I’m often reminded of a book by Susan Faludi called, “Backlash.” While it’s over twenty-years old, her hypothesis on many different societal realities linger in my mind. One such is where the deep-seated competition among women comes from. I will try to recall, as best I can, what the insightful Faludi asserted. The original articulation of gender roles was such that men were to provide, compete and protect. Women were to nurture, raise a family and create and maintain interpersonal relationships. In order to make certain women “knew their place,” and didn’t aspire to leave it, “healthy” competition was created. Who could keep the best home, who was the best homemaker, who was the best cook, who baked the best pie … This sparked what was likely a dormant competitive spirit among women, toward women.
However, when men went off to war and women were called from the home into the work place, many found an enriched purpose. They liked to work. It was that simple. Men returned home, they wanted women to go back to what they were “supposed to be doing.” Many didn’t want to go back and they fought for the right to work and for fare wages. That battle rages on and it isn’t what this post is about. Eventually all these random thoughts will culminate in my own theory.
If a man’s goal in selecting a mate is to find a woman suitable to bear children and extend the family line, it falls to reason a woman’s goal would be to select a man who will protect her family and provide food, clothing and shelter. Obviously I’m harkening back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and many generations, but there is a genesis for everything, including the way women treat each other. I believe it began with the primordial need to “protect” the woman’s place. Another woman is a threat to the security and safety of her “family.” Some threats may be founded, some might not be, but, to be alert and prepared is the goal.
As a woman’s worth continued to evolve, the moving target representing what would keep a woman’s place “safe” emerged. First it was the ability to bear children, and then it was to keep a good home, to maintain relationships, but once the work place was “threatened,” men seemed to shift their focus to the way a woman looked. This launched industries! The beauty industry snags a reported $500 Billion female dollars annually. Do you think this money would be spent if there were no men? Not likely. So, now, women compete based on how they look.
This superficial preoccupation with looks trickles down to our daughters whether we like it or not. So, the competition among little girls is beginning earlier and earlier each year. As the mother of a 9-year-old girl, I started overhearing snarky comments toward other little girls when I’d volunteer for her first-grade classroom. Here are some examples of what I was horrified to hear.
“She never combs her hair.”
“Those boots don’t even match her outfit.”
“She’s not very pretty.”
Each time I was witness to such remarks, I would pull my own daughter aside and tell her what I’d heard and then I’d raise a question to promote her social awareness and compassion.
“She never combs her hair.” To which I said, “She’s awfully young to be responsible for such a thing, it’s sad her Mommy doesn’t have time to do it for her.”
“Those boots don’t even match her outfit.” To which I said, “What if those are the only shoes she has?”
“She’s not very pretty.” To which I said, “How would they know, they’ve never talked to her? She could be the prettiest girl of all inside. Furthermore, pretty is easy. Kind is a gift.”
My daughter has always heralded the underdog. If anyone is picking on someone, she is there to protect and defend. She seeks friends based upon “nice” not the right clothing and the right appearance.
We have to teach our daughters and all young women to be supportive of one another not to live in perpetual competition and fear our “place” will be taken by another. Frankly, the more self-absorbed you are, the less time you are giving to your spouse/significant other and that will cause resentment.