My essay on “Self-defeating Sisterhood” was published in the 4th issue of Missfits Magazine, September 2011.
Click the article below to read it in the magazine, and please do check out the rest of the issue HERE.
Since some of the girls’ opinions following my article had to be omitted from the print version due to limited space, I am reprinting the article here in full – your words should be heard, and I thank you again for them!
“Self-defeating Sisterhood” by Audrey Dimola
What is it about us girls that pits us against one another so easily, makes us suspicious and territorial, envious and aggressive? What is this widespread inclination for competition that undermines our inherent potential for sisterhood? It’s no doubt that each one of us is strong, passionate, and beautiful, but our dealings with our fellow women, specifically, can sometimes bring out the very worst in us. I am not attempting to delve into centuries of female consciousness to uncover the root of this phenomenon, but instead to – hopefully – encourage you to notice when and where it occurs in your own life, and to proactively experiment with ways to route this unsettling energy into a more positive direction.
Personally, I have played this game for long enough to realize that it is just that – a game, one that actually rips you down even as you think it’s reinforcing you. What am I actually referring to here? All the unfounded myths and negative past experiences we cling to in order to retain our throne as the unapologetic queen of all the other ladies in our kingdom. We’ve been hurt, we’ve been judged, we’ve been stabbed in the back by girls we thought we knew (and even girls we didn’t..), and vow to never let it happen again. We struggle with comparisons to movie stars, models, and the gorgeous, talented, seemingly perfect girls in our everyday lives. We’re convinced we’re not good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough to be whatever those other girls can so easily be. If only we knew how many of us actually felt that way – but instead, we only feel separateness. We’re quicker to criticize than to compliment, because it’s easier to turn our back than to reach out, easier to spark a rivalry than to foster a friendship. We judge. We’re threatened. We feel alone. And soon we find ourselves building walls around our heart cemented with paranoia, heartache, and fear. We cling to whatever we covet (be it a lover, job position, social standing, or project) for dear life, either purposely slipping into the background because we’re too exhausted to compete, or doing whatever we can to assert ourselves as the baddest bitch around. Either way, the girls we don’t want to get to know – and everyone else, for that matter – will keep their distance.
Whether we feel anger or sadness, isolation or aggression, pity for ourselves or fierce competition with others, what’s taking place inside us is the same – we’re so consumed by ego-driven extremes that we can’t possibly give ourselves the opportunity to pause and readjust our perspective. We end up so fragile that the most seemingly insignificant occurrence can completely shatter us. We girls can be so hard on each other – but often we’re even harder on ourselves. Have you ever considered, perhaps, that we react this way towards others because there is something in them we admire – and that instead of feeling competitive or insecure, we could actually celebrate that trait or that energy, and work to find it in ourselves? The unfortunate fact is that when we are bound up in the ego and our separateness from each other, it nearly kills us to consider something like this, let alone actually, truthfully admit it.
So what do we do, dear girls? I implore you – observe how you react to the people around you, but especially to your fellow woman. If we take a moment to reexamine our prejudices – even the most subtle ones, or the ones we cling to the most – the results could be genuinely transformative. Try this: dissuade (or straight-up wrestle with!) your ego the next time it wants to compete with another girl for no reason, or better yet – just remember your ego only has the power you give to it. It doesn’t even have to exist at all. Reach out to someone instead of holding back – extend a compliment instead of a crooked glance. Remind yourself that regardless of what it seems like on the outside, you never truly know what that other girl has been through – what has shaped the person she is today. You might even discover that she harbors the very same hang-ups and insecurities that you do; we are so much more alike than we can imagine…
Now let’s be honest here – every girl and every situation is different, and making these changes won’t always guarantee you and your former rivals swapping friendship bracelets and staying up all night sharing secrets. Maybe you wouldn’t even want to do that in the first place! However, there’s so much to say for just taking that step towards eliminating the unspoken and unnecessary tension that exists between fellow females every single day, and illuminating the beautiful connection that unites us all. You’ll fight and struggle and feel like you’re losing your mind, but if you really work towards breaking this pattern, there will come a day when you’ll just know it – you’ll be able to open your heart, and simply let go.
This is what I ask of you: give yourself the space to walk the high road, diffuse the ego-bomb, and move forward in a mind-altering direction. You are enough. You don’t have to be afraid of letting your guard down, because there’s a certain power in trusting – a power in being brave enough to stretch your wings and let the current of the universe hold you up, let you fly. Embrace this power – the power you’ve always had. Amazing things will come from it, I promise. And remember… You have sisters where you least expect it. Always.
Audrey Dimola is a New York-born writer, editor, and poet. She loves words, leopard print, rock & roll, and finding inspiration in everything. Follow her on Tumblr (sprinklesauce) and check out sugarnthunder.com and audreydimola.com for more of her work.
