“She looks like Malibu Barbie and sounds equally as dumb. Like she is the role model I want for my girls.”
I sat and listened to two women talk at a long, crowded Starbucks table as their young daughters played on an iPad. I tried to focus on my laptop screen, but considering our elbows were practically touching, it was difficult.
“She’s just wretched. And definitely not smart. A total media whore. I’m not sure how she got to where she is today, but I have a feeling it wasn’t always her brains. He probably just hired her because he thought she was pretty.”
I cringed and looked over to the young girls, one intently viewing the screen, the other quietly focused on the two women talking. I knew the discussion centered around Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, a woman I didn’t particularly care for either, but I felt increasingly uncomfortable with just how much centered on the successful woman’s hair color as opposed to her policy viewpoints.
I am a frequent visitor to coffee shops around my town. Most of my work is done alone in front of a computer screen, so I like to get out of the house sometimes and work remotely. If a latte comes with that, so be it.
My satellite office visits are often spent side by side with others working silently on their computers, but sometimes you just can’t help honing in on other’s conversations.
Like the time when two women with their children playing nicely at their feet called Hillary Clinton a hag and that they hoped she used her free time and all her money from speaking engagements to get a face lift.
Or the time a group of young women waiting in line to order their drinks discussed a female co-worker in their office who they were convinced was sleeping her way to the top. I was in line behind them, and two young teenage girls in Catholic school uniforms and knee socks stood directly in front of them.
Or the time a few years back when I sat at a round table with some girlfriends, and there was a lengthy, uncomfortable discussion about a mom at our school who decided to get a boob job, although it did not turn out well.
“I think she did it because that’s all she has. She’s not very smart, so she has to keep the looks up. And I don’t think she wants to go back to work, so it probably makes her husband happy.”
“Ixnay on the oobnay talk,” I remarked as our kids came downstairs to grab some snacks.
“Whatever,” our host replied. “It’s not like she doesn’t deserve it prancing around the way she does.”
The notion that women are caddy and petty to each other is nothing new, but I believe it has moved up a notch the last few months. In the past decade, women have advanced economically and educationally, seen improvements in sexual freedoms and access to health care, experienced political triumphs and increased business success; yet we still criticize individuals looks with such animosity.
And we do so in front of our girls.
We can blame the media for the disproportionate body commodification that occurs.
We can blame men who often respond to attractive women differently than those not fitting the beauty standard.
We can blame it on marketers who focus on appearances or a judicial system that favors males or a history when women were trophies and properties of men.
But really, we only have ourselves to blame. Because we talk about women in this way in front of our girls.
This does not mean that I think appearances are not important. If it interests us, we should care about fitness, beauty, and sexual appeal. These can enhance our being and life in general.
However, when a woman focuses on her appearance, we should not immediately discount her intelligence, her value, her worth. For women that do not care as much about fashion or glamor, we should not assume they are cold, unhappy or mean.
And we should never associate their appearance with the ability to get a job, be successful, or be taken seriously.
We live in a culture where appearances are important. This mere fact pits woman against woman. Most times, a good looking female is the poster child for a better life. Anything she receives –a promotion at work, securing a loan, an invitation to an exclusive event – is all done under suspicion it was because of her looks.
But in today’s world, we know that beauty does not always equate to happiness. There are gorgeous women stuck in abusive relationships, constant victims of sexual harassment or passed over because they are not taken seriously.
These are the real problems; these are the crimes against women – all women. We are still pioneers in a perceived world of gender equality. We are fighting for scraps left over by those already in power: sometimes in our jobs, sometimes in social settings, and sometimes even in our marriages.
Until we realize that our looks are an expression of ourselves instead of an indicator of our intelligence or abilities, we will continue to cannibalize ourselves, continue to hinder our success.
I like to imagine a future for my three daughters where there are so many women in power that we treat each other better and feel less threatened by their success. A world where we help each other more and talk about each other less. A world where we no longer question why a woman advanced to a certain position and instead celebrate that another sister achieved greatness.
But it starts here and now, with us. Because when women talk about women in front of our girls, the cycle continues.
And if we can’t lift each other up, perhaps we can disparage each other a little less.