As you know by now, I take my role as feminist seriously.
It has been bothering me a lot lately how women and girls unnecessarily compete with one another. You know, the Mean Girls type of behavior (relational aggression) that involves social exclusion, backstabbing, and relentless desire to prove you are better. Unfortunately, I think we’ve all been there. We’ve all had one friend who was toxic to our lives.
It also grinds my gears the way women have been encouraged by society to live in almost constant competition with one another. From TV dating contests to reality shows that pit women against each other for a top spot based entirely on vanity (America’s Next Top Model), it seems we are being encouraged to be real-life Mean Girls. Think of how much people love to see a girl fight (a term that I hate), especially when it involves public figures feuding. There’s Katy vs. Taylor, Martha vs. Gwen, and others, too many to count. Even worse, rather than being happy for one another, we try our damnedest to one-up each other. We brag about our partners, our jobs, and everything else on social networks. But why?
Take, for example, a friend I’ve had for a very long time. Let’s call her Rachel. She is someone I care about deeply, but it recently hit me that her constant need to one-up me is getting in the way of our relationship. Having strong, healthy and positive friendships is important to me, so it has been quite difficult to picture the idea of letting go of this toxic friendship.
Lately, Rachel has been trying to make me feel badly about myself. If I share my money troubles, she is sure to remind me how much she has in her savings account, even though I never ask. When we make plans, she abruptly cancels them at the last moment. Or she makes plans with me and then “forgets” to text the location of where we were supposed to meet. Rachel has also invited me to events at the last possible moment, practically guaranteeing that I can’t go.
The most heartbreaking part of it all is that I really, really miss my good friend.
One night during dinner, I discussed this situation with other close friends. They told me that perhaps I bring out Rachel’s insecurity. Maybe that’s the reason why she flakes on me constantly, gives back handed compliments, and says things like “I’m so happy that I don’t live in a cockroach-infested building in Brooklyn, but I feel so sorry for you.”
Now, of course, I don’t want to believe that. There is no way I could possibly make my friends jealous or insecure about their situations or their lives. Not me, I thought. How could I? I have always tried my best to be the most encouraging, supportive, empowering, and perfect feminist friend that I could be. So how could I bring out these feelings in my dear friends, when all I want to do is help enrich their lives?
Well, it turns out women have been displaying this passive aggressive behavior towards one another for a long time now. According to a study completed at the University of Ottawa (2013), the behavior goes back to our prehistoric female ancestors, who couldn’t risk physical harm at the expense of being child-bearers. Instead, they were vicious against their competition in much more psychologically traumatic ways. Women have apparently developed this form of “indirect aggression” long ago. It just has not gone away, even though the original need for the behavior is gone. While there is evidence that boys display the same kind, (if not worse) type of relational aggression behaviors, ladies have long had the reputation of being “mean girls.” It is a reputation I would love to see finally be put to rest.
Don’t get me wrong; I have had my fair share of envious feelings towards other women that stemmed solely from insecurity. I am human. But those fleeting feelings faded, and they certainly never caused me to treat my friends badly because of my own issues. Then again, this is something I have consciously had to work on because they are normal feelings. It wasn’t easy – but certainly not impossible.
I propose we start a revolution of women and girls empowering one another instead of competing with each other. Let’s be kind to one another. Let’s communicate our feelings, so maybe we can let it go. It is so exhausting to hold onto jealousy or insecurity. Try to remember we are all fighting a different battle, and we can all use a little bit of encouragement and support. If you find that your dear friend is still treating you like a mean girl, maybe it’s best to let that friendship go. Look for women who don’t need to validate themselves by hurting you. It might be difficult, but you will eventually be glad you cut them out of your life.