The not-so-big-myth of female bonding: it exists

“I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness.” Jane Austen, Persuasion

If you are a feminist who wonders whether we will ever get to feminist utopia, please watch the finalists in this year’s American Idols…  Likewise, if you are aren’t sure what exactly feminists want, these last rounds of American Idols might help you understand. Getting a fair shot at the game, making the best of your talents, being judged on merit, without the extra stumbling block of fighting labels and stereotypes. Yes American Idols a bit frivolous for the serious business of feminism (joke) but indulge me on this one.

Uniquely this year’s American Idol top five is an incredible group of young women, who blow you away with their tear-jerkingly supreme and unaffected mastery of their art. One judge said its one of the best top five ever. It’s easy to see how.

We must watch this show because these are greatly talented singers, but this only became a mission for me (rather than entertainment) when Idols host, the personable Ryan Seacrest, elatedly reported, “they all get along!” suggesting that somehow, this was an unusual occurrence, contrary to the way women usually behave.

Mr Seacrest seemed genuinely pleased about the harmony shared among this unique all female groups of contestants. But would he, (or his scriptwriters) ever have made such a remark if all the final contenders were men? Probably not, because its taken for granted that men are “good sports,” who are better able to handle competition.

Women, on the other hand? No. And most certainly not where five women are competing against each other for the most lucrative singing award in the world.

We must be clear: the narrative of women’s  perpetual hostility to each other is a patriarchal (ie. male supremacist) fabrication, but popular opinion has never tried to shake the stereotype. The American Idols 2013 finals should be used by all to counter the misogynist propaganda machine about how women relate to each other. A propaganda machine that would have us believe that friendship and collaboration between competing women is exceptional, not the norm.

But the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend. Charlotte Bronte (Shirley)

Women are stereotyped as bitchy, combative and ruthless. Hell hath no fury etc etc. The glaring paradox of course is that while gendered mythology presents malehood as a realm of back-slapping camaraderie, the same male race has distinguished itself as supremely warmongering species that has perpetratrated of violence in every sphere of human existence. We live happily with that paradox when it comes to men. Justifiably so. It wouldn’t be fair to paint all men with the same brush, right?

Yet somehow, even though they are not typically known to drop bombs on their rivals, fire machine guns at random groups of schoolchildren or pillage and burn down villages, it is women who are vilified for having a collective affliction of the “PhD” (pull her down) syndrome. Women–not sexism, discrimination, or oppression–are their own worst enemies. (That women are as guilty as men of perpetuating this myth merely proves how entrenched the lie is.)

The female proneness to quarrelsomeness and discord is reflected in (his)tory, which suggests that no civilisation has survived unscathed from the strife sown by women from Eve, to Cleopatra to Marie Antoinette to–yes, well–Margaret Thatcher. Patriarchy still justifies women’s marginalisation by peddling the idea that women are tempestuous creatures, who, if left untamed, will spiral into Katrina’s and Sandy’s, unleashing untold destruction on humanity. “Il y a une femme dans toutes les affaires ; aussitôt qu’on me fait un rapport, je dis  ‘Cherchez la femme!’wrote Alexandre Dumas. Loosely translated, where men do bad things, you will find a woman at the bottom of it.

Unlike Mr Seacrest (as a stand-in for popular media), I don’t find it at all remarkable that this group of young women get along. After all, if we cared to look at everyday reality in schools, churches, hospitals, families or offices, that’s how women live their lives. Show me a successful social institution and I will show you a group of women working collaboratively. Solidarity, not conflict, is the overwhelming truth of our existence. It has to be, otherwise we would still be gagged and bound by the chains of patriarchy, unable to compete for  million dollar Idols prizes at all.

So apart from their great singing talent, Candice, Amber, Janelle, Kree and Angie are to there to be held up as an example that sisterhood is the rule not the exception in women’s relationships. We don’t ALL get along. Why should we? Some women, like some men, are very nasty pieces of work, after all. But there is such a thing as female bonding, and woman power will always be greater than the sum of its parts.


(Written after watching Episode 12/28 25 April the sing-out. Congratulations to the winner Candice Glover who really brought me to tears