BY ERIN GLORIA RYAN
When you’re in eighth grade and you don’t understand why your best friend has suddenly teamed up with the class bully to write you jerky, unsigned notes that they leave in your locker every day (without fail) between fourth period science and fifth period study hall, having a mother who tells you that the girls are mean to you because they’re “just jealous” can provide a mental sanctuary necessary for temporary self-preservation. But when entire swaths of the population — from Real Housewives to real pundits — internalize and spout the notion that all women who so much as disagree with another woman must be jealous bitches, we have a problem. The phrase “just jealous” is not only usually incorrect, it’s reductive, and paints women as petty harpies. It’s fucking ruining America.
I have to hand it to the phrase “she’s just jealous.” It’s pretty much the most perfectly infuriating thing someone can say to another person who is trying to have a legitimately critical discussion besides “relax.” Simultaneously lazy, self-aggrandizing, and indicative of a pathological lack of self-awareness, “she’s just jealous” does it all. It’s a humblebrag! (I’m so fabulous that every possible thing I or this person I support does is not only unassailable, but envy-inspiring.) It’s a quick and dirty dismissal! (You’re wrong; I’m awesome.) It’s a way to characterize enemies as petty! (There is no legitimate way to disagree with me! All disagreement is bullshit!) And it reliably shuts down dialogue; it’s nearly impossible to respond to accusations of being jealous without sounding defensive. It’s the idiot trump card.
While accusing any and all detractors of an incurable case of envy is hardly a new phenomenon nor is it exclusively used against women — recent example: back in January, Presidential candidate Mitt Romney dismissed public scrutiny of his role as a corporate skullfucker at Bain Capital by characterizing their concern as “based on envy” rather than, you know, legitimate concern that a guy who wants to be the President made millions of dollars buying corporate carrion and selling it as steak — it’s certainly something that’s disproportionately used to shut women up. And I’ve noticed it most often, at least on a cultural level, that it’s been used to shut down political debate between women.
I hate to pick on the Palins, because I hate to think of the Palins, but they’re the best recent example of the Bitches Be Jealz philosophy. When former Alaska governor Sarah Palin barged onto the scene in 2008, she elicited an over-the-top reaction from a public that seemed to either love or loathe her. But women who disliked her were characterized as bitter fishwives who were just jealous that they weren’t married to Todd Palin and living in a McMansion in BFE, Alaska and styling themselves like a flight attendant from 1988. Sarah Palin was a pretty mom; ergo everyone who disagreed with her was wrong. The Palins themselves have proudly taken up the “she’s just jealous” mantle; in 2010 a younger Palin daughter accused reporters of being jealousof her. Bristol Palin told Christianity Today that people who disagree with Sarah Palin are just jealous that God’s on her side. The knife cuts both ways, though; when Michele Bachmann’s star was rising, Palin was the one accused of jealousy.
But conservatives aren’t the only group that defends its own by claiming that women from the other side of the aisle couldn’t possibly have a problem with a woman’s ideals. I’ve rolled my eyes at accusations that conservative blogger Michelle Malkin is just jealous of First Lady Michelle Obama, that Ann Coulter is just jealous of Michelle Malkin, that Ann Coulter is just jealous of everyone who is married because she’s a skinny millionaire who has sold jillions of books, but apparently only a husband could possibly fulfill her. Meghan McCain is just jealous of every Republican pundit who is smarter than her, and every Republican pundit who is less well-endowed than Meghan McCain is just jealous of Meghan McCain’s rack. In fact, as a general rule, any woman who is less hot or blonde than any other woman they disagree with politically (or even one they just have a small quibble with) is just mad that they’re not hot or blonde. It’s the Fox News Defense, a great way for people who can’t see beyond a woman’s femininity and into her ideas to defend women they’ve decided they support, since treating all lady dissent with the “she’s just jealous” panacea assumes that the rest of the public is similarly incapable of separating breasts from brains.
This isn’t to say that it’s never possible that any woman is jealous of any other woman, ever. But here’s a foolproof trick for telling the difference between the green-eyed monster and legitimate criticism — jealousy-based criticism isn’t substantial, it’s not based in actual, back-uppable disagreement with a viewpoint someone may hold.
In order to end the tyranny of “she’s just jealous,” there will have to suddenly be a mass realization that it’s possible for a woman to talk to or about another woman without first assessing how she stacks up to her physically. And we’ll all have to accept that sometimes, they’re not just jealous; that it’s possible that maybe you’re actually a jerk. But I’m not holding my breath.