“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” –Rumi.
This New Year, one of my goals is to redouble my efforts to stop judging other women. This sounds simple, but after reflecting on some of the things that have slipped out of my mouth these last few months, I am less than proud:
“She has fake boobs and an OnlyFans…”
“Her boyfriend is a complete douchebag and she spends $50 a month getting her eyebrows threaded…”
“Shouldn’t you just hire a babysitter? I know it’s your first kid, but you and you husband seem completely exhausted…”
And yet I want other people to let me live my life in peace. So what makes me qualified to scrutinize other people’s life decisions? What makes me qualified to comment on their love life or their appearance? Absolutely nothing. In fact, I previously wrote about how we should stop asking women about their relationship status. Clearly I am not taking my own advice.
I’m starting to realize that this issue goes far deeper than I had first understood. Women have been deprived of a decent education for these last few millennia, and this continues to be the case in much of the world today. For centuries we faced the threat of being burnt at the stake if we decided to express ourselves. I would not have survived a day back in those times. If I had my natural period pains before painkillers were invented, I would quickly have been labelled a hysterical witch. Today, this subjugation of women continues to trickle down in our language. “She’s crazy,” is a phrase that is still thrown around. Or, if you’re my father critiquing a female journalist on TV, “That woman is so stupid. So dumb. I mean, come on.”
Growing up I learnt it was appropriate, if not societally endorsed, to hate other women—internalized misogyny. I once met a female pilot who told me that she’s had far more female passengers than male passengers refuse to board a plane when they learnt that she was flying it (!). I mean, that is just so sad. When women are divided, when we are judging each other, we are not empathizing with or supporting or helping one another. When I belittle another woman’s decisions, I am sending the energy out into the world that none of us are capable of effectively managing our own lives. I am perpetuating the idea that women are unfit, second-class citizens.
Luckily, the book “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg addresses the heart of these issues. Rosenberg starts by saying that when we make “moralistic judgments”, including blame, insults, putdowns, labels, criticism, and comparisons, we are implying “wrongness or badness on the part of people who don’t act in harmony with our values”. This way of communicating alienates us from our natural state of compassion by promoting violence and supporting hierarchical domination, where historically large populations were controlled by a small number of individuals to those individuals’ own benefit.
Interestingly enough, Rosenberg goes on to say that that our judgments of other people “are actually expressions of our own needs and values”:
“Had we been raised speaking a language that facilitated the expression of compassion, we would have learned to articulate our needs and values directly, rather than to insinuate wrongness when they have not been met.”
This idea has blown my mind. Seeing my judgments of other women as an alienation of my own needs and values has enabled me, for the first time, to articulate what my own needs and values are. For example:
1. I’m judging her for getting married. This is an alienation of my personal needs for freedom and novelty. Also, it conflicts with my need to save money because as a bridesmaid, I don’t want to spend $5,000 on flights and gifts etc.
2. I’m judging her for wanting a Louis Vuitton bag. This is an alienation of my value that I prefer to not be materialistic. It is also a reflection of my need that the people in my life should not expect me to dress a certain way or display a certain level of wealth.
3. I’m judging her for having an OnlyFans and fake boobs. This is an alienation of my need to feel that I am beautiful enough as I am naturally, and that as a woman my body is not my only source of value and social currency.
4. I’m judging her for not hiring a nanny. This is an alienation of my need to have my own identity and my own time if I were to become a mother in the future.
Doing this exercise has been a huge relief. With it, much of the tension and conflict I felt internally has melted away. As it turns out, judging other people does not feel good in my body. It feels like I’m putting up walls around me.
Rosenberg goes on to discuss the importance of observing “what we are seeing, hearing, or touching that is affecting our sense of well-being, without mixing in any evaluation.” It is okay that we are never going to remain completely objective. The point is that we maintain a separation between our observations and our evaluations.
So, I challenge you to join me in this! Next time you find yourself judging another woman, pause and think. This woman’s actions have little or nothing to do with you. But they can, in fact, help point you in the right direction to figuring out what your needs and values are. Make a note of your judgment or write it down on your phone. Review it in a few days time. Did it reveal anything about your needs? Is there a pattern here which you can identify? Share in the comments if you discover anything interesting!
This will be my new practice. I’m reflecting on this final thought:
“The India philosopher J. Krishnamurti once remarked that observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.”
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References & Acknowledgements
Thank you to Katka Sabo for calling me out on my judgments, inspiring this piece and for her feedback, and to my sister, Dandy Doherty, for her feedback.
 Rosenberg, M. B. (2015). Nonviolent communication: a language of life. 3rd edition. Encinitas, CA, PuddleDancer Press.