There are few things I find more intimidating than a group of girls standing together talking. And although I’m pretty sure I share this fear with every twelve year old boy in America, mine is for a very different reason.
I am not afraid because I am at my first middle school dance, trying to figure out how to ask my crush if she wants to awkwardly sway back and forth with me while standing ten inches apart and barely touching (the sixth grade version of slow dancing). Rather, I am a grown woman, anxious because I know what we all know: that unfortunately, women are harshest to their own gender.
It is universally known that girls can be catty, which is why so many women have their guard up the first time they meet another woman. I know I am extremely guilty of this: I have a natural wall that comes up when meeting another female. Upon reflection, I can trace its cause to years of being bullied, followed by a history of betrayals and falling-outs from and with close female friends.
Though I’ve since met and maintained strong friendships with beautiful, strong women, those scars are still there. And they still cause me to be instinctively suspicious around new female acquaintances; whether it be instant or gradual, my wall only dissipates when I feel safe and can sense a mutual connection.
But I know I am not the only one who experiences this meeting-new-women-phobia. I recently met someone who, in her late thirties, had to leave a job she loved and had worked at for years. The reason she left? Because six female co-workers were bullying her day in and day out. Those are grown women, ganging up on another grown woman. She is now, quite understandably, nervous around females.
And it’s almost unavoidable when you think about how society shapes us; we are taught from a young age that, as women, we are in a constant, on-going competition with one another. We are compared to and pegged against each other in almost every circumstance, and it ultimately affects how we see other women, and ourselves.
For some reason, we see another woman’s beauty and start to feel ugly. We hear of another woman’s intelligence and immediately feel stupid. Or we witness another woman’s humor and feel boring in comparison. We start to feel like we’re losing the competition and so, in order to compensate and gain a competitive edge, we tear apart other women in an effort to elevate our own status.
But putting down another isn’t actually a sign of superiority; it is really just a way of covering up subconscious feelings about one’s own self. We cast all of the hidden hatred we have towards our own flaws onto others, trying to use other people as scapegoats for our insecurities. We have this twisted hope that if we point out another woman’s imperfections, it will somehow make people forget that we, too, have imperfections.
In the moment we think it will make us feel better, but it actually does the opposite. The whole reason we are speaking negatively about another girl is because we feel negatively about ourselves; but then the more we speak negatively about her, the worse we end up feeling about ourselves. So not only do we hurt the other person, but we also hurt ourselves and start a horrible self-destructive cycle.
Instead of trying to be happy with who we are, and allowing others the freedom to be happy the way they are, we just don’t feel like we’re good enough; so, we try to find ways to prove that others aren’t good enough either. But true self-acceptance comes from acknowledging and embracing the fact that we are all flawed, and realizing that having flaws does not make us, or anyone else, less worthy of love. It comes from being able to see other people’s flaws and not point them out, but rather understand how they make the person even more beautiful.
And most importantly, self-acceptance comes from the ability to say and believe: “I am human. I am flawed. But, I am still good. I am no better and no worse than anyone else.”
We don’t get to choose our deck of cards, but we do get to choose how we view them. There will always be someone who seems to be “better off”: pretty, athletic, smart, whatever the trait. They have some, or several, characteristics that you want for yourself. But, that’s their deck. Instead of trying to take cards away from them, we need to start looking at our own hand and seeing the unique beauty that lies within the cards we hold.
Maybe then women wouldn’t be so afraid of each other. And maybe then the fear of girls standing together in a group will only exist in the hearts of those twelve year old boys, anxiously pacing back and forth in their poorly decorated middle school gymnasium.