Is there, in fact, as the saying goes, ‘a special place in hell for women who don’t support women?’ If there is, then 72 of our female British MPs will not be going there.
They have penned an open letter to Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex; expressing solidarity and support in the face of the onslaught of negative, invasive and abusive media coverage she has received.
They condemn the “distasteful and misleading” articles produced about her, her family and her character, accusing them of “outdated, colonial attitudes” which they say cannot go unchallenged. It is a forceful rebuke to the British tabloid media; a strong stand against what they very clearly state, is intrusive and unhelpful journalism; not in the public interest but rather “seeking to tear a woman down for no apparent reason.”
What’s fascinating – and fortifying – about this letter, is not that it comes down so critically on the tabloids, but that it makes such a profound statement about the power of women supporting women. The letter practically hums with that sense of comradeship; that they too – as public women – understand what it means to be pointlessly and mercilessly denigrated, often simply for being a woman with power.
“We share an understanding,” the letter reads, “of the abuse and intimidation which is now so often used as a means of disparaging women in public office from getting on with our very important work.”
That’s the thing about women supporting women; we get it. As depressing as it is to not have more fervent male supporters of women (but they are out there and hurrah for it); there is something uniquely powerful about the understanding shared between women. That sense of commonality was so beautifully harnessed in the #Metoo movement; showing that simply by standing by each other, sharing our stories about such a depressingly ubiquitous phenomenon as experiencing sexual harassment as a woman, we could make a change. There is power in shared experience and sometimes the best person to have by your side, is someone who has walked a mile in your shoes: another woman.
The letter is a brilliant blueprint for how we, as women, should operate. It’s not implying we should all become besties – after all, these MPs have polarised views and come from across the British political system – but that we are unified by the shared experience of being women in a still patriarchal society. We need each other.
The notion of women supporting women is, thankfully, having a moment. The rush of all-women’s clubs in London, from The AllBright to The Wing, is proof of a growing appetite for the camaraderie of women. After all, we not only have a shared experience, but a shared goal, and we still have a depressingly long way to go before genuine gender parity is achieved.
Look at the recent case of TV presenter Samira Ahmed, who is taking on the BBC for the – wait for it – 600% pay gap between her and Jeremy Vine, for presenting markedly similar shows. She has been offered the support of many prominent male and female broadcasters, and arrived at her tribunal this week, touchingly hand in hand with fellow female BBC presenter Naga Munchetty. Women have her back on this.
But the issue that Samira faces is not unique to high-profile presenters like her. The gender pay gap is alive and well for everyone, and a report by the Fawcett Society, released this week, shows that it will take 60 years to eradicate, if we continue at our current speed. In fact, it showed that the gap rose from 8.6% to 8.9% in the last year. The Fawcett Society, and others, are crying out for more ardent work to be done, not least because, we are nearing the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, so it’s laughable we are still here.
The fact is that, though progress has been made; the stranglehold of the patriarchy is still working on women. One of the key road blocks to the gender pay gap, is forcing women apart; from sharing their pay with each other, from mobilising as a unit, from using their shared experience to prove institutionalised discrimination. If we are kept apart- we can’t unite and fight, right?
It easily achieved by the enhanced popularity of the myth that women do not get along. Women are consistently pitted against each other in the media. Just look at any reality TV show, countless films of women pulling each other’s hair out- or even the tabloids’ favourite sisters-in-law: Meghan and Kate who essentially took over the roles of Duchess V Duchess: The Grudge Match, the minute Harry put a ring on it.
In separating us in this way, we become ruthlessly singular; never knowing that there is more power in supporting other women, than getting in their way. The best way to your own progress at work, is in helping raise the bar for other women. Women are consistently disadvantaged at work, so we need more female champions- the ones who truly get it, who have walked in your shoes- to stand together. It quite literally pays to support each other.
So we, like the 72 MPs who put aside their differences to show solidarity to a fellow woman under fire, should become a more united bunch. We don’t have to become best pals, but we do have to recognise that we are still facing an uphill battle for equality, and the fight is a lot easier with other women by your side.