Lately I’ve been thinking about the different ways oppression affects women both directly and indirectly. One of these ways is through horizontal oppression, also called horizontal hostility or aggression. This phenomenon is the result of people in targeted groups (women, non-white, non-heterosexual, people with disabilities, etc.) believing and acting on or enforcing the dominant system of discrimination and oppression. Although it applies to every target group, for this post I’m focusing on women.
Horizontal hostility can be thought of as a tactic used by privileged groups (consciously or unconsciously) to keep targeted groups beneath them by pitting them against one another. Right now this all sounds like some mysterious theory, but what does it actually mean? Does this happen in real life? And how does it happen?
Society teaches girls that male attention is basically the point of our existence, and if we don’t have it, our self-worth is significantly lowered. Isn’t that sad just by itself? But to make things worse, because our self-worth depends on male attention, this puts all women into competition with each other to get it, causing us to work against each other, and sometimes be straight up mean to one another.
One great cultural example of horizontal aggression I can think of is the movie Mean Girls. We’ve basically all seen it, and it’s hilarious, but it’s also incredibly sad that it reflects a lot of real things girls go through in their relationships with each other. Lying, backstabbing, competing for boy’s attention, and working to bring other girls down. Not all girls do this or are like this at all, but most of us have struggled with something like it, or have at least been the victim, if not the perpetrator of girl-on-girl aggression.
In high school I was kicked out of friend groups because another girl wanted more attention from the guys we were hanging out with. I myself have said awful things about girls behind their backs because I was jealous and wanted to bring them down. We are constantly judging and competing with each other over who is prettier, smarter, cooler, etc. This includes slut-shaming, fat-shaming, basically shaming everything about being a girl. I’ve felt myself getting dressed up just to make sure I could compete with other women because we all know men notice a lot less than other girls do. Why are we doing this to each other?! It sucks.
The first step to fixing this problem is to see it, and to realize where it’s coming from. Then we can start to address it by being more conscious of our own actions in our everyday lives. We should try to think outside the box of oppression and realize that we don’t need to compete with other women.
I think the best thing we can do is try to change our mindsets. We should work to be women-inspired, accepting and loving of other women, so that we can work together and become stronger because tearing each other apart works against both our personal and political solidarity.