From a young age, we as women are socialized to question the intentions of other women and men alike. However, while we are taught that carrying pepper spray will scare off a physical attack by a man, the confrontation we learn to expect from women is more invisible and insidious. It starts as early as puberty, where our changing bodies inevitably create a divide among women as we compete for resources—men, jobs, recognition, affection, and a proverbial seat at the table.
News flash: There is enough room for all of us at the table.
Hating another woman for having less fat on her body is not going to make you thinner. Hoping a female co-worker doesn’t get a promotion won’t necessarily further your career. Wishing a romantic relationship would go sour isn’t going to get you a date. There is not a fixed amount of success and happiness to be negotiated or traded.
Sheryl Sandberg wrote about the proverbial table in her book, “Lean In,” and countless articles have since explored the idea that this is the time to be a woman. Yes, the Glass Ceiling might still be very much in place (more companies are run by men named John than by women), but women make up about half of the global labor force. We’re making serious strides, and it’s time we stop seeing other women as our greatest adversary.
Even Taylor Swift, who supposedly wrote the song “Bad Blood” about her, well, bad blood with Katy Perry, said, “Other women who are killing it should motivate you, thrill you, challenge you and inspire you rather than threaten you and make you feel like you’re immediately being compared to them.”
In her article on the “Shine Theory,” Ann Friedman adds that powerful, put-together, kick-ass women make the best friends. These friendships make for strong alliances against the hegemonic powers that be, and allow us to be publicly associated with that power and confidence. Rather than putting each other down and competing with one another, we should be rallying against the patriarchal idea that women should fit into a particular ideal. We need to rid our society of the notions of “lesser than,” by fostering friendships among women rather than competition.
We’ve seen it in television and movies—female duos coexisting and supporting each other without threatening each other’s success. In “Grey’s Anatomy,” Cristina and Meredith navigate ten seasons of love, heartbreak, loss and parenthood as each other’s “person.” In the midst of it all, they both become incredible surgeons. Neither has to sacrifice anything for the other’s success, and they never have to compete, which strengthens their friendship.
Unfortunately, this fragment of popular culture that doesn’t seek to deprecate women through girl-on-girl competition is the minority. Most entertainment and real life isn’t like “Grey’s Anatomy” (and no one is more upset about it than me). When female characters aren’t scripted as non-threatening, equally successful support systems to each other, they can be downright volatile. Can you name a male-centric counterpart to “The Real Housewives?” The series exists for the entertainment value of seeing women rip into each other. Catty women are fun to watch. Society then believes and propagates the idea that girl-on-girl competition and drama are not only the norm, but they are actually entertaining. We need to recreate the way girl-on-girl interactions are portrayed in media so that this no longer becomes the default way women are expected to behave.
Not only does female-on-female competition destroy our relationships with each other, it gives men the right to partake in gender separation and make the divide wider. It’s our responsibility as a community of women to foster a welcoming environment for other women.
If we cannot come together to support our fellow women, gender inequality has room to flourish. It’s our greatest asset right now as women that we’re gaining a more prominent place in the political, professional and social spheres. The last thing we need is to hinder each other from succeeding. There is enough success in this world for all of us.