Feminists have a lot to fight against. I mean, obviously there is the Patriarchy (TM) in general, but there are also a million small, insidious things that make feminist progress so hard.
One of them, as I am rediscovering over the past few days, is that women give up on each other far too easily.
I could give you a dime for every woman I know who hasn't stayed with a loser guy for too long at some point in her life (and this doesn't just mean boyfriends and husbands--fathers, brothers, and friends all fit into this category as well) and still have plenty of change in the emergency jar. Women are socially programmed to never give up on men, no matter what they do. Even when they are non-responsive, even when they are mean spirited, even when they are abusive. Women find the ability within themselves to keep giving, keep trying, just keep on, often for far longer than is healthy or good. Giving up on other women, however, is a whole other thing.
This goes beyond just judging each other harshly, which we also do. This is about writing each other off, thinking that other women are just not worth the trouble, not worth arguing with, not worth teaching and learning from, just plain not worth it. Rather than the innumerable chances we give men to learn, to change, to apologize, to explain, we give each other so very few. How many women have you known with whom you lost touch for reasons you can no longer even recall, mostly because they were so minor and could have so easily been mended if one or both of you had just been willing to keep on keeping on?
Why do we do it? I think partially it's about our self-worth, and how we are taught to view the worth of other women. You have only to look at the myriad of women throwing their best girlfriends over for the guy of the week to see where our priorities are supposed to lie. Sometimes, not giving up takes a sacrifice, it takes other things having to be shelved for a bit, and we're just not as willing to do that for women as we are for men.
Just as we are taught that the value of women is lower than that of men, we are simultaneously taught to expect more from women than from men. We are harder on each other when we screw up because it's less expected, and I can even remember saying to other women, in anger, "I'd expect that shit from a man, but not from you!" This double standard puts us in the position of thinking that women's small transgressions are bigger than they really are, and of not being able to accurately gauge how angry we should be.
Another part of it, I think, is that it is easier and safer for us to get angry and stay angry with each other than it is to get or stay angry with men. This is something that can be seen, for example, when a man leaves his girlfriend or cheats on her with another woman. Who is the bad guy in this scenario? In my experience, the bulk of the hate is generally directed towards the "other woman." Why is that? Why would a woman have higher expectations of another women, who she may not even know, than of a man who she presumably has a relationship with? Could it be, in part, because we can feel fairly secure that if we get into a disagreement with another woman, we won't come back from it with a black eye or a broken arm?
The bottom line is that, no matter how many reasons there are for women to give up on each other so easily, it's hurting us. If we could give each other the benefit of the doubt in even half as many cases as we give it to men, we'd be so much stronger.