I've always loathed the myth about women and how they compete with each other, how bitchy they are, and how they can't trust each other. I've always been wary of women who have no female friends or women who say their best friends are men.
I've always stepped sideways from the merest hint of competition with other women. I imagine I sensed, from an early age, that my hide wasn't quite thick enough to survive the reprisals of success. I learned to savour failure instead because as Dylan says, there's no success like failure, and failure is really no success at all.
There's another myth. It’s the one about women being great communicators who relate via cooperative styles and means, the one about girls being made of sugar and spice and all things nice.
My first betrayal that I recall came at the hands of a woman – my mother. Emigrating half way across the globe from England to Australia, she delivered my two-year-old self and my six-year-old brother at the doorstep of my prodigal father. Six weeks later, she hightailed it back to the mother country. I quickly learned to please, but I have often wondered if, because my formative years were endured between my father and brother, I missed out on learning some of the other essential arts of female persuasion.
Pre and early pubescence should have finished me. These educative years were spent almost entirely in the company of women: Nuns and boarding school innocents, then more nuns, and many a good Catholic family's shame – their misused and abandoned daughters. Perhaps this feminine immersion came too late or grew too skewed, isolated from the community, learning only to cook, sew, and type at the school for bad bitches and misfit maids. All that seems womanish enough, yet we were of a sort.
We were of a sort that gathered in the classroom of that suburban-house-come-school with it's barred windows and 'purple room' (for purple mouthed girls who absconded) to learn Monique's technique: Jamming the wooden handle of a bread knife against her cunt and vigorously strumming its serrations with a spoon. I learned the taste of Monique too, and of Monica. Sexier than Satan on serapax, Monique dominated the Friday and Saturday night realm. Surely even a bitch licking crumbs from her mistress' lap learns the manners of her table?
On Friday night, in black ripple soles and tight blue jeans, the Forrest Street girls hit the parquet dance floor of Ratz disco. Monique was such a hit at Ratz she was once asked to mime In the Flesh on stage. We plastered new layers onto our emerging identities under Michael Jackson's moonlight and Boney M's mirror ball.
The guys we invited back for Saturday night boyfriend night added a few more. There were no such invites during Monique's reign however, and not one of us suffered so much as a pinch on the tit in those days. I learned, long after the cease of her reign, that Monique's possession of the lounge room on boyfriend night had been desperately strategic.
If any one of the other girls had acquired a boyfriend, Monique would have been obliged to share, in which case Anthony Agostino might not have come for he would have been unable to ball her in the relative privacy of the loungeroom. She confessed this to me once, in a hospital bed after having an ovarian cyst, (and consequently one ovary) surgically removed.
The Queen Bee had apparently suffered for years under the weight of catholic guilt in that house, imagining that the old nun despised her for her sins. The nun, and others of her Christian community, had since taken to hearing Father Murphy say mass in that blighted room. Monique's guilt had convinced her that this was an attempt to purge the stain of her lust from its worn and faded pile.
As any power broker in a meat market knows (even during Lent), the important thing about the complicity of lesser women, albeit a given, is that it must work for your side. Apologies for the mixed metaphors here friends, but the other thing a power broker knows is that there can only be one Queen Bee per hive.
Toni was a lass who eventually had to learn this harsh law. Less subtle than Monique, Toni ruled through physical violence. Every girl in the house had at one time or other felt the pain of Toni's fear and thus learnt to politely appease the beast.
Toni spent the majority of her spare time rocking her large body back and forth in a favoured arm chair whilst listening to Elvis Presley songs. One day, while Toni was so positioned, and to all appearances at least, safely thumping away in her Elvisian fields, I happened into the lounge room.
Upon my happening, Toni slowly opened her eyes. Taking a drag on her cigarette, she asked me to show her my leg. Like the unthinking fool I was, I obeyed, raising my foot to the level of the seat of her throne. She then proceeded to butt the cigarette out against my bare flesh. Thump, thump, thump, rocking, her back hit the chair, the chair hit the wall, and so it was all through the house: Toni thumped and we shook.
It came about then that Monique discovered her inner union organiser when, having devised a brilliant, if simple, plan to overthrow the totalitarian dictator, she rallied her drones together. Six of us ambushed Toni during a rare occasion when she was on her feet — passing from the lounge to the kitchen — and pulling her to the ground, sat on her.
With the balance of power literally off balance, we vented our rage, (verbally) advising her that we would no longer tolerate her human rights abuses. Toni retreated to an aunt's house for several weeks and returned a very changed young woman. Funny thing about power – it can shift quickly given the right conditions. As a result of all this, my own ranking altered considerably when, almost overnight, I was raised from human ashtray to drone closest to the Queen Bee's side; or "backside" actually.
I had many adventures with my "best friend," Queen Bee Monique. Many of these adventures left me feeling betrayed and inept, like the threesomes and foursomes with boys I really liked. (She would never really give herself to me!), or like the time she dropped me in it with the law to save her own neck.
She was quite furious when I decided, at seventeen, to keep the child I was carrying. The price, it seems, of serving as drone closest to a beloved Queen, is that ultimately you are her slave and cannot be closer to anyone than you are to her. Also, you must never, ever, cause her to go too far out of her way for you or upset any of her plans for you or she will kill you in an instant.
These reminiscences bring me back to complicity: My own. Why don't I listen to my guts? Why do I continue to squander my resources on women who disrespect me? Do women ever face each other cleanly through conflict?
Always fearing the limelight, even while I danced in it, it seems I have more feminine wiles than I give myself credit for, even now. A grown woman, I dance the diplomatic-double-shuffle with aplomb. Scooping friends from the sidelines while remaining on "please pass the salt" terms with more powerful shakers, or worse, becoming top drone.
I could tell you more – about the nights spent on the street, the purple-mouthed absconder who learned it's safer to be alone, or, like many others I knew, how to keep my secret self empowered. We always know we are just as deserving of respect and joy as any other person.
I'm glad I got stung 'coz it made me see. I won’t serve you. I'm your equal woman and I believe there is room for both of us to shine. I won’t run away at the first sign of strife or get my tough girl out to make you back off. I won’t shaft you or betray you or collect you and other women as a battery for power, my ego, and my ambitions. I won’t put you down overtly or covertly. I won’t compete with you.
I'll encourage you to be your best and be glad when you achieve that. I'll respect your choices. I won’t gossip about you. I won’t exclude you. I expect these same things from you. If I fail or falter, I expect you to give me credit and tell me I've hurt you.
If we part as close friends, I hope it will be with respect. All this won’t just be for you, but for other women, too. I hope my consistency in the way I talk about and treat other women, even those I disagree with or dislike, will earn your trust that I will always behave in the same respectful way to you.