There is this longstanding assumption that girls secretly hate other girls. That we are competitive, catty, and cruel to one another – and this is an exclusively feminine thing. Even my daughter’s hippy Waldorf educator, who wears felt overalls unironically, explained female behavior as “girls are just mean sometimes.” It seems like this has become a dynamic that is not only assumed, but accepted. Yet jealousy is not just a feminine phenomenon, so why is there the belief that women are the only ones who feel this way? Girls don’t hate girls any more than people sometimes hate people because so many of us struggle with feelings of insecurity – regardless if your genitals are flappy or pointy.
Of course envy manifests itself differently between the genders. Stereotypes of women gossiping in bathroom stalls, or men drunkenly punching their buddies in the jawbone, come from a place of familiarity. Women can be emotional terrorists, where men are often more physical. Yet that doesn’t mean there should be a glorification of male friendships as compared to female. There is often vast tension, resentment, and competition between men. Some male relationships are exclusively made up of giving each other shit, insulting sports team, questioning masculinity, and comparing dick girth/engine size. It is a subversive subtext of spitefulness that may not be discussed behind backs over appletinis, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
We exhibit vindictive behavior towards our same-sex peers because we feel threatened by those we believe to be most like ourselves. I am not going to feel competitive with Lebron James, yet I would with that girl in yoga who is holding her handstand longer and has the tighter ass. We compare ourselves because most of us struggle with lapses in self-confidence and look to the outside world for validation. We feel better about ourselves when we feel better than other people.
Competition is hard to avoid because it bleeds into every facet of our socialized culture, and is also engrained as a base instinct. We are part of the animal kingdom, whose guiding principle is “survival of the fittest.” Yet primordial humans also thrived because they cooperated. Zork and Phlog had to hunt together so a Saber Tooth Tiger didn’t eat their faces off, just as Nrangna and Tiffany had to collaborate to survive with their children in the open Tundra. There may be a natural impulse to prove your dominance, but there is just as strong a pull to work together.
To achieve self-aware communal support, people have to feel genuine confidence. It is not realistic to expect someone to feel happy for you when they are too busy hating themselves. Even though every new-age self-help book adorned with pictures of wistful cats will tell you the solution is to love yourself – what does that mean in a capitalist culture that thrives on making people feel inadequate? The more empty we feel about who we are, the more we compete with each other by buying products that make us feel prettier, richer, and more powerful. This esoteric quest for confidence is often misguided when every marketing image we see makes us feel like a poor, pimply, chubby, mess with outdated clothes.
The real gender gap between men and women is rooted in confidence. There are many studies examining how confidence is one of the most pivotal aspects of success (as confidence leads people to action), and women are comparatively lacking in this vital attribute. It is easy to say, “just be more confident” to the girls, but that is ignoring the complexity and very real struggle many women experience. This is why friendships are essential. Developing an authentic appreciation for who you are often comes easier when you have the encouragement of your girlfriends who keep reminding you that you are the shit – and how maybe you should see a therapist to address your daddy issues.
Girls do have it hard because we still struggle with sexism in society, and celebrating the sisterhood will help heal ourselves as well as create systemic change. Together we are more powerful than alone. Yet in any grouping of people there are going to be personal politics that get played out. There are many women who believe they can only be friends with guys because girls are too cunty/emotional. These girls are often pretty, get male attention, and have experienced petty behavior from other females being judgmental and shitty to them. It is natural to be guarded if you fear that people are against you, but at the same time when you are wear a defensive veil like a “bitchy resting face” burka, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you are a sexy girl, you may be intimidating. Yet if you have compassion for the fact that women wish they were you, it may allow a moment of vulnerability for you to approach other girls. There is a good chance they will give you a chance if you give them a chance. If you are a girl who hates on other girls because they make you feel bad about yourself, remember it is not that girl you are angry at – it is the culture that pits us against each other that we should despise.
Instead of falling victim to the compulsion to compare ourselves, counter it with sending that person love. I actually take moments out of my day to breathe in intense love for Lena Dunham because I am so jeali of her I look like Kermit. But after I am done, I actually feel really good! You face your green monster and give it a sloppy wet French kiss. There is no universal quota on love and abundance, and there is enough to go around. Obsessing about others is ultimately a distraction from dealing with aspects within your own personality that need to be addressed. My efforts should be spent being the best possible version of myself. The more energy I put towards valuing who I am, the better friend I can be to you.