A few years ago, when I had neighbors I could see from my window, I noticed my fashionista neighbor in her short skirt and scoop neck top working outside. Before I could stop myself, I was comparing. If I stood next to her, which of us has the better body? I thought twice about what I’m wearing before going outside to garden, guessing that she might be checking me out from her side window, too.
An Appetite for Competing
Why do we do this? Maybe it’s because from a young age, we’re told to compare. In People or Star we see Angelina Jolie pitted against Jennifer Aniston and realize that if these two perfections of female stardom and sophistication have to compete, then we’re doomed.
In Susan Barash’s book Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth about Women and Rivalry, she found that in all socio-economic levels and in all friendships women compete against each other, comparing hemselves to “friends, coworkers, sisters, even to their own daughters”.
When Barash interviewed women she found sisters envying each other, single women envied married women, married women having affairs envied their lovers’ wives, or happily married friends. Stepmothers and mothers envied each other, as did first and second wives. Divorced women envied those still married. Married women envied the divorcees who had gone on to find a better life or better man.
One woman said she chose to live in a small town, “So there would be less competition”; other women avoided certain parties. As she put it, “I don’t want my husband to meet too many single, beautiful women.”
Competing for WHAT?
We’re not always fighting for a man but we often are. In today’s great recession, jobs are scarce, as are the chances to have some power (to run an organization, a book club, a bible study). Good female friends are in high demand. If she becomes friends with someone else, will she still have time for me?
Good men are scarce, too (the Jolie/Aniston comparison game was usually over Brad, right?) It is the repeating problem for women (and I don’t doubt of men, too) of wanting to be noticed by the opposite sex. How much will we sacrifice to get this attention? In all of Jane Austen’s books she explores just how much a woman’s character kept her from compromise to land a good marriage.
How desperate are we to get what we want?
Hungry for Love
My rivalry swells from my insecurity. If I hold back and don’t market myself, my books, my blog, my speaking niche, will there be enough of what I need left?
If I believe that you might be better than me in some essential thing I think I need to get ahead, then I will become afraid. Fear, the opposite of love, ruins too many friendships. This is why John says in 1 John 4:18 “Perfect love casts out all fear.” The opposite is also true, perfect fear casts out love.
Women who are hungry for love fight more viciously for attention, like hungry seagulls fighting for a scrap of food. Envy actually points to our impoverishment.
Despite the women’s movement to change this problem, we still focus our rivalry almost exclusively on each other. The worse part: we rarely admit it. OTHER women get all catty and into their own drama, but not us. Barash found that most women take several interviews before admitting that they suffer from envy.
Most women claim that they have the best, closest friendships among women. I agree.
But Barash notes two forces that keep women from being honest:
1- The fear of feminists blaming them for destroying the beautiful picture of female friendship.
2- The pressure to look like the “good girl” who is not suffering from something as childish as an envy problem.
I haven’t found a lot of friends eager to admit that they compare themselves with women who are younger, older, more beautiful, more successful, unless someone else admits it first. We’re not eager to admit that we have salty glances, sour eyes for those in the “sisterhood.”
How can we admit it?
We might be The. Only. One.
But if you have the courage to join me, even with a simple comment (“I compare, too”) watch how many other competitors lay down their arms and step forward. If you do, thanks for joining us in this sisterhood of confession.