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Stop the Hate

gwyneth paltrow

Jenny Coyle considers women’s tendencies to criticise one another, and says it’s time to change.

Here’s the thing about men – they’re consistent in their dislikes of their fellow man. Start a war, land a punch, take over their empire – at least you know where you are, even if that’s on some other bloke’s Most Wanted list.

It’s a different story for women. Like so many tweenagers, we get misty-eyed with misplaced loyalty for the women we deem likeable, and bitchier than a Transition Year sleepover at Perez Hilton’s house if anyone mentions, say, Gwyneth Paltrow.

The outpouring of sheer hatred for this woman has taken me aback. All she’s done is fail in her marriage. And whilst the private jets, immaculate highlights and, yes, washboard abs probably cushion quite a lot of life’s blows for Gwynnie, you can bet your bottom dollar that she’s had her share of nights spent red-eyed and blotchy-faced howling on a pal’s shoulder.

As for the snark-attacks on the “conscious uncoupling” wackery? Listen, who doesn’t know someone who’s taken up transcendental meditation or crystal healing after a break-up? We’ve all spent hours nodding with great understanding and passing the Kleenex as a pal tells you in a brave, wobbly voice that they are actually, honestly much happier being free, and how they’ve been reading a great Native American healing book and how about you both go do a karma detox in a sweat lodge instead of the weekend at Electric Picnic, where we might see h-h-h-h-him?

In contrast, take Nigella Lawson’s recent dramas. Even the British Prime Minister Tweeted his support for her, as millions of women bristled on poor Nigella’s behalf. That horrible man – no wonder she had a “life problem”! So much tragedy – neatly mitigating her own blessings in the looks/fortune/fame department, therefore yay, Team Cupcake!

See also Miley Cyrus (the state of 
her!), Jennifer Lawrence (love her!),
 Kim Kardashian (North what?) and
 Saoirse Ronan (not a word to be said
against her). Is there a ready reckoner
 somewhere that I missed? One point
 in the plus column for every death in
 their immediate family/awful drug addiction/assurances of leg hair and
utter normality, but minus points for
 dressing in a way that one might regret
 in the fullness of time (see Rihanna’s
 recent fashion “faux pas”), or obvious enjoyment of one’s pert backside and healthy bank account?

There’s a name for hating other women – misogyny. All too often, we think that misogyny is antonymous with chauvinism, but the truth is that it’s an equal opportunities kind of hatred. And women are particularly adept at being misogynistic about each other.

Take feminists. Now, you’d think that the whole equal pay, equal opportunities schtick would be an evergreen no-brainer for the whole of the female population, but even the smartest of dames (et tu, Marissa Mayer?) have tippy-toed around outing themselves as supporters of gender equality, for fear of being seen as a “militant” or, god forbid, a “bra burner” or “man hater”.

Imagine if the question was about whether or not non-whites should have the same rights as the rest of the population. Bit militant? How about standing up for people with disabilities? You able- bodied hater, you. So why does it suddenly evince The Fear to proclaim yourself pro-women?

There’s something well and truly amiss with our priorities when a drive-by of a newsagent would sweep up a mountain of advice on how to look younger, any number of topless/bottomless pictures of women, and perhaps the odd outraged news report on the continuing practice of female genital mutilation. God help you if you’re looking for some health-spiration because you want to be strong and healthy, but there’s 101 eat-like-a-insert-inane-stereotype-here diets out there if all you want to be is thin and hot. (An ambition, along with being famous, that you’d share with over half of seven-to-ten-year-olds, according to a recent report.)

It all adds up to a seething, self-loathing wave of hatred. Directed pointlessly at gormless celebrities, schadenfreude dressed up as supportive gawking or endless self-criticism masquerading as self-improvement. It’s destructive, and poisonous and probably the most effective way imaginable to keep a dame down. Because when we’re too busy comparing dress sizes or bitching about people we’ll never meet, we’re doing a good job of forgetting to pay attention to the issues and, yes, the inequalities that really matter. We’re making it too easy to be ignored. Isn’t it time to pay attention?

Hate is a strong word to use, over the age of seven or so. It’s nasty, puerile and mostly reflects badly on the hater. So save your hatred. Or better, use your power for some more worthy targets – there’s plenty to choose from.

Jenny Coyle tweets at @missmitford – this piece originally appeared in IMAGE’s July edition. The August issue is on shelves now.

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