Why competition between women should stop

November 18, 2015 — by Daphne Liu

Too often, women are on guard around one another, and it’s exhausting for both the famed and the public.

“If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for [VMA] Video of the Year,” singer Nicki Minaj tweeted on July 21.

Although Minaj’s tweet wasn’t specifically aimed toward pop singer Taylor Swift, less than an hour after Minaj tweeted, Swift struck back, interpreting Minaj’s words as an attack on her nomination for “Bad Blood” as VMA Video of the Year.

“I’ve done nothing but love [and] support you. It's unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot,” Swift tweeted.

Feuding for over two days, Swift finally ended the argument by publicly apologizing for her misinterpretation, although considerable tension lingered between two of the music world’s biggest stars.   

Too often, women are on guard around one another, and it’s exhausting for both the famed and the public. And while this behavior may be the most obvious in the world of celebrities, it is also present in interactions between many women in our far less glamorous society.

A 2013 study by Tracy Vaillancourt, a psychology professor at the University of Ottawa, showed that women, unlike men, express indirect aggression toward others of the same gender in two primary ways: “self-promotion,” where they make themselves appear more attractive, and “derogation of rivals,” derisively putting down other women.

The root of the problem lies in the fact that many women feel an uncontrollable jealousy toward other women whom they view as “threatening” in some area where the woman doing the criticizing feels inadequate. Women compare themselves with one another so much that celebrating the success of fellow women is often hard to do.

In their research paper “The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy,” evolutionary psychologists Sarah Hill and David Buss explain that “[women] experience envy because it has enabled [them] to evaluate our position in the competition for resources. Social comparison is the way we determine where we stand, and how to adjust.”

In short, female competitiveness comes into play because women have been taught from a young age to compete with one another because of horizontal aggression, or the idea that the members in a group of people must rank themselves in relation to one another on the social ladder in order to succeed.

When this horizontal aggression cannot be positively channeled, it surfaces in dangerous and subversive ways that are then manifested in undermining other women. These hidden feelings cause the backstabbing and gossip that have sometimes come to characterize women’s catty and frankly detrimental relationships with one another, which can be seen at schools where gossip and backstabbing is used as a weapon to undermine others as an effort to push themselves towards the top of the pyramid.

On top of that, men are conditioned to objectify women because of our society’s innately sexist bent, which negatively affects women in more ways than one. Because men often equate women’s worth with their appearance, a concept perpetuated by our Barbie-doll favoring Western media, women begin to internalize this treatment and subscribe to the idea that they must vociferously undermine and undercut one another in order to raise their own stock.

In accordance with this societal objectification, much of the comparison that occurs between women is centered around appearance rather than other qualities such as intelligence, humor or career success. Perhaps as a byproduct of their objectification, women have an unhealthy need to be accepted by others.

For example, take social media, which is largely centered around appearance and displaying one’s life in the most positive light. Accordingly, many women base their worth on the number of their likes and followers, and experience the urge to look better than their female competitors.

The truth may simply be that women aren’t ultimately competing with other women; they are actually competing with themselves. For many women who criticize other women, it is because they look at other women and see a more ideal version of themselves. Driven by their insecurities, women then turn on one another out of envy rather than actual spite.

Men, in contrast, appear to be far less competitive in trivial  matters such as looks or self-promotion, and far more competitive when it comes to their careers. In a study conducted by the University of Chicago, researchers found that men are more aggressive than women in the workplace and consequently make more money. The study explains the gender pay gap and suggests that women might be better off limiting their competitiveness  to the workplace, where drive and aggression help employees earn better wages and positions.

To create an ultimately better society, women should focus on their own self-improvement rather than on trying to put fellow women down to feel better. Emily V. Gordon, author of “Super You: Release Your Inner Superhero,” put it best when she said, “We don’t need to lower the stock of other women, either for the future of the species or for our own psyches. When we each focus on being the dominant force in our own universe, rather than invading other universes, we all win.”