Beatrix Campbell: Why do some women undermine one another? Because it's still a man's world

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The Independent Online

Women's relationships with women is a fascinating new area. Women's friendship networks sustain them, in contrast with men, who don't expect to be the friends of women - not even the women who live with them.

Women's relationships with women is a fascinating new area. Women's friendship networks sustain them, in contrast with men, who don't expect to be the friends of women - not even the women who live with them.

Women are often accused of undermining each other, particularly at work. But this is unfair. A woman who achieves power has to be seen as "hard". If you are not supported by a critical mass of women in senior positions, you are not going to bring female culture with you. Instead, you are marooned in cultures of management and power derived from masculine institutions. You have got a militaristic hierarchy.

Women are operating in a masculine milieu and they are there to make those masculine values work. Take politics. You have had an unprecedented number of women in the House of Commons and Cabinet. Yet never has there been a less collegiate atmosphere. In order for women to make a difference, men have to want them there precisely to make a difference.

Portrayals of lesbian relationships on television are a good way forward and a measure of a significant change. What is problematic is that the subjects are young and lovely. These are the tolerated templates of what lesbians are because men can fantasise about them.

I think Shere Hite has been a very important, revolutionary researcher. Her report changed the thinking about women's experiences of pleasure, women's expectations of their relationships, how they navigate their sexual experiences. She was revelatory.

What has to be understood about Shere Hite's work was that it emerged from the women's liberation movement. With other sex surveys there was an assumption that you stuck a penis in a vagina and hoped the Earth moved.

Hite released women from this model. Her approach did not start with the question "Why are women frigid?". Instead she revealed that women were intensely sexual beings with enormous sexual potential but stuck with a model of doing sex which was doomed.

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