men who harbor anti-women sentiment are not usually called out for hating women. Additionally, the trope of men hating successful women is not so widespread in the media (although of course it exists). Much more frequently, women are projected as hating other women for being prettier than them, more successful, more well liked. For an example of how popular this belief is, check out a comment section of any article where a woman is criticizing another woman.
We’re seeing this title because, sure, men hate women but nobody hates women more than other women. Or at least that’s the underlying assumption of these articles. That while misogyny and sexism run rampant around the world, we can always rely on women’s hatred of other women to sell magazines and generate clicks on articles.
Obviously women are critical of the actions being undertaken by the women mentioned above. There are discussions on whether Sandberg really captures the plight of women in the work place, whether Mayer’s decision impacts women more disproportionately as they are more likely to need to work from home, and articles needlessly criticizing Anne Hathaway (I have to confess I do not understand the Hathaway hate and it irks me to no end so I’m not going to link to any articles or try to explain it, so while it is an example of people assuming women simply hate other women, I just can’t dignify the discussion).
The problem, however, is not women criticizing other women, it’s the fact that popular perception of this critique is being enveloped in an understanding that “women be hating”. So any time a women says she disagrees with the actions of another women, she is just jealous, she’s a hater, she’s catty, she’s a bitch.
It reminds me of an episode of Seinfeld, where Elaine is having a disagreement with a woman in her life and anytime she brings it up all the men around her start calling it a cat fight, get excited and beginning meowing at her.
I’m not buying this trope, though. I will say that when misogyny is perpetuated in our societies, inculcated into our cultures, its none too surprising that some women pick up on this and become extra harsh towards other women, after all its so popular, but there is no genetic predisposition for women to dislike other women. That’s false. But the media thrives on that assumption about our human nature. They create the demand through structuring that narrative and building up those images and then slip in there to provide the supply. It’s the virtual equivalent of meowing at us. Its up to all of us to be aware of these stereotypes about human behavior and negate them through not clicking on these articles and making our objections known.