In the heyday of the Hollywood studio system, Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM (‘More stars than there are in the heavens’) was rumoured to have had a very strange chart on his wall. This graph, allegedly, kept a record of the menstrual cycles of the studio’s leading ladies: Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Grace Kelly and the rest. By consulting it, directors and cameramen knew when their precious cargo might be feeling a mite tearful and would ruin her make-up if spoken to sharply, or when her skin might not be in the best condition for a big close-up.
Some mornings when I come back from my husband’s place, sit down at my computer and eagerly turn to Facebook, I wonder if I too should nip down to the office supply shop and buy a bunch of graph paper — not in order to track the state of the silken skin of sirens (nice work if you can get it) but rather to help keep me up to speed vis à vis the screaming sirens of Facebook feuds, as they reverse over speed-bumps with their horns on, over and over, just like a gaggle of selfie-snapping monkeys with miniature cymbals. I love a good scrap as much as the next media whore, but sometimes even I feel myself wilting in weary disbelief when I see what’s been kicking off overnight.
Don’t get me wrong — I love Facebook. Just when I’m convinced that the internet is the main domain of a gang of mass escapees from Broadmoor, the amazingly agile minds of my Facebook friends shimmy by and like a bedazzled dancing bear I stumble after them. My best barbs are long-blunted in booze and self-satisfaction — but being with these glittering ghosts is like being young again, without the boring or embarrassing bits. I don’t tweet, but that’s mostly because the first night I did (there was actually a petition, on change.org, started by the Observer’s Eva Wiseman, to force me on to it) I got into seven scraps in the first hour and realised that I didn’t need another excuse not to write my novel.
But devoted though I am to Facebook, the level of feuding which I’ve experienced recently in my immediate circle of female friends — people I met through FB but have since pressed the flesh of and consider to be mates — has reached fever pitch. Or rather, PMT pitch. Recently, I got back to one particularly vicious skirmish, dreading what I would find, only to be informed by one of the feudees that she and her foresworn enemy had both started their ‘periods’ and were now bosom buds. Too much info — though Louis B. would have appreciated it. Elsewhere, another ‘friend’ posted rabidly jealous comments whenever I Facebooked photos of myself out and about with other amigos. Mrs Patrick Campbell famously called marriage ‘the deep, deep peace of the double-bed after the hurly-burly of the chaise-longue’; I have come to see it as the slow dark ride of sexual companionship after the helter-skelter of female friendship.
I can see that some people might think I’m being a bitch to be bitching about bitches, as a good part of my career has been built on flagrant bitchiness. But my scraps have been about something — usually about calling out broads I saw to be bullying other women. I took on Dawn French when she made the ludicrous claim that ‘Big women do sex fantastically well’ (bitch-point: thin women are bad in bed) and Camille Paglia when she dismissed just about every living human with a vagina except Madonna (the starstruck old stick!) But so much modern bitching can be boiled down to two un-burning issues: ‘She looked at me funny’ and/or ‘You like her better than me’. Ick, ick, and thrice again ick!
Where does all this tiny-minded toxicity in female friendship come from? Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol’s film director, had a theory that the young Americans he met took so many drugs because they had been the first generation of generally healthy babies and, perversely, wanted to test themselves by inflicting ill-health upon themselves. Are the first generation of women to take the sisterhood as a given attempting to taste the forbidden fruit of cat-fighting through Facebook feeding frenzies? Once women have said how ‘strong’ and ‘supportive’ they are, do they feel they have a blank cheque to act like a menopausal mean girl? An experiment once showed that people who buy ‘green’ and ‘ethical’ products may be prone to acting in a shady way in other parts of their lives; does posting inspirational FB messages about kindness and karma mean it’s OK to go around slagging off other women?
Is it because modern women don’t have enough hobbies? Women like to mock men’s friendships, saying that they’re shallow and mostly about football and video games, but is that so bad? It certainly seems to contribute to them not getting their knickers in a twist over their mates. When I asked my husband whether he’d be upset if one of his mates went out for a drink with another mate and not him, his face was a picture. So many female friendships seem to be about emotion, pure and simple — except it hardly ever is those two things. And we all know that the over–examined life is not worth living.
Reading about Theresa May’s new ‘Cinderella’ law, I wondered if there would be any chance of using it against one’s ugly-hearted ‘sisters’ as well as men. I’m not one of these halfwits who says ‘O, female flack is worse because it’s psychological!’ It’s not — two women a week killed aren’t killed by being unfriended on Facebook. But I do know that while I have experienced jealousy, possessiveness, verbal abuse and violence from men, I have also experienced jealousy, possessiveness, verbal abuse and violence from women — usually when I failed to respond to their advances. Of course the former was worse — being beaten up by a man is far scarier than having a bitch-fight with someone of your own strength, and usually comes without the handy advantage of earring-pulling. But the sisterhood warns you about the first, whereas the second is swept under the carpet in the name of feminism.
I don’t hate the old-style bitchiness, which is plain in its intent, and which knows itself. How could I — that would be self-loathing! But I am repelled by modern passive-aggressive bitchery as demonstrated by the spiritual slop-buckets who post pictures of sunsets with ‘positive’ messages and then stick the boot in, all the while telling mates that they are ‘worried’ about one.
Dame Edna got it completely when she would destroy a female member of her audience from head to toe, then murmur: ‘And I mean that in a caring, nurturing way.’ All I’m asking for is a good, fair fight — one that isn’t based on jealousy, envy or any of the other things that add nothing to the quality of life or the gaiety of nations but actually drain and corrupt our daily lives, and which pass as bitching in these dog-end days. Remember, ladies, ugliness goes to the bone, no matter how many smiley face emoticons you slap on to the surface.