Think about the first time you had your heart broken. I don’t mean the first time you cried over unrequited love, but the first time someone really hurt your feelings.
It was most likely caused by a fellow female in elementary school, excluding you from a game of Chinese garter because your socks were too high or saying you weren’t smart, skinny, or pretty enough for the “cool” barkada. At one point, you might have even been on the other end of the situation, rejecting another girl’s company just because “hindi mo siya feel.” The situation gets cattier in high school, when puberty hits and getting into romantic relationships begins.
Oh, these mean girls.
When we claim our high school diplomas, we say a little prayer of thanks to the universe, thinking we’ll finally leave them behind. Reality slaps us almost immediately because mean girls are everywhere: in college, your school org, summer internship, workplace (i.e., your colleague or worse, boss), and sometimes, even your in-laws.
Your best friend is your worst enemy
Women in general have a stronger desire to belong and form relationships than men. Thus, women tend to be more expressive about valuing relationships more, whether they are romantic or platonic. By nature, women seek other women for both professional and personal support as well. We want to be able to talk about everything from hair removal to challenges at home and at work.
These kinds of expectations can cause problems, because not all girls will want to share waxing experiences, or lend a shoulder when you don’t get the promotion you had your heart set on.
Female rivalry reaches another level when insecurity, jealousy, competition, and envy come into play. When women feel threatened, we tend to say and do things that will make us feel better or get ahead, sometimes without being sensitive to other women’s feelings. We are capable of backstabbing, gossiping, and purposely excluding other women. This is the perfect recipe to hurt other girls—by hitting their vulnerable spots. For instance, you’re dating a mama’s boy and the potential mother-in-law says hi to everyone in the room except you. It can even affect the next generation, like when two mothers are following the grades of each other’s children to see who’ll make it to the top of the class.
It doesn’t help that women are usually less confrontational than men. Instead of talking out issues over coffee or a cocktail immediately, we dig into a well of feelings and end up playing dirty. And when we do, the strategies can be subtler, and more personal and irrational. Comments go beyond, say, work ethic and step into physical features (e.g., “I don’t care if she graduated summa cum laude. She needs to wear clothes that don’t highlight her cankles.”).
Women for women
This kind of environment is unhealthy and exhausting. By adopting that kind of attitude, we allow negative stereotypes about women to perpetuate—that we are bitchy and emotional to the point of being unable to lead and succeed.
Our outlook can change drastically when we lower our pride enough to admit several things. Step one is to acknowledge that we feel insecure, jealous, and threatened in the first place. Then, we ask who our real competition is: that girl, or hindrances we invented for ourselves? We also have to remind ourselves that there’s more than one slot on top. There may be just one CEO, but there are so many other positions that contribute to the company’s success. Your kid may not land the lead in the school play, but she just might be the supporting actress who makes the show memorable.
Think about all the women who pushed for all the benefits we’re enjoying now: the right to go to school, to vote, and to do more than housework, among others. They wouldn’t have succeeded if their girlfriends had not supported them and the cause. While it’s true that the dynamics and politics of fighting for suffrage is very different from competing for the same position at work, we don’t need to bring other women down to get ahead. We get ahead by letting our work and personalities speak for themselves. There are more things we can accomplish when women stick together and have each other’s backs. We don’t all have to act like BFFs, but we can all do without the negative energy.