From day one women compete. It's supposedly our nature. But what if our society has never offered us an alternative?
Ever since we were young, we’ve been presented with the idea of competitive, “catty” female relationships. Films such as You Again are just part of a long-standing tradition of female “frenemies”. Others, such as Bride Wars, show how even the strongest female friendships can fall apart because of competitiveness.
Unfortunately, those are also far from the only examples. For instance, the TV show Friends often presents two female characters battling over a man (in one episode, they even compete for the affections of a man they have never even spoken to). The issue of frenemies also comes up anytime the character Rachel comments, “women tend to not like me” or Monica attempts to be in a better relationship than anyone else.
And the problem of female friendships-that-aren’t-really-friendships goes well beyond our screens. Bands such as the Spice Girls, despite their talk of “girl power,” were known to compete for relationships with male performers such as Robbie Williams, while the popular novel The Other Boleyn Girl presents heterosexual, romantic love as more important than the relationship between sisters.
These examples beg a question: why, when oppression is still such a serious problem, are competitive female relationships such a common thread in media?
At a young age, individuals begin to show their personality traits during their social interactions. While boys are encouraged to participate in “healthy competition,” girls are provided with no resources to handle any anger and internal jealousy. Since girls are supposed to be “delicate” and “sweet”, they are often not provided with any tools to deal with natural aggression, and if they ever let this aggression show they are automatically labelled “crazy,” “bossy” or “controlling.” This is not new to most people, and websites such as Ban Bossy are trying to change such thinking.
The trend continues throughout our lives as women. We’re taught to compete sexually, intellectually, and socially with each other – and for some reason we never question this. For example, women are often deemed “worthy” because of our sexuality, appearance or ability to bear offspring. Within our heteronormative society, we’re told that our female peers are our only competition.
On top of these underlying issues, there’s this one: how does the female frenemies stereotype affect people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, non-binary, trans, intersex, gender-fluid or not cisgender? These competitive, gendered stereotypes are based on our understanding of the social construct around the “typical” roles of men and women. What happens when people don’t fit into such restrictive boxes?
Perhaps we should re-consider the entire stereotype. It is very possible that men share relationships that are as equally competitive as those between women, but we simply don’t concentrate on it as much in the media. Or such male competitiveness is instead codified as “normal” masculine aggression.
One thing is for certain: it is definitely more beneficial for our patriarchal society to portray women as fighting against each other, when we should be doing the exact opposite.
There really is no benefit to anyone, anywhere on or off the gender spectrum, to have a competitive friendship. What we should be doing is supporting, loving and caring for our fellow women, men, and everyone else.
Competition is overrated. Supporting each other should be the new trend.