If you know me at all, you know that I’m one of those girls who has always struggled to maintain female friendships. In fact, my life is experience with people has always been along the lines of “Women are nice to your face and tear you apart behind your back, and men just pretend to be your friend when they’re interested in sleeping with you”. A jaded perspective, perhaps, but up until about the age of 26, it was one that was absolutely true. Years of trying to bond with other women–from sleepovers in elementary school to being part of the theatre world throughout my life to joining a sorority in college—have always failed me, and I’m not sure why. I’m unconventional, and some people judge that. I’m strong-willed, opinionated, and a little charismatic, and some people are intimidated by that. If I have a problem with you, I will tell you to your face, not gossip behind your back, and some people consider that “confrontational”. It’s always seemed to me there’s no way to win when it comes to making strong female friendships, and some of the most damaging things that have happened in my life have been at the hands of other women. Even as a grown woman, I still find it amusing when other grown women form cliques, talk about me behind my back, give me nicknames, and refuse to address their problems with me directly.

The funny thing is, I’m actually a big fan of strong, intelligent, confident, outspoken women. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to develop a very small circle of female friendships that have been a part of my life for years, and value them immensely (the number of close male friends in my life still outnumbers the girls about 5:1, and, yes, some of those friendships are quite platonic. Well, a couple, anyway.) I’m the first person to stand up for a girl who is being unfairly judged because she has a personality that’s “different”, or breaks the cardinal rule of life and stands out from the crowd, or wears her heart on her sleeve. It disheartens me that many of these same women I’ve defended have gone on to judge me, to choose not to be my friend, but it is what it is.

My close female friends are all very different from one another. They don’t even all get along with one another. However, they have a few traits in common: they are highly intelligent, accept me for who I am and how I see the world (even when they don’t agree), don’t judge me for my mistakes throughout my journey, and are not intimidated by me one bit. It has been really, really tough for me to find women like this throughout my life, but I’m glad I have.

I’m not a supporter of women tearing down other women, because life isn’t a contest where there’s only room for one queen bee. I’m not a supporter of the female mentality learned in adolescence (see: “Mean Girls”) carrying over to adulthood, but you only need to look at your local suburban PTA to see that it does.

So, I have to say that I was very, very hurt and disappointed to see that friend and fellow blogger Gala Darling was met with negativity and criticism upon starting her new job as a beauty and style editor on the website xoJane. I thought her first article for the site was honestly written, soul revealing, and an extremely personal way to present yourself the first day on the job. Yet, she sparked such controversy and downright hurtful negativity, that the article received almost 650 comments in two days.

For some reason, Gala is a very controversial lady. Maybe it’s because she has an unconventional past, and isn’t ashamed to be open about it. She shares what she thinks will help other girls in their journey, and keeps things private that really aren’t anyone else’s business. This is pretty much the mantra of how I live my life, but I learned the hard way—as has Gala—that it doesn’t work. There’s always someone out there, some petty and insecure human being, who judges you and thinks everything about you is their business. There’s always someone out there who feels better watching you be torn down, especially if you’ve been vulnerable enough to come out and admit to being an emotional person, someone who’s battled demons in the past. There are always people who feel wronged by you that can’t forgive, can’t let go. There are always people who judge you to the point of not being able to speak to you or acknowledge you cordially, even though perhaps you never did anything to them.

If you’re a female, 9 times out of 10, these people are other women.

Gala makes it her personal mission to promote issues like body-acceptance, anti-bullying, equal rights, living life unconventionally, and all those other wonderful Burning Man messages she’s wrapped up in a philosophy she calls “radical self-love”. I’m not a big fan of the whole self-help genre, but she’s sending out a valuable message to a society full of girls who need to hear it.

It doesn’t matter what road someone took to get to where they are, what choices they made, what they sacrificed along the way, what advantages they had, what challenges they faced, or whether or not you can relate to their journey. What matters is that someone is willing to be open and vulnerable and share that journey because it may help others. It sucks that consistently, strong, independent, unconventional women are torn down for their willingness to do this. All it does is create a culture where people are more and more reticent to take chances, be real, put themselves out there.

I admire authenticity. I too have traveled a difficult, unconventional road. I’ve made mistakes, hurt others, changed how I saw the world along my journey, took chances others wouldn’t, and did so knowing I’d probably be judged…and didn’t care. The older I get, the more willing I am to own up to all the pieces of my journey, to speak openly about my views on life, and if it shocks people or causes them to judge me…well, it hurts, but so what?

I only wish the kind of strength necessary to be an outspoken, authentic, open-minded, emotionally-aware female in today’s society was more appreciated, rather than labeled: “bitch”, “phony”, “psycho”, “obnoxious”,”slut”,”stupid”. Every strong woman seems to be judged with one or more of these words, and it’s usually other women doing the judging.

I was once told that it doesn’t matter whether what people have to say about you, whether it’s good or bad, what matters is that you’re relevant enough to keep them talking. Controversy is a compliment. And, in less than a week, Gala has boosted the readership and commentary of xoJane tremendously. She’s doing her job.

I’d also be remiss in not mentioning another strong, outspoken, divisive woman of whom I’m a huge fan. Aubrey O’Day has been lighting up cyberspace with her cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know”, changing the lyrics to address her failed relationship with a married man. It’s an interesting cover, and given Aubrey’s past, shows that she’s got some balls in order to put it out there. I highly recommend checking it out on YouTube. (I only hope she got the proper rights, and isn’t going to be facing a lawsuit from Gotye’s people soon.)

As long as there are strong, unconventional women speaking their minds and making the choices you either wouldn’t, or wish you could, there will be haters. I only hope the haters don’t keep future generations of strong, unconventional women from emerging. (The Guy I Am Currently Dating told me an unfortunate story about a 14 year-old who had dramatic plastic surgery done because she got teased at school. Now she looks like a plastic Barbie doll. At 30, she will need even more cosmetic surgery.)

Women (and girls) really need to stop the habit of tearing each other down, especially through passive-aggressive means. Isn’t life hard enough to not attempt to show empathy for someone else’s journey, and maybe even look at the world through another point of view for a moment?