It's Time to Stop Pitting Women Against Each Other
I want to make one thing perfectly clear up top — I LOVE women. Starting with when I was a little girl, I always found myself gravitating toward women. Now, I can’t be sure if that’s because society tends to group girls together and suggests we be interested in the same things (dolls, pink things, dresses) or if it just happened naturally. Whatever the cause, the major platonic relationships in my life, on the whole, tend to be with women.
However, as I grew older, I became aware of a strange phenomenon almost all women face. Whenever another woman in my orbit managed to achieve something good in her life, it was always delivered to me in a way that came at the expense of my own happiness. Take a hypothetical example, like your friend getting a boyfriend. Think how that would prompt questions from the adults around you, your friends, and even yourself in the vein of: Why don’t you have a boyfriend? Does she deserve a boyfriend more than you? She’s not prettier than you, is she?
"It’s 2021 — time to stop seeing other women as competition."
I can remember being 5 years old when an older female relative told me, “No wonder [my crush’s name] has a crush on another girl — she actually eats.” I learned two things in that moment — my crush likes the other girl because she has something I lack, and that I needed to change myself in order to get people to like me.
(Oh, and that people were just going to find me attractive based on my looks/weight. Which, in addition to putting me in direct comparison to my female friend, also helped contribute to my lifelong battle with disordered eating.)
In reality, my little crush liked the other girl because they just got along better. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t her fault. Hell, it wasn’t even HIS fault. It was just life.
It’s continued like that throughout the years, into adulthood. Women tearing other women down because of jealousy caused by romantic relationships, promotions — any positive life event, really. We’re socialized to spend more time with other women, yet trained to see these same women as competition.
Throwing Sisters Under the Bus
It’s not uncommon for a young girl to claim she hates feminists just to gain currency with the dimwitted boys around her. Who hasn’t met a misguided young woman who is eager to tell you she’s “not like other girls”? Or better yet, there are the women who will say, “I get along with men better than women. Women don’t tend to like me.” Which is typically followed by some claim about how other women are too jealous.
I myself have been more than culpable when it comes to trying to elevate my status among men by either putting myself above other women or putting other women down. (I’m not saying there aren’t women who genuinely have more male friends or feel more comfortable with men — I know there are. Women can definitely have genuine connections with men. But, I’m talking about the ones who want to put down other women for the benefit of men, which is different than true female/male friendship.)
Nowhere is the female competition phenomenon more on display than in the world of reality-TV dating shows. You’d be hard pressed to find even five minutes in an episode of The Bachelor without one of the women putting down one of her rivals. These women will spread rumors, insult, and sometimes even lie to the bachelor himself in order to win his favor. All with the hope of a proposal at the end of the strange, televised social experiment. Because who cares about how that makes you look to America, as long as you got the ring, amiright ladies?
Of course, people are quick to point out that there is the companion series The Bachelorette, in which a group of men try to woo the titular bachelorette. And, I’ll give you that does make the humiliation a little more even. But, what’s disappointing to me is that the cattiness that was present in an early 2000s episode of The Bachelor is still present in the current season, almost 20 years later. It’s 2021 — time to stop seeing other women as competition.
"Who cares about how that makes you look to America, as long as you got the ring, amiright ladies?"
Now I understand that signing up for a dating competition series literally puts you in competition with other women. However, the ones that seek to take down their other contestants rather than putting their best foot forward never end up happy in the end. Instead, the women who choose to focus on positivity and building relationships tend to stick around a lot longer.
In addition, in a post MeToo world, you would think we would have nurtured a little female camaraderie. We know how hard other women have it — gender discrimination, unequal pay, sexual assault, and that unsafe feeling you have when you walk home alone at night. So, why are we still failing to have compassion for our fellow ladies?
The tide has definitely begun to turn in positive ways. Shows like Never Have I Ever and movies like Booksmart have removed the typical “women competing with each other over male attention” plotlines. They have chosen to feature female friendships built on mutual respect, genuine admiration, and unconditional support. The kind of “I love you so much — I’LL KILL FOR YOU!” type of love that has made my own female friendships so special.
One of the biggest regrets I have from my life is not being a better friend to the women around me growing up. All too often, I let my insecurity guide me rather than my support for my friend. If a boy I liked had a crush on another girl, I hated that girl instead of recognizing that she probably had some pretty great qualities that made her crushworthy. If another girl was pretty, that somehow meant I was less pretty, less smart, less funny. It was as if I thought love and admiration were in limited supply, so if another woman had some, it meant less for me. I feel so bad for my young, misguided self.
No Need to Tear Each Other Down
As an adult — a secure, confident woman — I am able to see the amazing women around me with eyes unblocked by society's hangups. My friends’ successes make me genuinely happy, and I sometimes sit around thinking about how proud I feel to know such amazing and accomplished women. If I feel jealousy, which is natural, it only serves to spurn me to work harder, rather than to disparage my friend’s good fortunes. I think that may be called healthy competition, but I like to think of it as being influenced and inspired by female greatness. When you walk into a room and I tell you you look beautiful, I mean it, and I’m not mad about it! Someone else’s shine doesn’t have to take away from yours.
This shining ray of female love was always present in my female friendships, even when it was muddied by society’s pressure to see each other as competitors. When we removed the boys, the school awards, and roles in plays, it was just us, usually sitting in a room crosslegged on a bed and giggling over something stupid. We’d share secrets and help each other feel a little more normal, a little more loved, during adolescence when you needed reassurances of both the most. I will always love these women, no matter how long it’s been. Female friendship has brought some of the most beauty to my life.
That is why I am hoping to see more true depictions of what I know female friendship to be in the media at large. Women can want the same things — the same jobs, the same partners, the same life events — without having to tear each other down. The women in my life help and inspire me. They kick my ass when my ass needs kicking. They tell me I’m beautiful and make sure I believe it. In short, they make me the best version of myself. And, when you’re the flyest You possible, there IS no competition. You can walk into any situation confident that you are doing your best, so there’s no need to tear another woman down to feel better. A success for one of us is a success for all of us.
Throughout the years, female competition has been a tool to suppress women. To keep the focus on each other rather than on what’s happening around us. To blame each other for our failures rather than examine how society may be failing us. If female competition is the chains that are holding us back, then female friendship is the key to breaking them. Isn’t it about time we showed female friendship the respect it deserves?