I keep out of stereotypical ‘female behaviours’. You know, those ones Hollywood films and dramas perpetuate. I keep myself to myself, I don’t talk about other people to other people or ‘gossip’ on any level. I’m afraid I’m not a nosey person, so even if I’m following you on Instagram or even had you on facebook (when I had it), I’m unlikely to know if you’re in a relationship still, what your career is or who you’re still friends with. I can guarantee I have never internet stalked you. I hate to use the phrase ‘I don’t care’ but…unless we talk regularly and have a friendship, then yeah, I’m afraid I don’t care. I hope all is well with you, I hope you are happy, healthy and kicking-ass in life, but I really don’t care enough to actually look at your profile to see if that’s the case.
It took me a long time to trust the idea of being friends with a girl again. Twelve years in an all-girls school can make one suspicious the female psyche; the emotional manipulation, bitching, competitiveness, dishonesty and ulterior-motivated behaviours leaves many students of single-sex schools unnerved and distrusting of their fellows. To tar an entire sex based on a microcosmic, personal experience of a collective’s behaviour is sexist, no argument about that. It’s just another branch of internalised misogyny, in the same way some women resent other women for their conventional beauty and successes. I overcome my distrust of women slowly, cautiously, ironically when I met by best friend at sixteen. Over ten years later she’s still the greatest person in my life, and I’m never letting her go. She taught me to trust again — she taught me so well, however, that I forgot everything I had learned.
Recently a woman denigrated me in a way which potentially jeopardised my integrity, career and professionalism. Her move was celebrated by bored, but much less successful, lame admirers who just needed something to lift their self-esteem up that week (and what’s an easier to feel a sense of importance and achievement than tearing down and bitching about someone you don’t know?) Without knowing the intricate details of the inner psyche of another person, I can’t say for certain whether or not the smearing was intentional, but it certainly blossomed into a very personal attack which flourished amidst the inner crevices of social media. Needless to say I was left extremely hurt. The post was public, and the moment I saw it I felt the dread and heartbreak swell throughout every muscle in my body. It hurt because I thought we were friends. I really liked her, and I just didn’t understand the motivation for it.
Snuffing out someone else’s flame doesn’t make yours shine any brighter.
“She’s jealous of you.” My boyfriend stated. Why would she be jealous of me? I retorted. “She’s way more successful than me in life, prettier, and thinner. She’s tall and skinny! She’s published, charismatic and intelligent. She has no reason to be jealous! He shrugged “I don’t know then.” I don’t know either. Though it didn’t affect me as much as I thought it would. I accepted it much faster than last time. Well, I say ‘last time’ but this has never happened to me before. What has happened in the past however is that I’ve lost female friendships, for reasons I cannot fathom other than the fact they were professionally influenced.
Over the past couple of years, several wonderful friendship I had with women who are extremely talented and remarkably successful. We never fought, we last spoke on exceptionally good terms. I know what you’re thinking: female envy got the better of me. I couldn’t handle the shame of being in their glow. Quite the opposite: I’ve always rooted for them. I felt so proud of their achievements and told them as such. It all seemed fine at first. I sent Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, and then they became silent. Apparently, I’d already played my part in helping them climb up the ladder. They’d surpassed me so far not that they only wished to be seen with those of their status. They had so much love that they had the privilege opportunity to pick and choose who got their attention and mine wasn’t worth it any more.
I’m still rooting for them. I’m still proud of them. And of course, I miss them. Several times I tried, shyly, to communicate and reach out, but I was just ignored. I became just another fan. Careers are very much like fame: when people became bigger, the smaller people get left behind. The more important they became, the less significant and useful I became for their agenda.I wish them all the best, but I’ve since stopped trying. I realise now that their friendships weren’t sincere, merely tactical investments, and if anything I’ve had a lucky escape. I refuse to become invested in environments where toxic femininity thrive.
I have no intention of competing against anyone’s standards other than my own. I’m in competition with my past self.
Female competitiveness is one of the core characteristics of toxic femininity. Toxic Femininity is exemplified by a woman’s indirect aggression towards other women, non-binaries and likely anyone who identifies as feminine*. This aggression is a combination of self-promotion, making themselves look superior, and derogation of their rivals, either by being openly “catty” about other women or by using a more subtle approach. In today’s social media world, you may be more familiar with the subtle approach: it’s more commonly referred to as ‘subtweeting’ or ‘vaguebooking’. What’s wonderfully clever about these methods when employed by the very savvy minded, is that the takedown of another woman is usually disguised as a conscientious statement which just ‘coincidentally’ relates to the rival. Their hands are kept clean but the shots have been fired.
