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The Sisterhood Is An Illusion

Feminism and championing ‘the sisterhood’ has never been more popular – but it’s just as fake as the ‘all women are bitches’ stereotype, says writer Amy Nickell

Writing this makes me feel like I’ve just put a noose around my neck. Sorry gender, I’m about to betray you – but let’s face it, it’s not like you really had my back. Modern women have been conditioned to join the sisterhood. We feel duty-bound to have each other’s backs: it’s seen as unsisterly to put ourselves first, instead we must adhere to a non-competitive female support system. For sure, female altruism attracts followers and sells products and albums (just see Taylor Swift), but is it authentic?

Have you ever felt smug when you weren’t the last in your friendship group to have a baby/dream wedding/get a new job with a top salary? Before you jump to conclusions about me, consider that you might be closer to my way of thinking than you’d care to admit.

Doubting the credibility of the sisterhood isn’t something I went looking for. Growing up, I was taken by the idea of a cosy support network of fellow females, working together to help each

other be the best we could possibly be. But when push came to shove, and the trials of real life kicked in, I realised my real perspective is more, ‘I want you to do well, but I want to do better. I want you to land that dream job, as long as it’s not my dream job.’ I’ve lost count of the times I’ve found out colleagues have snuck off and gone for the exact same job interviews as

me. Would I really have been happy if one of them had landed the job over me? Of course, pretending otherwise sounds pretty, but just like the fake graces of an Oscar winner’s speech that praises all the other nominees, I see straight through it. I don’t judge you for it. It doesn’t make you less of a feminist or want equality any less to admit that you want to win. And I do.

This isn’t about slating women; we’re people, we don’t all want the same things, we don’t all hold the same opinions or values or belief systems. It’s so easy to characterise women as all being one way – that’s why this sisterhood, which paints us all as unselfish angels, makes me wonder.

We’re penalised if we show too much aggression, ambition or ruthlessness, or dare admit we just don’t really get on with another woman. For reference, see pretty much all of the female Apprentice candidates saying things like, ‘I hear you and I respect you,’ while high-fiving, before running off to slag each other off in interviews – and getting slated for it.

The gentle, compassionate, empathetic feminist-slogan-wearing sisterhood is how we are expected to behave – so it makes sense to align yourself with this if you want to be a success. But really, it’s just another plank to bash women who are outspoken enough to admit they put themselves first.

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The sisterhood illusion persists because it enables women to stand against the reductive ‘bitch’ stereotype – ie, that women can’t get along. And, like Girl Power in the ’90s, the new sisterhood is great PR. But women don’t by default always have your back. Equality should cover the light and shade of female behaviour, the good and the bad. Not all women are the same and grouping us en masse whether it be as caring angels or as high-drama as the Real Housewives is destructive and limiting.

Admit it – lots of us, me included, want to succeed at life, and preferably we don’t want to be the last one to do so. We’re all so hell-bent on promoting the notion of the sisterhood that we are undermining ourselves and our basic human desires.

I owe a lot to women in my life. A female editor gave me my break in journalism, a woman producer gave me my first presenting job. I’ve been inspired by so many and will support some until my dying day. But I don’t put that down to sisterhood as much as individual kindness and relationship building. And is it not OK to say I deserved those jobs? Certainly, they handed down the baton, but only when they were ready to give it away.

I’m not suggesting we ditch the idea of a sisterhood – if anything, I’m craving a real one. We need a true, authentic version of it. I want to smash the glass ceiling: it would just be great if it could be a competition to see who can smash it first and hardest. I just wish we could be honest, because until we do, the sisterhood will just be superficial.

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