Two years ago, while on a date, the person I was with made a remark that had plagued many of the chick flicks that I had grown up watching. He “complimented” me saying that “I’m not like other girls”. Out of curiosity, I asked him what he meant by that to which he casually responded that I was “chill”. Chill meant that I was breezy and wasn’t too attached to someone I met not so long ago. Ergo, normal human behaviour, or how anybody would conduct oneself in such a situation. Why was I being applauded for that?

Why do women compete with each other?

As a teenager, I have more than once observed how girls who cared about their appearance were being pitied. In order to be cool, you had to be “like the guys”. Psychology has described this as female intrasexual competition through indirect aggression. In simpler terms, it is female rivalry, you either make yourself more attractive or denigrate other women in a competition for mates. This includes your run of the mill rumour-spreading, slut-shaming and apathy. Surely, this can’t be true in my case, I thought initially but it’s not entirely untrue either.

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Competition or rivalry can arise between women for a lot of reasons. The vainest reason could be that you look at someone and see a superior being who is prettier or smarter (whatever it is that you use to gauge your self-worth). Then there is internalised sexism. You believe that you belong to the inferior gender and the goal becomes to be like a man. Consider being at work. In most situations, the number of women is much lesser than the number of men. A work atmosphere when men are preferred for new assignments and gender inclusivity is nothing beyond a criterion to adhere to, women are pitted against each other.

Internalised sexism and survival

Research has shown that women too prefer to work under a male boss. Female bosses are considered overly assertive and difficult to work with. This can be linked to system justification which means that you internalise the oppression that you faced and think it is a necessity. This is why you stay in abusive relationships, believe men are the superior gender or engage in victim-blaming. Another term to understand is the ‘queen bee phenomenon’ where women pursue success in male-dominated organisations by distancing themselves from other women. As contemptuous as that sounds, it is a survival strategy adopted by some – barring people who are generally selfish. In a more diverse work environment, there is more camaraderie between colleagues.

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We live in a world that is designed for heterosexual men. Therefore, it is not unnatural to ideate that being like a man is a goal. We were taught not to run like a girl, man up, and have balls. Self-assertion became a manly characteristic and femininity resonated subservience. Theory aside, we all know how important our girlfriends are to us. They are your confidantes and there is nothing remotely catty about the bond you share.

When I was told that I wasn’t like other girls, I was offended. I want to be as talented, ambitious, kind, beautiful (along with a very long list of qualities) like the wonderful women I know. First of all, it is sexist. That statement was made under the assumption that all girls are crazy. We have been sold false notions about how women hate each other for way too long. Maybe it is time that we let go of presumed ego clashes and celebrate each other.

Aparna Mammen is an intern with SheThePeople.Tv. The views expressed are the author’s own. 

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