I am about to shatter the illusion that I put up for myself: I believed I was one of a few women who didn’t participate in the twisted game that society has taught women to play. You know the one in which girls and women are led to believe that we need to put other women down, because helping women out, or being genuinely inspired by or proud of them, simply isn’t right or natural.
Yes, we all want to succeed. But I’m not talking about pushing yourself, and giving it your all. I’m talking about the competition, where girls and women are taught to aggressively, even scornfully, compete against each other in order to be the best. The best at what? Literally everything: Having the perfect romance, being the best women in our chosen career, the best friend, the smartest, hottest, coolest, the best-est at life.
I thought I didn’t compete in it, that I had always stood at the sidelines. That I cheered all women on, without ever venturing onto the field. I was wrong.
When I first saw Laurie Penny’s article “The Non-Compete Clause,” I wore a smug smirk on my face, and thought that I of course didn’t need to read it. A little chuckle went off in my head, as I reflected that I had never been one of those women who had said “all my friends are men.” I’ve always had more female friends than male friends. And I have certainly never subscribed to the mistaken (and learned) thought that women are petty and mean and hard to get along with. So I sat there, deciding that I in fact wasn’t the type of reader the article was trying to reach.
But oh wait. That little self-satisfied feeling wasn’t good. I realized that I had just poured myself a congratulatory lie that I was better, yes better than all the women who have ever subscribed to the type of thinking that contaminates and severs ties between women. I thought I was superior, and even more frightening, above reading something meant to strengthen women.
That’s when I realized: (A) I wasn’t better than anybody. No one. Not you, not your sister, and not even the first or latest woman to proudly declare that she is only friends with men because she thinks other women are too catty, or just too much. And (B) my thought process just landed me in the group of women who I thought I was better than – women who look at other women as competition, to scramble on top of and crush, so that a shiny winner emerges.
So I (mentally) smacked that smirk off my face, and decided that maybe I actually do compete with other women. And that I needed to sign a non-compete clause.
Ironically, I was measuring myself up against women to determine if I was best at being the best of I’m not even sure what. Most open minded? More of a feminist? As one who values sisterhood-bonds more than anyone else? I had fallen into the dangerous cycle of competing against– working against– fellow women.
And let me just take a moment to register how disturbing this is– I thought I was outside this cycle. Because I did, and do know how counterproductive and just plain unloving competing with other women can be. I’m not perfect. I’ve never pretended to be. But I had thought I was close to perfection in at least one sense. Oh girl, I am not. While perfection is never attainable when it comes to anything, I am now aware that competition isn’t just about looks or jobs or boys. Sometimes it’s even the superiority we feel by choosing not to compete.
I feel as if I have shed a skin, a layer of callousness that I wasn’t even aware I had. I am that much closer to my fellow women, to my sisterhood. I’m no better than you, and I now understand a little bit more clearly just how dangerous the They, the patriarchy, or whoever the hell it has been that has taught little girls to turn against one another, how their ideologies have seeped into our psyche. And I’m beginning to wring their slime out of myself.