A recent New York Times article discusses the difficult question of why women consistently feel the need to compete with each other, often through indirect aggression. The author, Emily V. Gordon, gives three possible explanations for this type of interaction. She first cites the theory in evolutionary psychology that women have the need to protect themselves and their bodies, creating aggression towards other women and an inherent desire to put them down.
Gordon then turns to feminist psychology, noting that this aggression may be a result of internalizing the patriarchy. When women see their worth and power as something that men hand out, they are likely to compete with other women to receive these gifts.
Her third theory is centered on female self-perception. She suggests that women are not really competing with other women, but are in fact competing with themselves. They tend to see themselves in the other women around them and are constantly reminded of figures that they feel are superior to them. This reflects a need for self-improvement and constant state of internal competition.
I agree with Gordon that these are all possible explanations for the competition between women. Yet, the more I thought about it and conversed with the women in my life, I began to see other possible reasons for this issue.
In everyday life women face various forms of oppression: individual, symbolic and instutional, to name a few. These manifest themselves in threats to safety, well-being and various racial/ethnic disparities, just to name a few.
To overcome these oppressions, women feel the need to compete with all those around them, but especailly their female peers. Because women deal with oppression on a nearly day-to-day basis, they feel the need to prove themselves and, as a result, can push others down in the process.
Gordon suggests that in order to avoid this competitive aggression, we must become “the dominant role in our own universe.” I agree with this; however, sometimes I think it is hard for women to see how much worth we have.
In order to combat this aggression towards each other, I think it is so important to be hyper-aware of the people around you and the ways you affect them.
It’s easy to not think about others, but one kind comment to a friend or stranger, rather than a comment tearing them down, can change the way that women interact. It may be a deep–seated problem that cannot be solved with one answer, but, on a daily basis, one person can change the way they interact with those around them.
Women can refuse to take each other down and instead band together to build each other up. By changing the way that we take care of the people around us, to constantly remind them of who they are and how much they are worth, we can begin to see ourselves as the dominant role in our own universe.
Alex Madsen ’18 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Chicago, Ill. Her major is undecided.