I spoke with some sisters in my own life upon writing this article. They kindly shared their perspectives on these issues with me, and I’d love to share them with you:
* Don’t be jealous of other women. If you admire them, don’t tear them down – learn from them. Women are beautiful. Insecurity can make us so unattractive. Other women are not your competition – they’re your inspiration. I used to get upset when other women tried to tear me down. Now I see it as their insecurity, not my problem. Every time another woman is catty or nasty to me, I go out of my way to be nice to a female friend in my life. It’s my way of balancing out the universe. Gina Sigillito – 40, Writer & PR Company Owner (ginaraqpr.com)
* Time and time again, from girlhood to even womanhood, I’ve been faced with what I call “outcasting.” Women like to outcast one another for the means of competition, but what are we competing for? We can’t expect to regain our standing in this masculine world until we can stop stabbing each other in the back. Only a woman understands the pain of another, so who else can stand behind that pain and raise their voice for equality? When we choose not to fight for each other’s freedoms, we are stabbing our entire gender in the back. The time is long overdue to shed our materialistic ties and embrace what it is to be a woman. Barsha Khandker – 25, Writer/Artist/Animal Activist
* I believe the need to compete with another person or feeling jealousy towards that person stems from the insecurities one has. I believe this occurs for both males and females. What I can say is that I have always had more guy friends than girls because I’ve always surrounded myself with carefree people… people who liked me for me. Drama does almost always seem to rear its head when surrounded by a group of females, but that also happens with men… just not as often. I was in a sorority back in undergrad and I will say that it was a most awesome experience. We were a very diverse group and that is what made us unique and real. We respected each other and grew in sisterhood. Cristina Kolitsopoulos – 30, Musician/Special Ed Teacher
* Women can be catty and cruel to each other and I’ve always felt the needless competition between women, whether it’s about looks or achievements… or even better: men! I have a “friend” who feels the need to always outshine me, talk behind people’s backs, or sum up somebody’s negative aspects to make herself feel better. Sadly enough, I think a lot of women critique other ladies to feel better about themselves and to disguise their own insecurities. I am a very insecure person and am very aware of how I look and how I come across. Sure, sometimes I do feel jealous of my best friend who looks skinny, is happy and bubbly, and attracts men all the time. Is it wrong to feel like that? I think it’s not… as long as you don’t diss anyone because of it, and act like a lady. Femke Leemans – 27, Photographer/Graphic Designer (lovemeandmyego.com)
* I’ve had experiences with women on both extremes. In high school it felt like I wasn’t good enough or smart enough to do anything near what other girls were doing. We all had one goal [as solo vocalists in a performing arts school] and only one person could do it. However, after school I got involved with a girls’ rowing team at Row New York, and the difference between that and the Vocal Studio was that while there was one person in the studio who could shine in the spotlight, the rowers had to work together and one person couldn’t shine without the other. My rowing coach, who was a man, just let us know: “your boat is only as fast as the weakest rower,” so there was no way that any girl would let another down. We were on time, supportive, and eventually the bond between us became strong enough to last us years after we left the team. We valued women’s strength and even when we had friendly competition there was no animosity between us. We knew that we were only as good as the hard work we put in – there was no way to cheat our strength. Our coach couldn’t show the favoritism that some experienced with our vocal teacher, because the rowing machine did not lie. I feel that when every woman has an equal and fair chance to shine, the competition level between them diminishes. Carol Quijada – 24, English Major (facebook.com/carolinaquijada)
* Competition is sort of in a woman’s nature. Growing up, in high school, college and even in your regular “sister” circle there is always someone who tries to compete with you. Either it’s who has the best phone, nail polish, shoes or hairstyle. You walk into a bar/lounge or club and can always count on those looks from a woman or multiple ones that you barely even know – you can read it all on their facial expressions. I’ve always felt that when I see another beautiful, stylish woman, I would compliment them. I’ll respect any woman that can actually do that and not hate or have any sort of jealousy towards me or others. There are a few, very rare women that actually do that. Last night as I was in the restroom at the movie theater one bursted out, “I love your outfit!” That can make any woman’s day better than a man yelling, “you’re sexy.” We should all embrace each other and not feel the need to compete, because yes we are indeed sisters no matter what color, shapes or form. Sophie Cadet – 23, Aspiring Stylist/Writer (purplealamode.blogspot.com)
* I have, on occasion, felt judged by other women, even ones I don’t know – although part of that is probably due to the fact that I have piercings and tattoos and, frequently, funky-colored hair, so I get “looks” from all sorts of people. I have, on occasion, been jealous of other women – although, to be honest, usually once I pin down what exactly I’m jealous about, I realize that it’s just an aspect or characteristic of them that I admire and wish I had, so I try to work on admiring them and seeing them as a role model and working on being more of that aspect myself – reframing, I guess, is what I do then. This basically led me to realize that we’re all sisters, and that there’s no need to be jealous of other women when I can befriend them and learn from them instead, and then have within myself whatever characteristic or strength I was lacking and envied in them. I still, every once in a while, meet other women who are “catty” and competitive and “don’t like female friends/only get along with guys.” In my experience, once they realize I’ve checked out of the whole “competing for guys/girls/partners” thing and just want to be friendly, we get on fine. On the rare occasion that they still operate in competitive mode after that, I just move on. There are so very many wonderful, rad, awesome, beautiful ladies in the world for me to get to know and hang out with and be inspired by. Kathy Jacobs – 31, University Library Support Staff (kayeffjay.wordpress.com)