Here we are, the first of a series of FF requests! I’ll start at the top, with Geo’s request to talk about platonic female relationships. Geo said: “How about writing about Feminism – and Women “competing for male attention” and otherwise – treating other women – without respect. Often it is said that teenage girls and some older women can be extremely hard on each other – in contrast to the other common theme of women bonding with each other in ways that Us Men – generally don’t do. Obviously – this would be a more “personal” rather than research related topic. I would think that Feminist Consciousness could help a lot in this area and probably does.” Geo, I am taking your cue, and I will write about some of my personal experiences with competition and apply a feminist analysis of those situations.I have already written at length about female competition, but I will recap a bit here before I expand the discussion. Female competition exists essentially because of the patriarchal basis of society. Patriarchy prevents women from achieving socio-economic success to the same extent as men. (Remember, this is only one part of patriarchy, and some women are able to achieve more socio-economic power than some men, but in general, men still statistically make 1/3 more than women for the same work – and as old as that statistic is, it is also still current because things haven’t changed for 30-odd years.) Under patriarchy, a woman’s best chances of improving her socio-economic status is to marry. In general, women live longer than men, and there are more women of “marrying age” than there are men – not more single women than single men, but more women than men above the age of 25. Because of this, women are in competition with one another for male attention, and they compete with one another through femininity practices.
Now, in my previous discussion of competition, I talked a bit about my female friendships past and present, and how I have had some friends who have been competitive with me despite my non-competitive nature. I have had a good deal of competition from not friends, but other females in my sphere – my workplaces.
The places I have worked in were competitive by nature. In the aesthetics field, there is a real interest in retaining clientele, selling a lot of products, and performing treatments that are fairly expensive. This is especially the case if staff is paid on a commission basis, as I was for many, many years. This was the only thing that brought out any competitiveness in me. I wanted to make more money, and so I had to specialize in an area where I would have the best chance of doing more expensive treatments and selling a lot of product. I had other considerations, like not having to do certain treatments I found to be boring and/or physically uncomfortable to perform. So, I chose to specialize in skin care, where treatments are upwards of $100 and the opportunity for retail is high. I was fairly successful with this approach, and everywhere I worked, there was a level of jealousy among my co-workers that did not have the specialized training, product knowledge, experience, and technique that I worked hard to achieve. It caused quite a bit of back-biting at several workplaces, most significantly the one I had before my current job, and in the business partnership I had before that (now I don’t have any co-workers who do the same thing as me, so workplace competition is nearly non-existent for me now, thank god). At my last job, there was one woman in particular that tried everything in her limited power to undermine me. She was most successful with turning other staff against me – before I worked my first shift! I had been hired to replace her, though she didn’t know it at the time, and neither did I know she didn’t know… so she felt threatened, naturally. Her anger and resentment was directed not at the proper place – the management – but at me. Luckily, I did manage to make some lasting friends at that workplace, so she didn’t reach everyone. The general air of resentment and jealousy of my career, combined with my growing disinterest in my career and my general attitude of not really caring what people think of me, led to a lot of tension in that workplace. I’m very happy not to be there anymore.
Before that, I owned my own business. I had a partner, and between the two of us, we were the most successful aestheticians at our previous workplace, where we worked together for 5 years before opening our business. We always got along quite well when we worked together, but once we were business partners, things took a nasty, terrible turn. My partner showed her true colours as a cruel and mean-spirited control freak. I continued on as the same person I had always been, tried to do my best, worked my ass off, and maintained my laid-back nature, which of course drove her insane. Unfortunately, a bunch of things combined against me at that time in my personal life, and I was unable to cope with the day-to-day incivility and cruelty my partner showed me. I left the partnership after a little over a year. It was the worst year of my life.
I should note that I consider myself to be relatively blameless in these two situations. In my last workplace, I did absolutely nothing to deserve or encourage the sort of maliciousness that I experienced. I did not participate in gossipping in the workplace, I was always polite to everyone I worked with, I tried to be helpful and kind and even went out of my way to be so to the very person who was most awful to me thinking that might help matters, and I always performed my job to the best of my abilities. In my business partnership, although I had a lot going on in my personal life at the time, I worked my ass off. In fact, I threw myself into that business in order to take my mind of my personal life. And despite the fact that my partner was horrible to me on a daily basis, I did my best not to discuss it with anyone I worked with – they were, after all, my staff. I remained as professional as possible, despite the fact that all my staff knew there was outward hostility between myself and my partner. In fact, I ran into one of my former employees – and a personal friend – a couple of months ago (I left three years ago), and she asked me then, for about the fourth time, what had really happened, because she still didn’t really know. I finally told her, but not in explicit detail.
So, now, what do you think of this? Doesn’t seem on the surface of these two situations that patriarchy is to blame for these two women feeling competitive towards me. Could it be they were just jealous, mean people? Well, yes, and they both are in fact mean people who can’t stand the success of others. I have nothing good to say about either one of them, in fact. But, yet, there is an element of patriarchal interference at play in both of these situations. Because women have the background condition of patriarchy to contend with in any aspect of their lives, including matters of socio-economics, there is an added pressure on women going into any relatinoship with another woman. Patriarchy is about power – not just power men have over women socially, but power between men and between women. My ex-business partner always had to be in control of everything, and resorted to petty and underhanded tactics in order to gain control. One of her favourites was intimidation. She was so good at making other people feel like shit she could get an award for it. I’ve never encountered anything like it before or since. The other woman I worked with used the tactic of gossip. She talked about everyone behind their backs, to anyone who would listen. She encouraged others to “confide” in her as well.
So, why the power plays in these small interpersonal relationships? What does it have to do with men? When you look at patriarchy as a system of social control it becomes easier to see how relationships between women are affected, even when there are no men involved. Patriarchy involves power differentials between men and women. However, also affected are relationships between men and other men, and women and other women. Patriarchy is a background condition that informs all social relationships. The power imbalances between men and women play out most between men and women, but powerlessness among women affects their relationships with each other as well. Women are in competition with one another, no matter their conditions, and there is a hierarchy among women to be the most desirable in all kinds of ways, and this plays out through jealousy, manipulation, gossipping, and hosts of other malicious behaviours. Patriarchy has put all women in the same boat, and many cases, instead of working together by creating solidarity and supporting one another’s attempts to achieve socio-economic freedom, women work against each other and try to push one another overboard.