Blaming other women for misogyny has always felt uncomfortable, but we must confront sexism in whatever form it takes
I found myself clapping wildly at the weekend at the actor Jameela Jamil’s interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy. The whole thing is worth watching, but the part that has gone viral is when she calls the Kardashians “double agents”: women who get other women to trust them, only to sell us ideals (and products) that damage us. “It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” she says. “Just because you look like a woman, we trust you and think you’re on our side but … you’re selling us self-consciousness.”
This is not exactly an unfounded accusation; Kim Kardashian-West, for one, promotes an appetite-suppressant lollipop to her 111 million Instagram followers.
Still, blaming other women for misogyny has always felt uncomfortable – like you are doing patriarchy’s job by turning on women pressured to conform to sexism, rather than critiquing the male-dominated structures that got us here. But Jamil is surely speaking out about a side to sexism that is worth confronting. As she puts it: “I don’t care if you’re a woman. For us to evolve, we need some sort of constructive criticism.”
This is a longstanding idea, from Madeleine Albright’s “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other” to Caitlin Moran coining the term “Vichy France with tits” for women who pander to sexism to make money.
The “double agents” concept keeps being floated because these issues are not budging. Loose Women – a show fronted by women and aimed at women – was reported to Ofcom more than 7,000 times following an on-air row last week between Kim Woodburn and Coleen Nolan that saw Woodburn walk off in tears. Earlier in the summer, the show broadcast an “exclusive” on Maureen Nolan’s facelift, including her bloodied, bruised face post-surgery.
The social media age is making this stuff feel all the more toxic. But pitting women against women is not limited to reality TV stars and daytime chatshows. News sites such as Conservative Woman – which last week published an article equating the right to use abortion pills at home with flushing a baby down the toilet – perpetuate a form of gender politics every bit as damaging as any Kardashian, but do so under their own sheep’s clothing: educated, middle-class white women making the case for gender roles as a reasonable assault on feminism “gone too far”.
Whether it is lollipops or a keyboard, in a society where we are pressed to tear each other down, the greatest way for women to fight back is by lifting one another up.