I did an interview recently for a blog called loveyourtemple, and we chatted for a while about confidence, body image and learning how to be comfortable with yourself. One of the questions she asked me was what I did when I saw another woman who was attractive, talented, clever or just generally amazing, and felt tempted to compare myself. I responded that naturally, we compare ourselves to others and that I tend to say a quick prayer that I won’t dwell on jealously or envy, and then try and compliment the woman in question. It’s way of turning my jealousy on its head and confronting it, instead of entertaining the temptation to give in to my insecurities and be catty.
It got me mulling over the idea of women seeing each other as competition.
I think most women would be lying if they said they never struggled with seeing other women as their competitors. All of us have times when we see a woman who is physically more attractive than us, gets more male attention, or just seems to have it all together, and feel a twinge of jealousy. I’m almost certain most women have made comments to friends about a woman who everyone is swooning over not being ‘all that’, sometimes out of envy. I also think it’s ridiculous to paint this as a purely female issue – men are competitive too, often fiercely so, but they aren’t encouraged to hide their competitiveness in the same way women are.
Writer Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie states that we teach young women “to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men”. I’ll go on record as saying that I disagree with her. I lean towards believing that competitiveness, even in terms of accomplishments, isn’t a good thing. I’ve seen it bring out the really nasty side of people that tend to be fairly sane individuals. Striving to embody excellence in the practice of your gifts and talents is, in my opinion, a far better road than that of competition. You can learn from other people, see where they went wrong and determine to carve out a path for yourself towards greatness, without that having to be in relation to someone else.
I don’t think that women compete for the affections of the opposite sex more than men do – I think that men compete for women’s attentions as well, in a more open way. Unfortunately, women are encouraged to put far more energy into competing for male attention than competing for anything else, but at the same time hide their competitiveness – it creates a culture of hidden jealously which thrives on our insecurities.
Most worryingly, society encourages the focus of this competition to be physical attractiveness. I’ve noticed that Hollywood portrayals encourage a very binary type of femininity. A typical storyline often pits an extremely physically attractive woman who inevitably has a foul personality, against a homely, nerdy, ‘friend-zoned’, less attractive women who is ‘beautiful inside’. Typically, there is a prom, a party, a two week disappearance or some such event, and the less attractive woman materialises, complete with makeover which finally awakens the dormant desire of her long term crush.
I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to portray the idea that a man is more likely to be attracted to you if you’re physically attractive – that is after all, true for both sexes. I do think though, the idea that pretty girls tend to have ugly personalities, and ugly girls have pretty hearts is yawn inducing.
I’m not sure yet whether female competition is a natural function of the relationship economy – we compete for the attentions of the opposite sex because we are primed to want to reproduce. I do think that even if there are natural prompters to be competitive, there is definitely an element of socialisation where women are taught to believe that their highest achievement is man grabbing.
Ultimately, it comes down to being confident in your own value as a person regardless of gender, and knowing where that value comes from. If that value is from being able to one-up someone else for a partner, you’ll end up destroying that relationship as well.