By Dani Burlison
Dani Burlison is fantastic writer who recently released a book of essays, Dendrophilia & Other Social Taboos: True Stories. You can get a hold of a copy here and check out Dani live at events around the northern San Francisco Bay Area by visiting her blog. This essay was first published on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency in Dani’s column Dendrophilia and Other Social Taboos.
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You can tell from her furry boots, her crocheted lavender half-shirt revealing her bronzed pierced navel and her glimmering bindi that she’s super into Tantra and goddesses and shit.
And you can tell that after about seven seconds of soul-staring straight into your boyfriend’s eyes that he’s really into Tantra and goddesses and shit now, too. Her hypnotic gaze makes it impossible for her to see you, standing right there, the cuff of your boyfriend’s sleeve brushing against your wrist while she caresses his hand less than three inches away. But it doesn’t matter that you’re right there. She is so in tune with her womanly energy that any unspoken feminist code about women treating other women with respect has diminished in the face of sexual competition and her right to celebrate her divine Shakti-yoni power.
And this isn’t the only way it happens. Women snub each other in so many ridiculous ways.
Gallery openings, protest marches, morning cafe rushes, craft fairs, fucking Tot Time with the kids at the local library. Women pick apart other women from head to toe or ignore them completely, even though they’ve met, like, seventeen times. And even though you are standing right fucking there.
“I’m married to a successful civil rights attorney and play in the New York Philharmonic. What do you do?”
“I know. We’ve met a few times. I’m a writer, remember? We met at that charity bike ride and—”
“You don’t have the body of a cyclist at all. And you don’t really look familiar. Have I read your work?”
“Probably not.” You’re too amazing and a way better person than I am. You probably don’t even need to read and just absorb knowledge and worldy wisdom through your perfectly tight pores or your extra-long eyelashes, you evil bitch. My out-of-shape body and I will just go home now and make a voodoo doll with the button I ripped off your purse while you were bragging about your perfect kids.
Sometimes it’s challenging to really like all women. I feel bad about that but I’m trying to be honest while I figure out a way around it.
I haven’t always felt this way; the instant eye rolling, the seething resentment boiling up, clenching the inside of my face and pulling it down into the bitter, grotesque scowl of a citrus-sucking mongrel. The button-ripping, the witchery, that’s all new, too. Sure, I’ve tossed around catty comments, dropped the word skank (I like how my jaw feels when I say it) and called a fair share of my fellow females crazy bitches over cocktails and phone calls and even hikes out in the great expanse of rolling hills and beachside trails that I wander through. I’m not proud of it. The words just roll out, second nature. Half of the time, I barely even think about what I’m saying.
I’m not quite sure when I really started noticing the snotty, competitive, insecure behavior between adult women or the moment when I started really despising certain members of this population.
I remember it happening a lot in high school. I know a certain faction of my women-related annoyances germinated within circumstances involving said mean women in relation to a particular ex-boyfriend or three. I know I’d like to shake a big angry finger at the corporate media entity for constantly fueling the chick vs. chick fire. But I can’t blame everyone else. You know, because, as they always say: one finger pointed away leaves a fist of cracked cuticle phalanges pointing straight back at one’s miserable self. I’m a part of it, too.
I’m a bad feminist, a disenfranchised sister of the third wave, a baffled crusader of women’s rights.
And I’ve been terribly naïve.
I thought, for a long time, that feminism wasn’t strictly defined by listening to a lot of all-girl bands or whether or not a woman was independent enough to secure a high-powered position in a high-powered field of business. I’ve even been naïve enough to think that feminism means more than just the typical sexual liberation theories, granting all women everywhere the right to screw when and how and who they want. Aside from all of these pieces of the feminist puzzle, I thought feminism’s basic foundation meant living by the unspoken golden rules of solidarity and support we should offer each other as women, regardless of lifestyle choices, sexual orientation, race, hairstyle, level of yoga involvement, parental status, favorite color, geographic location. And by support, I mean, I thought we’d all be quite a bit nicer to one another, especially as we grow old and learn a few things from the fucked up patriarchal bullshit weighing us down, trying to enforce even more bullshit-laden, outdated standards by which to live our lives and view or use our bodies.
But no. Women tearing other women apart has become a form of acceptable entertainment.
Ladies wearing the same designer dress, pasted across the pages of magazines, compared, picked apart, given validation for surgically altered beauty or shredded to bits for celebrating their lovely, human-sized thighs or for having even two or three wrinkles. And sure, I suppose it can be argued that celebrities know what they are getting into when they make that transition from everyday human being to glamorous, otherworldly superstar. Still, it grows increasingly more difficult to keep the judging and insecurities focused on those glossy pages. It shouldn’t be there either, but it is. And it spills over in waves of ruthless cattiness and into the lives of the rest of us. It creates a bunch of real-life bullies that are difficult to coexist with. This, in turn, makes women uncomfortable in their own skin, hyper-conscious of every millimeter of their pulsing organs, looking for others to lash out at or compete against to validate their place in this bitch-slapping world. Every woman for herself. Pretty girls on the lifeboats first. Get the fuck out of my way. In the worst case scenarios, women even start buying into the whole “blame the victim” tactic in serious issues of violence and assault. It’s a mess.
I can’t celebrate this part of being a woman. It’s not empowering. It’s not feminist. It makes me cringe.
Additionally, no amount of financial accomplishment, published erotic poetry, freaky tantric soul-staring or goddess-symbol tattoos make you a feminist if you’re making your way in the world by consciously fucking over other women, and criticizing every piece of them, down to their shoe size or the color of their goddamn yoga mat. It just doesn’t work that way.
We’re not in the dark ages. We won’t be burned at the stake if we are kind to each other or protect each other.
And we should be kind to each other. And not with gifts or backhanded insults, but in sincere ways. We should pat each other on the back when we accomplish things instead of one-upping, dismissing or passive-aggressively bullying each other into feeling bad about achieving things. We should stop trying to bang each other’s boyfriends or girlfriends. We should be able to celebrate our victories—both big and small—without worrying that it will alienate us. We have enough to deal with already without screwing each other over for men that nine times out of ten don’t deserve us anyway. We don’t need to throw each other under the bus just to prove that we can. That’s what conservative right-wing politicians are for.
Not that we should go all Eeyore, hanging our heads and dismissing poor treatment from anyone—Oh bother, she’s a woman. I guess I’ll be a feminist and show solidarity by not causing conflict— that is not at all what I am suggesting. Nor do I believe that all women, everywhere should constantly engage in group hand massages or continuously stroking and braiding fresh-picked wildflowers into each other’s hair in public. I just want us all to be nice to each other. And for us to all have each other’s backs. And for us to stop comparing and dismissing. And for us to stop soul-staring each other’s boyfriends. And for us to stop dating guys who succumb to soul stares. Especially when we’re standing right fucking there.
It’s the least we deserve.
About Dani Burlison
Dani Burlison has been a staff writer for a Bay Area alt-weekly, a columnist for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and a book reviewer for the The Los Angeles Review. Her writing appears in the Chicago Tribune, The Rumpus , Utne Reader, Ploughshares Literary Magazine, Hip Mama Magazine, Shareable, Rad Dad Zine, Spirituality & Health Magazine, Chevy Culture Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, Know Journal, Bike Monkey, elephant journal, The North Bay Bohemian, sparkle & blink and others. She is an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Lit Camp and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference and has upcoming work in various online and print publications and a handful of anthologies. Her collection of essays was published in December 2013 and she is currently working on her second book. She lives in Sonoma County with her two teen daughters.