The whole nation got pretty excited yesterday for Obama’s beer summit with Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard scholar, and Sgt. James Crowley, the Cambridge police officer who arrested him. But I couldn’t help but wonder if it had been women involved instead of two men, if the nicey-nice photo op and beer summit chat would have ever happened.
I’m not asking if Hillary had been elected president would the beer summit still have happened. (Although I doubt it, just because beer doesn’t seem her style.) I’m referring to the idea of a beer summit among women—sitting around a table, disagreeing, drinking beers, shooting the breeze, talking things over, walking away from both the initial ugly confrontation and the ensuing awkwardness possibly as friends. Based on what I’ve seen in my own life and in the lives of my female friends and sisters, women seem more likely to hold grudges and continue to be angry when an injustice has been committed against them or their feelings are hurt. Men seem more willing—whether it’s by nature or by conditioning—to have their differences, but then slap the guy on the back and be buddies again.
After the drama in Cambridge unfolded, though, I doubt women would have wanted to get in the same room with “that other bitch” anytime soon.
A week ago, I sat at a bar with a male friend, who I’ll call Robert, talking about drama between me, and my best guy friend, who I’ll call Josh. Some bad, dramatic s**t went down back in March, and for the past five months, I have come to realize that the best guy friend who has seen me through my life’s ups and downs since 8th grade no longer understands me anymore. My other friend Robert, who doesn’t know Josh at all, kept imploring me not to write Josh off.
“Really, Jess,” Robert told me, “I think you just need to get over it.”
“But I can’t,” I insisted. “He did X, Y, and Z. I don’t want someone like that in my life. How can I just say that things are OK again?”
“Because they are OK again. You two talked about it and it should be over. Why are your feelings still hurt? Honestly, I think if you were a guy,” Robert continued, “you wouldn’t still be hung up on this. You’d have moved on.”
Is it sexist for Robert to have suggested that? Maybe. But it doesn’t mean it might be a little true. After all, you never hear men say, “He’s a backstabber!” or “I don’t want to go to that party because Dominic will be there!” On the contrary, I’ve seen men get in physical fights with each other and slap each other on the back hours later and say it’s water under the bridge.
There is, as the author Leora Tanenbaum has chronicled in her book, a long, sexist, sordid “catfight” narrative between women in American culture. You see it between starlets on the big and little screens (Hilary Duff vs. LiLo! L.C. vs. Heidi! Angelina vs. Jen!) and in pop songs (“The Boy Is Mine,” “Beautiful Liar”). And of course, reality dating shows exist solely to stoke the flames of catfighting women.
Most of the catfighting we see in pop culture, I think, is sexist agenda-setting by tabloids that are just trying to exploit situations by belittling women. But I believe it’s based on something real inside us: the way women sometimes prefer to just avoid another woman who did something bad to her, rather than deal with it head-on. When someone hurts my feelings—nine times out of 10 it’s a female friend or a female acquaintance (the 10 is my male best friend or my boyfriend)—I lose trust in that person having the best of intentions for me. I don’t trust that they care about me. I don’t trust that I can make myself vulnerable to them or it will be abused. For some reason I don’t understand, insults from women cut me right to the core and stay implanted. The last thing I’d want to do is re-live that hurt over a beer summit and risk getting hurt by this mean person again. I admit to being the most sensitive person in the world, but I’ve watched spunkier, stronger, coarser women act that way, too.
Of course, the hurt-feelings-and-grudge-holding merry-go-round is a self-perpetuating cycle that’s just screwing over the women who engage in it, myself included. I know I shouldn’t complain about the situation because, especially in the case with Josh, I’m not doing anything to change it. But my trust has been lost and I don’t think there’s any point in a beer summit between me and him.
Looking at the big picture, Obama is pretty savvy to engineer the Gates-Crowley téte-a-téte and photo op as a “teachable moment” for getting past drama and being friends. He’s setting a great example for something I wish more people, including myself, could do.
Clearly, my own grudges are petty in comparison to the perceived racism Gates experienced at the hands of a white cop. But for the sake of using a teachable moment the way it should be used, maybe I’ll have to try a rosé summit sometime and test if it works.