Horizontal Hostility

This was a tough teaching week. In one class we were discussing the dangers of inscribing gender on the body, and in another we were addressing rampant misogyny in the gaming industry. As students responded to this week’s readings and brought their ideas into our class discussions, I was disheartened to see the amount of horizontal hostility emanating from the women in class.

Horizontal hostility occurs when members of a targeted group believe, act on, or enforce the dominant system of discrimination and oppression. In this case, I witnessed women openly criticizing and chastising another woman for sharing her own experiences of discrimination and harassment within the gaming industry. In the article we were reading by Whitney Hills, the author states: “Over the years, other people’s words and actions pile onto your shoulders. You feel enormous pressure to pretend that nothing bothers you, because you don’t want to give others more power to hurt you, or upset people you care about or make them feel uncomfortable. So you don’t say anything, you try to ignore it, and the result is an ever-present sense of isolation that chills your enthusiasm and makes you defensive. You feel that the things that hurt you would never have happened if you weren’t female, and on a certain level, you feel that you deserve it.”  While some students recognized the damaging long term effects of such microaggressions, others dismissed or at the very least discounted this woman’s experiences:

“Hills fails to mention the possibility of approaching others in a professional, self-confident, and stern manner to address her problem. In my opinion, Hills’s article is narrow-minded due to the fact that she does not address or talk about resolutions, nor has she claimed to have tried to confront the problem with the person or someone of higher authority.”

“I have a problem with the author’s fear in this article. She prides herself based upon the fact that she is an accomplished, educated woman in a field that is overrun with males. However, throughout the article she is constantly depicting her fear of being cornered on her way to the bathroom or fear of being seen as too timid or feminine. It is perfectly fine to be afraid of being cornered or attacked, but you should not fear what others think of you. If you portray feminine characteristics and you work in what is generally seen as a job for a man, then embrace it.”

“I didn’t like this article; it felt like a ‘poor me’ article complaining about how she doesn’t fit into a man’s world. I would like to say that most women live in a man’s world. Men clearly have had the power for a long time and can make rules/ laws to benefit them. I get that it’s not fair, but it’s the way it is. I think that until you consider yourself an equal and incorporate yourself into this world, they are going to define you by the fact that you are a woman and treat you like a woman.”

“I just didn’t really like the article and I think this woman is weak. I bet there are a lot of better examples of sexism in the video game making industry. This to me is just about how she doesn’t fit in, either because of age, gender or in my opinion just personality.”

While it saddens me to read these responses, it does not surprise me. Females are taught from a very young age to view other girls as competition and not as a source of support. We live in a patriarchy that values the masculine over the feminine. To be a woman is to be less valuable than to be a man. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard women tell other women to ‘man up.’ I don’t blame young women for internalizing these ideas. When I was a young woman I engaged in horizontal hostility. In school and in the workplace I eyed other women with suspicion, and insisted that men made better friends and colleagues. As a young mother I competed against all the other young mothers to see who could achieve the “ideal mother” status society had taught us was the only acceptable way to parent. It was only as I aged and experienced my own feminist awakening that I began to realize the true value to be found in supporting and receiving support from other women. Today my female friends and colleagues are my greatest source of strength, and I cannot imagine life without them.

Women need to support one another within and across generations. Those who came before us have such wisdom and strength to offer, and those coming up behind deserve the guidance that we can provide through our own lessons learned. Let’s start the conversations to share our stories – I’m happy to facilitate. Who’s in?


Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

Leave a Reply