‘Oh please, there’s always a competition with an ex, it’s called ‘who’ll die miserable?’
– Samantha Jones, Sex and The City
Your ex is dating someone new. Your friends commence the race across social media platforms, the yiddisha FBI they call it. For a minute you feel cold, but then the competitive edge sinks in – who is smarter, who is prettier, who is funnier … but who are you really in competition with: him, or is it in fact her.
While being competitive is human nature, unlike our male counterparts, women tend to have a catty way of going about crippling their competition. Psychologist Tracy Vaillancourt suggests that women’s passive aggressive tendencies are rooted in self-promotion as an intrasexual competition strategy – undermining our rivals serves to enhance our self image and thereby acts to attract men. This perspective is in line with evolutionary psychology which uses natural selection to explain our behaviours.
Feminist psychology on the other hand accredits women’s passive aggressive tendencies toward one another as an internalization of patriarchy. Psychologist Noam Shpancer outlines this perspective, “as women come to consider being prized by men their ultimate source of strength, worth, achievement and identity, they are compelled to battle other women for the prize.” In sum, when our self-worth is tied to male appraisal, we turn on each other in competition for the best mate.
I’m sure every woman can bare witness to this within her own group of friends. You go from a tight knit group in primary school with your favourite pastime being “girls only” parties, to suddenly hitting puberty where all those hormones kick in and boys become the centre of your universe. Suddenly you’re in rivalry with your best friend, throwing each other under the bus in competition for the attention of the football captain. He asks her out instead of you, you’re sickened by her behaviour; he asks you out instead of her, you quietly rejoice your win. Here lies an interesting notion: women don’t openly hate other women. This subtly in female-female competition is what underlies the undercut passive aggressive nature of romantic competition.
A couple years later you find yourself in the bathroom stall of a nightclub with girls that look like Gigi Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski. You can barely keep your eyes off them, so how could you expect any man to. You turn to your friend and make a catty remark about their skin tight dresses. This thought process and course of action arises from nothing but your own insecurity really. Your perception of other women, good or bad, has nothing to do with them and everything to do with you. One could suggest that every snarky remark you make about another woman is about something you feel you lack but desperately desire, and out of pure threat, you attempt to devalue the very thing that you admire in her.
From this viewpoint, we aren’t competing with other women, but with ourselves. We often look at other women and see a smarter, more beautiful version of ourselves – we see her as something more than we are, and we’re threatened by that. We don’t see the other woman at all, only our own short-comings. But acknowledging another woman’s beauty does not decrease your own and admiring another woman’s success does not undermine your own – so let’s aim to uplift instead of undermine one another.