Opinion: The Real Reason Why Women Compete

I grew up with one brother, meaning that I was raised with an acquired taste for competition. At a very young age, my brother and I began to view every task as an opportunity to battle one another. During tennis lessons we were concerned not with improving our skills with a racquet but rather on being better than one another. No matter how good I was at one aspect of the game, I couldn’t ignore that he was strides ahead of me in another. We each wanted to claim each other’s strengths as our own.

Transitioning into school, I encountered new competition. Reading group hierarchies transformed into grade comparison. The meaning of winning in sports changed from which team brought the best snacks to who put more balls in the back of the net. All the while there was trouble brewing under the surface, especially for my pig-tailed female classmates and I. As puberty bubbled to the surface so did a virus of negativity, infesting the minds and words of us young girls. Comparisons began quietly, but soon spread to the realms of looks, talents, intelligence and more. The indirect aggression exchanged silently between girls as we aged put us in a constant state of competition with one another. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to see that, in reality, girls are in a never-ending battle with their own insecurities.

Though it may outwardly manifest itself as such, competition between women doesn’t necessarily exist. Instead, a woman uses others as a medium for self-comparison. Analyzing others gives women a view of alternative versions of themselves. Just as I desired to obtain the skills my brother possessed and ignored my own, women see traits in others that they may believe are incapable of attaining. Therefore they direct their frustration with themselves onto the girl who carries those traits. Diffusion of self-doubt allows women to protect themselves from their own insecurities and elevate their own value, simultaneously demeaning others.

The weapon that women use in these battles of belittling is indirect aggression. This method of internalization is the optimum means of hostility amongst women because it allows us to easily deny our true feelings of resentment when confronted. While men tend to express displeasure outwardly, it is more socially acceptable for women to internalize this anger.

From an evolutionary standpoint, women’s aggression against each other can be interpreted as a way to compete for the attention of men. Women are willing to tear each other down in an effort to pass on their genes. Similarly, feminist logic points its finger at men as the cause of the problem. When women place their entire value on what a man thinks of them in relation to others, they are letting the patriarchy win. These explanations may have a degree of validity; however, it’s been my experience that, most of the time, women are actually competing with themselves and struggling to overcome years of being told that they are not good enough.

As women navigate through life, their focus of competition changes. While they may start as battles with siblings for parental attention or subtle comparisons of test grades with classmates, unfortunately, for many women, these comparative energies become focused exclusively on themselves. When they criticize one another—though the intentions may be to alleviate diminished pride—women make matters worse. This repetitive game is not healthy and often has the opposite effects on confidence. When girls see their own shortcomings in an “it girl” who seems to have her whole life put together, they are only damaging their own self esteem by asking themselves to achieve this false appearance of perfection. By tearing others apart to build themselves up, women are not only hurting their fellow women, but also themselves.

Admittedly the solution to this problem is easier said than done. I, for one, am unable to simply snap my fingers and shut off the competitive pattern that has been ingrained in my mind since the days of tennis lessons. But that is okay. Instead of ripping others down to make ourselves feel adequate, we as women should work toward achieving the qualities that we admire in others and learning to love our own. By switching out your lenses of jealousy and learning to respect the beauty of others, you can truly discover the beauty in yourself.

Ohio on the map, Boston in my heart. Just a shockingly pale girl who is emotionally overinvolved in sports, hummus, and sitcoms.