In her 2013 study on intrasexual rivalry, Tracy Vaillancourt discussed the most common behavioural habits of female competitiveness as criticising a competitor’s appearance, spreading rumours about a person’s sexual behaviour and social exclusion. I’ve attempted to read into female competitiveness further, but I find it excessively difficult to comprehend. I just don’t get it. All the examples written by psychiatrists, bloggers and journalists are just totally alien to me. I can honestly say, hand on heart, I’ve never felt this way towards another women, or hell, another person. But then again, I’m painfully phobic of competitiveness. I avoid any hint of competition like I would a deadly disease. I shut myself off from competitive natures years ago, going back to the age of six. I would never tell girls at school my grades in homework or exams for fear of getting dragged into the statistics of it all, and practiced what I preached: I never asked for their’s. I stayed clear of knowing anyone’s business and insisted they stayed clear of mine.
I have no intention of competing against anyone’s standards other than my own. I’m in competition with my past self. I always want to be better than her. Other people’s success, beauty and accomplishments in life does not take away from me and my potential. Success isn’t an exhaustive substance, other people aren’t going to breathe it all up and leave less for you. Snuffing out someone else’s flame doesn’t make yours shine any brighter. If there’s anything I hate more than the word ‘catty’ its women who validate the term. There’s no such derogatory equivalent term for men.
I have a job in which the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ comes up a lot. Probably every day. It’s discussed not as an issue prevalent to my work space, but rather in discussion as the undeniable root cause of copious mental health issues in men, women, and non-binaries. In nearly every field of mental health, including men’s suicide rates, abusive behaviour, eating disorders, depression and anxiety disorders, toxic masculinity can easily be drawn up as a player either directly causing these issues or making them difficult to overcome, either on a personal or societal level. Toxic femininity is a systemic byproduct of toxic masculinity: it’s the result of inequality. Structural disadvantages have caused women to become extremely protective of their turf: if there’s only one slot for a token woman in a male dominated environment, then they’re much less likely going to advocate for other women. An intelligent and skilled woman poses as a threat when there are so few seats for women at the table.
Thankfully it would seem in the actual corporate world this isn’t true. In business and in government, research suggests that women are far more likely to create opportunities for women. This is evidenced by my own: I’m lucky enough to now work in a female focussed environment. All members of the team are female, the CEO is a woman, the majority of the board of directors are female: and it’s the most supportive, inspiring, uplifting and creative environment I’ve ever been in. No one is competitive, no one is ‘catty’. We are a team wishing to make a positive change in the world and have positive and uplifting interactions with everyone our enterprise touches as well as each other.
In my old career I was once up against another woman for promotion. She had treated me foully for months up until this point, largely now I realise because only she knew she would be competing with me for a promotion she wanted. I, none the wiser of her ambitions, was confused by the rudeness, ill-treatment and general dismissiveness she always gave me up until the time of the interview. She had been told the results of the interview before I had been, and was unaware that I was round the corner when she muttered to a colleague “They gave it to that skinny, posh bitch.” She had never even allowed me to talk to her; whenever I had tried to start conversation she had snubbed me from the moment I was employed. Yet, she had already decided who I was based on my relation to her ambition. The strength of the patriarchal system has acclimatised women so well to it that they oftentimes allow it to convince them other women are what is holding them back from climbing the ladder rather than the patriarchal system in place.
Another woman’s talent, intelligence, charisma or beauty never weakens your own. Be inspired by other women and never, ever, shun another for your own advancement. You may feel you’d shine brighter if the talent you surround yourself is lesser than your own, but I believe that I only grow as a creator and human when I am surrounded by inspiration. I thrive from giving myself goals, aspirations and ambitions in life. I’m not here to stand out in the crowded room, I’m here to inspire and lift others up. I’m not here to be the best in the room, I’m here to be my best self. If you know how it feels to have been torn down in life, dedicate your life to building other people up.
(* for flow of writing I’m going to refer largely to women vs. women terminology because that’s how I identify as and I cannot speak on behalf of other voices. Please note however that toxic femininity effects all genders, and is likely even more vicious and harsh against those even more marginalised, including those of ethnic minority, non-binaries, transgender women and those with disabilities.)