Competitiveness between Females

Aaaaahh my favorite topic.  Men vs. women.

Differences between men and women came up in my adult class last night (I swear I didn’t bring it up!) and the conversation led a few students, 2 men and 1 woman, to say that women are more competitive with one another than they are with men.

Now, when I hear this, I flash back to our 10th grade forum with Queen Bees and Wannabees author Rosalind Wiseman.  Oh, having to endure an entire Ma’amad devoted to telling me that I’m not getting along with the other girls in my class and that I’m being “mean” to them (and they to me).  After that book was published, labeling girls “mean” went rampant and the whole “mean girls” concept was merely accepted as a given.

Forget the fact that my high school was a pretty happy place and that my worst days were actually in middle school.  That in middle school my friends were more neurotic than they were “mean,” that no one went out of their way to be vindictive towards me, and that I had problems with “mean” girls AND boys.

No.  Now everyone is convinced that all girls are is cruel and backstabbing towards one another.

But how can that be, when the people who have been the best friends to me have always been girls, when the friends I’ve had longest are girls, and when my guy friends often prove to be disappointments?

Let me back up and say topics like this are always really hairy because as easy as it is to generalize, there are so many people who don’t fit an easy stereotype and we end up calling everyone we know who doesn’t conform to the stereotype the exception to the rule instead of breaking down the stereotype itself.

Although I don’t think women and men are the same, in recent years I’ve stopped thinking in terms of “Men are like this and women are like that” and “Men always do this and women always do that,” and approach the person as an individual. It’s much more effective in grounding yourself in the reality of a situation.

Which is exactly why hearing people say (let alone a woman say) that women are more competitive than men irks me so much.  I mean after all, it is often men who try to turn things into a competition.  When going skiing with Carlos and Yenni, Carlos summed up how many times each of us had fallen by saying, “Jenn, 1, Ariela, 1, Carlos, 0.”  There was no need to label himself the winner, but he did anyway.

And yet at the same time, I know what my students were talking about.  I am more competitive with women than I am with men.  Is she prettier than me?  Does she dress better than I do?  Do more guys talk to her at the bar?  Is she more comfortable meeting new people?  Is she more successful than me?

I’m not inclined to compete with men.  This is because society has not set us up to compete with one another.  Notice that the first 3 questions I listed all regarded attractiveness to men.  Whether it’s societal or evolutionary, a woman’s attractiveness matters more than a man’s.  An ugly man can win over a woman with his sense of humor or money and fewer women have that capability.  So it makes sense for women to be competitive with one another in the quest for a mate.

What would I compete with a man for?  Not other men.  Maybe in the workplace…but at the same time, I know that in the eyes of the employer he or she is giving the job to either Fred or Joe or John or a woman.  In that sense, because it is statistically less likely for a woman to gain as high of a position as a man, I am actually competing with the other women for the one job out of 4 (I drew that number out of the air) that is given to a woman…whereas the men can compete as individuals.  As I pointed out in my class today, what company has a female CEO, a female President and a female Vice President?  I mean that whole idea just sounds a little crazy!  3 women running a company?? But men do it all the time. So I must compete as a woman and therefore against the other women because our opportunities are fewer.

That being said, I have never been a backstabber and have always surrounded myself with girls who aren’t either.  In my whole life I’ve only had 1 serious encounter with one of these supposedly commonplace “mean girls.”  I think, especially recently, I’ve only been happy for my friends when they have successes, when they find happiness in relationships, and when exciting things are happening to them.  I would never subconsciously find a way to screw that friend over or take away from her happiness.

Overall, it only hurts the unity between females for there to be women who have decided that men are more trustworthy and better people. You’re only adding to the problem.  By all means, avoid the women who you think are vindictive selfish friends, but seek the ones who aren’t.  Women aren’t your enemies.  Neither are men.  People should find ways to make something stronger and better through working with one another.  I have very little tolerance for dissidence.  I can’t stand the sound of it and I can’t stand it in human relationships.

We are much more sustainable when we look for and exploit one another’s strengths instead of one another’s weaknesses.

That’s another reason why it doesn’t do much good to divide the world  into male and female (as much fun as it is! and as much as I indulge in doing it!) because you’re blinding yourself to the individual in front of you.  Sometimes generalizing helps you cope with a particularly pressing problem, but most of the time, you should take the person at face value.  How can I solve this problem with this person? What can I do to make this person respond most favorably?  Otherwise, you’ll find yourself presuming and reacting to the general idea of someone instead of who that person actually is.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Competitiveness between Females

  1. sarah

    definite like!

    hmm i wonder who the “mean girl” was you referenced…

  2. I’ve been feeling more and more that there is cause to seriously question all gender stereotypes. It seems to me that there are really very few things that one gender does that the other doesn’t–what perhaps makes it seem like there is an imbalance is that we allow some things to come out publicly while some things we suppress, and we do this largely based on what our social context has imprinted in us.
    I think the “backstabbing mean girl” stereotype you refer to here is something that men are equally as capable of as women. People of both genders are certainly capable of such biting jealousy and selfishness. It may be true that in certain communities of young people, the girls engage in this “mean girl” behavior more than the boys. However I would wager that that is just the luck of the draw. I know for a fact that boys can be pretty brutal too. It all depends on who is placed together when, and what precedent has been laid down.
    Your feeling of competition with other women, I think, isn’t really a gender-specific phenomenon either. I feel the same way about other men–this is just based on our heterosexuality and our desire to stand out to people of the opposite gender.
    If someone shows me that there is genetic proof that one gender is capable of a certain emotion or habit while the other isn’t, then I’ll believe it. Until then, I will join you in questioning all divisions of men and women.

  3. Pingback: girl vs. girl | Throwing in the Towel

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