At the start of this year I made a pledge in support of furthering self love. I will not treat other women as competition. In a business like mines where it isn’t uncommon for amazing writers to never get the attention they deserve, scarcity is a problem. Right out of college I was expected to compete for publication with everyone from life-long friends to respected mentors and professors. It can be easy to start seeing others not as community members or people we can learn from but as advisories in the way of our own success or financial security. Even if you’re not in a similar industry I guarantee this affects you as well. Competition can be a healthy motor for innovation. But when we start seeing other people we work with and are in community with as a threat it gets dangerous.
While this an issue with everyone, it has become culturally expected of women. If there is only one woman in every meeting, we will tear each other down to get that space for ourselves. As long as we’re convinced that other powerful women are the obstacles to our success we never question why we are expected to fight for the scraps. Why was there only one woman in that boardroom in the first place? And why would I unseat her from her place when I can insist I am deserving of a place of my own and so is she?
By devaluing other women, we devalue all women including ourselves.
Now it can be easy to imagine this only happens in sleazy businesses run by sexist jerks.
However, this idea is woven all through our culture. Don’t believe me? Take a look at media. How many times have you seen this trope play out in TV and movies? One man is in love with two women and they are constantly trying to prove who he should choose by undercutting each other. If women refused to devalue themselves and each other, all that would happen in that situation is they would both decide to move on because neither deserves just half of any man’s affections. Shows like the Bachelor casts women for no other purpose then to fight amongst themselves in hopes of a marriage proposal. What does that say about what women are expected to think of ourselves? We are only worthy if we can be loved by a man and we are expected to tear down other women to do it. Outside of romantic entanglements this media trend continues. How many reality shows have we seen where woman are literally being paid to hate one another? Flipping tables and tossing wine glasses, reality stars have a lavish check dangled in front of them and are told that women in their social circles are roadblocks.
Ok, but why does this happen? As with most things this boils down to fear. Men are taught that masculinity is about getting in and holding on to power. So, of course, they will see powerful woman as a threat. This is why a male business tycoon is an assertive go-getter and a woman is called a pushy bitch. Not because men hate women or don’t want women to succeed.
Instead it’s because they have to dominate in order to maintain their value. Knowing this they limit competition by making women rule each other out.
If we as women are busy fighting among ourselves, we cannot challenge men and claim the power that is ours. In this way, competition between women hurts everyone.
So what are we to do with all this new awareness?
We as women must choose to empower one another. When counselor, author and TV personality Iyanla Vanzant was asked to speak poorly about her ex-husband she simply said “He is married now. That makes her my sister because all women are my sisters and I will not say anything bad about my sister’s husband.” For me it means engaging with the women writers in my community not to compete with them, but to connect with and learn from them. We must be resources for one another. When an opportunity for women writers comes up I will not keep it for myself because the other talented writers I know might get it before me. I will offer it to all of them in hopes that one great voice gets lifted.
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We must decide that as part of this tribe that is womanhood a win for some of us is a win for all of us.
Some of the best opportunities of my career have come up because one of these women resaved an offer then chose to bring me along. I will choose to bring them along. I will choose to share my best work so other women are accountable for doing theirs and when they do I will celebrate with them. This is how we change our culture so that women are not only valued by comparison. You thinking less of another woman because she is next to me is not a compliment to me. That is how we build community and then use those bonds to make the most of and grow our power.
There is nothing stronger than women who refuse to be pitted against one another.[Feature Image: Individual with long dark hair is pictured outdoors wearing red lipstick, a fedora and red shirt while smiling with eyes closed. Pexels.com]