When Maria Grazia Chiuri presented her first Dior show in the fall of 2016, she sent a model down the runway in a T-shirt that read “We Should All Be Feminists.” Dior may be a French brand, but given our country’s complicated and often vicious political climate, it felt like a message aimed directly at Washington. It was a phrase that resonated, instantly going viral and becoming one of the symbols of the fashion world’s ability to make a statement without saying a word.
I, like many women, had a visceral response to the tee. Indeed, we should all be feminists—men, women, all of us. And while the underlying message of the shirt implies that of course all women are feminists but all men should be too, I’ve recently begun to realize it’s not quite that simple.
A few weeks ago, I met a woman through work who—well, there is no simpler way to say it—didn’t like me from the get-go. My personality didn’t jibe with hers, and no matter what I said, or how many dances I did (metaphorical dances of course, I’m not that desperate for someone to like me), nothing worked. I went through all the stages in my head that most women—pleasers by nature—go through. I thought she must be having a bad day; maybe she had something going on in her personal life; maybe she was simply more reserved than me and it would take her a minute to get used to me. But as the days passed and more interactions were had, it became abundantly clear: This woman didn’t like me, and she wasn’t going to. And she wasn’t going to hide that fact either.
But apparently not liking me wasn’t enough. She had to say some pretty terrible things to me to make her point; she said some of them to my colleagues as well. At every turn, she made it obvious how she felt about me, and there was nothing I could do—no mediation skill I could employ—that was going to change her mind. It was one of the most difficult experiences of my professional career.
When I told other coworkers about the experience, more than one referenced my “big” personality as a potential reason for her response to me, seemingly using the word “big” as a synonym for a word they deemed less flattering. I would venture to guess no one ever tells a man he has a “big” personality, or at the very least, they don’t say it as a negative. Men are strong. Men are assertive. A woman with a “big” personality should be careful. Someone may not like quite how “big” it is.
Days after this incident, still reeling from feeling so unabashedly unliked and being treated so poorly, I was at the airport boarding a flight. My credit card company had put a hold on one of my cards because I was traveling, and I was on the phone with them trying to explain that it was in fact me trying to buy a water at the airport and to please turn my card back on. I was speaking to them as I was in line to board when I saw the woman in front of me furiously tapping away on her Facebook app on her phone. It caught my eye because I saw her typing “Gucci loafers,” and I was wearing Gucci loafers (they happen to be very comfortable to travel in). I made note of the Facebook page she was on, and once I boarded the plane I looked it up. It was the page of a shoe business she must have been involved in, and the post read: “Phrase of the Day: Ghetto Rich. Meaning, wearing Gucci shoes while waiting to board a flight to LAX while on the phone speaking to someone saying just make sure my credit card works.” And—wait for it—she had included a photo of my feet she had taken without my knowledge. That. Was. It. I had had enough. (For the record, my Gucci loafers are long paid for, and I told the woman exactly that when I messaged her on Facebook and then reported her site.)
What is wrong with some women that they are so terrible to other women without reason? Really, how can we expect men to be feminists if we aren’t? For every great girlfriend I have, there seems to be a girl who is out to make me feel less than or who genuinely isn’t cheering me on to success. It all made me think of that famous Madeleine Albright quote: "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." I hope she's right.
Here’s the thing: Men may be from Mars, and women from Venus, but what is it about those two planets that means we should be paid differently, treated differently and be respected and liked for different personality traits? We already have all this playing against us, and then we have the nerve to be mean to people who also came from Venus? If there’s one thing you can say about men, it’s that they always watch out for their bros from Mars. Men almost always have one another’s backs. Women? Not always the case.
Maria Grazia Chiuri had it right when she sent that model down the runway boldly stating that “We Should All Be Feminists.” We should, but we should probably start by converting all the women before we have a chance of convincing all the men. We should start by supporting and rooting for one another. That’s the only way we stand a chance.