I’ve always been a competitive person, and since obtaining my Masters degree in a super small industry, I have become even more so. As a new grad, I am directly competing with my old classmates and friends for the few jobs in our tiny field. This leads to jealousy, resentment, and grimacing while typing out terse “Congratulations! OMG, you so deserve it!!!” texts.
It is easy to fall into the trap of feeling envious or bitter towards your female peers for their achievements. There are only so many jobs out there that you really, really want and it sucks when someone gets the job instead of you. I’ve even started feeling resentment towards my friends’ engagement announcements — I don’t even want to be engaged right now, but I still feel envious! I feel bitter because I am watching all of my friends advancing their lives according to their desired trajectory and I feel stagnant in my career. Which is no excuse for not supporting your ladies and their achievements. And that’s what Shine Theory is here to change.
Shine Theory is an operating friendship principle invented by podcasting besties Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, hosts of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast. The theory aims to end female competition between professionals by transforming envy into friendship. The term was coined by Friedman in an article published in The Cut in 2013, where she states that the solution to competing with other ladies and feeling jealous is to surround yourself with successful women.
There is no finite amount of success available in the world and other ladies succeeding in their career does not make it harder for you to achieve your goals. In fact, it makes it easier. By surrounding yourself with powerful, successful ladies you become more prosperous yourself. At its base, the theory is “I don’t shine if you don’t shine,” as explained by Sow in a CreativeMornings talk. Aminatou talks about how forming a supportive girl-gang around yourself benefits all involved because you can learn from and contribute to each other.
Success — Shine — is limitless and contagious; if you are friends with a lady that is sprinting up the ladder at her company, her shine rubs off on you. By being friends with outstanding women, you have the opportunity to learn and gain skills from them. Their knowledge and skills can help you achieve your own goals.
The biggest thing to remember with this theory is that another woman shining does not put you in the shadows. Women succeeding only puts the patriarchy in the dirt, which is where the patriarchy should live. Working together and cheering on your peers only builds you up, as Friedman states in The Cut. “I want the strongest, happiest, smartest women in my corner, pushing me to negotiate for more money, telling me to drop men who make me feel bad about myself, and responding to my outfit selfies from a place of love and stylishness, not competition and body-snarking.”
Shine Theory is about creating a strong girl-gang you can learn from and assist — it is even cited as a strategy for fighting workplace sexism in Feminist Fight Club. Along with being a key factor in the rules for Feminist Fight Club (Rule #3: We fight the patriarchy, not each other, and Rule #4: Membership to the FFC means that you’ve taken an oath to help other women — all women), Shine Theory can be used against The Womenemy: that is, women who don’t support other women in their professional lives. According to Jessica Bennett’s badass workplace survival guide, “The Womenemy engages in sororicide, turning her weapons on her sisters in combat; viewing fellow fighters as enemies instead of allies.” In turn she defines sororicide as “the ultimate FFC war crime,” because energy wasted on fighting with other women in the workplace is better used to fight against sexist displays of Mansplaining, among others (listen to Stuff Mom Never Told You’s podcast episode on Shine Theory for more reasons why undercutting other women only helps the patriarchy win).
Essentially, competition with other women comes from viewing your female peers as competition and sabotaging them instead of supporting them. Which is what happens when there are few positions for women at the top, making it natural to compete for the position that you want. However, undercutting a female colleague does not make you look good to your bosses nor does it advance your girl-gang. Shine Theory is a solution because it turns competition and feelings of envy into something constructive. It is the idea that another woman’s success, or shine, is going to make you look brighter, not duller, by comparison and so you should try to turn your jealousy into friendship with that person.
As The Importance of Shine Theory article in the Huffington Post states, you gain nothing from being negative about other women’s successes. There is no judgement here: I have spent many evenings sipping wine and bitching about a friend’s upcoming nuptials. And while there was catharsis in bitching about this with my girlfriends, it did not help me advance my career or relationship status. Nor did it help my friendship with said bride-to-be. There is so much to learn from other women, whether it is how to code a website, or how to find the best wedding invites, or how to give a kick-ass keynote speech.
This is not to say that you need to replace all of your social circle with only people who are doing great in their careers; absolutely not. Shine Theory merely states that you should strive to help your friends become the best they can be with support and encouragement and also encourages you to form a friendly network of powerful ladies in your professional lives. Supporting the ladies around you helps everyone which is far more constructive than feeling bitter about other ladies’ successes. If you need a few more reasons why the world needs Shine Theory, check out Aminatou and Ann’s Shine Theory Tumblr. The best part of the amazing women who created this concept is that they don’t just talk the talk, they also walk the walk. They support and promote ladies everywhere, as exemplified when Ann Friedman was a guest on Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast.
The next time one of my female friends gets a promotion or gets engaged, I will be sincere in my congratulations and send them a wine basket. Maybe I’ll ask them what their favourite typography for a website is. Shine Theory is about befriending powerful females instead of being jealous of them, which I fully believe will help you a lot more than bitching about a friend behind her back during Wing Wednesdays in your local bar.