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What’s good? Women supporting women

| Thursday, September 24, 2015

It could have been a comedy: celebrity No. 1 dishes about celebrity No. 2 in an interview; celebrity No. 2 calls out celebrity No. 1 on live television (with celebrity No. 3 cheering in the background); America celebrates.

Except it was the VMAs (which could be classified as a comedy based on the outfits), and celebrity No. 1 was Miley Cyrus and No. 2 was Nikki Minaj (and No. 3 was Rebel Wilson in a cop costume, looming in the background). Two women in the same industry lopping at each other’s hamstrings while a third revels in the drama. And how many of us — me included — walked around for the next few days tossing out “Miley, what’s good?” like spitballs?

We encourage this kind of catfighting because on some level it’s satisfying to watch. It’s a familiar trope that’s fun to laugh at. Except this continues in real life, beyond red carpets and spotlights. Time and again, we hear of women — especially women in power or competition — going for each other’s throats. And we laugh.

Or at least, we’re supposed to. That’s why, despite increasing disgust over its polarizing content, we still have shows like “The View.” But the four hosts may have finally overstepped their boundaries by attacking a Miss America contestant, Kelley Johnson, who’s also a nurse. “Why does she have a doctor’s stethoscope around her neck?” jeered host Joy Behar, who in addition to coming across as profoundly stupid angered medical professionals across the nation.

Fortunately, nurses and their allies took to social media to put “The View” back in its place. Like many traditionally female occupations, nursing is often the object of misunderstanding, condescension and ridicule. But coming from other women, this double standard stings even more. We can comfort ourselves knowing how much we hated “The View” anyway and how we’d never ever say anything like that about nurses. But how many of us can say we genuinely respect all the other Miss America contestants who get torn to shreds on social media and don’t have a greater community to fall back on?

The problem bleeds into more serious avenues, too. Women join the ranks of those who swear that famous athlete X couldn’t possibly have raped that girl; she’s a liar, she’s trashy, he’s innocent. White feminists disregard the damage we’ve caused by prioritizing ourselves over women of color, prolonging and even deepening the rut between the privileged and underprivileged that we’ve sworn to bridge for ourselves. Are we so afraid of losing the respect and opportunities we’ve gained that we’re unwilling to share the spotlight, even with each other?

I don’t feel sorry for Miley Cyrus, I don’t think Nikki Minaj received or made any serious damage and it’s pretty clear that Kelley Johnson and her fellow contestants will be just fine. But when women who don’t support each other get more attention than women who do, our efforts for equity and respect are undermined. When we aren’t our own best friends, how can we expect to find allies? How can we say we’re moving forward when we’re clawing over each other to get there? And if we’re not — if the rest of us are taking the high road and lifting each other up — why are we encouraging our most public representatives to behave this way?

The women of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s are in a unique position to live out this commitment of support across boundaries. In our references to and interactions with each other, we can choose to treat each other not as opponents but as components of the same community. In the face of so much work to do — combatting sexual assault, eliminating the wage gap and shattering that glass ceiling, to name a few — we’ll be our own best friends if we can be each other’s allies. Our interests as women and as people in this community rely on securing the best interests of our neighbors. That mentality can make a difference.

So don’t sneer at a woman’s career or lifestyle or outfit. Don’t dish out cheap insults to those who aren’t around to spar back. Don’t defend or subscribe to stereotypes. And don’t cheer when women in the spotlight tear each other down. Instead, demonstrate what we demand from others and show other women — all other women — the dignity we expect for ourselves.

That’s what’s good.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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