When women support each other, incredible things happen.
The research confirms this. Women who belong to an inner circle with other women are 2.5 times more likely to score a high-ranking job. The inner circle can provide trustworthy, gender-specific information and social support. All of which are critical for women to flourish in male-dominated settings.
So why is it that this female rivalry thing is still alive and kicking?
Why is that some women continue to be so nasty to other women?
On the one hand, there are the evolutionary perspectives and theories.
According to these theories, women traditionally had to compete with each other for the evolutionary prize: a suitable male. Studies have indicated that typical competitive strategies include self-promotion of traits that are attractive to the opposite sex and derogation of those who are of the same sex.
For men, this means overtly competing with each other to demonstrate their physical abilities and social status as a means to gain the attention and reproductive favor of females.
Women, on the other hand, tend to favor competitive strategies that reduce the risk of physical harm. This means promoting their youth and physical attractiveness (feminine traits favored by men) and criticizing the age, appearance and character of their opponents. At times, this can lead to things like social exclusion. Women in a group will turn their backs on a newcomer, particularly if she’s highly attractive, which forces the newcomer to withdraw from the scene.
Studies have even shown that women’s testosterone levels go up when they (unknowingly) smelled t-shirts of ovulating young women, indicating that these women were preparing for aggressive competition.
These theories and studies make sense from an evolutionary perspective.
On the other hand, we are no longer cave women.
We don’t have to compete for a suitable male to impregnate us so that our genes can flourish. We don’t need to be protected by a ‘big, strong male’ so that we can survive. We all know and understand this. At least I hope we all do. So can’t we all just get along?
Moving on from this ‘Female Rivalry’ thing is critical for all women to thrive.
There are amazing, remarkable women all over the world. I’ve worked with many of them. I’ve coached many of them to let go of the ‘should’s’ and be the author of their own life story. And the only way for women to rise up is if we do it together; if we lift each other up rather than hold each other down.
If you’re thinking, “Wow! That sounds inspiring!”, then thank you! But I would be remiss to say that I have always been the type of woman to lift other woman up. I would be misleading you if I pretended that I never sided with the ‘mean girl’.
Growing up, I didn’t like being a girl.
I grew up being told all the reasons why it was better to be a boy.
“Boys are smarter.”
“Boys are more successful in life.”
“Boys are better at sports.”
And boys can carry on the family name.
This was important for my dad, a traditional Chinese man who already had two daughters. He had wished for his last child (that would be me) to be a boy. It would be the last chance for his family name to be carried on. But alas, I came out as a baby girl. So my dad ended up with three daughters, no son.
At age 11, I decided it was better to just be ‘one of the boys’.
I sat cross-legged on the floor of the living room watching TV as my dad was fixing the front door lock. He had fiddled with it for nearly an hour without any luck and was frustrated.
I turned around to check on his progress and asked, “Daddy can I help you?”
“No Amy. Girls don’t know how to do this sort of thing.” my dad said to me in Chinese.
I stared at him with a mixture of hurt and frustration. I wanted to refute his claim, but as a ‘good Chinese daughter’ I stayed quiet. And he didn’t notice at all. He was too engrossed in the lock. I turned my head back to the TV, barely paying attention to it. I was too upset.
A few minutes later, my dad mumbled a frustration and went up the stairs to use the bathroom. I looked back at the front door. Turned back to the TV. Then back to the front door. Looked up the stairs where my dad had disappeared. And walked over to the front door.
“I’m going to fix this lock,” I said to myself with determination.
Five minutes later, with the lock fixed, I triumphantly sat back in front of the TV.
My dad returned and looked at the lock puzzled. He closed the door. Locked and unlocked it. Then asked me, “Did you do this?”
“You mean fix it? Yes dad. That’s what girls can do. They fix door locks.”
In that moment I decided two things.
- I would prove that I, as a girl, was just as capable of any boy out there.
- I would be ‘one of the boys’ because that’s the only way to be ‘good enough’.
Being ‘one of the boys’ suited me just fine because I experienced the mean girl effect.
You know… the gossiping about each other, backstabbing, competing for boys. And as I got older, this female rivalry continued to be reinforced in college, the work environment and the dating scene. It was never any fun to be on the receiving end of it.
“Did you see the amount of makeup on the new girl?” a female colleague once said to me. “What’s she hiding behind that mask? Who even hired her? She can’t be smart.”
“That’s ridiculous! Just because she has makeup on doesn’t mean she’s not smart. Since when are looks correlated to your brains?”
I wish I had the courage to say that, but I didn’t. I was too afraid of being excluded. I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of those messages. So I nodded in agreement, feeling a mixture of guilt and shame.
Eventually, I believed that all women were just catty. I wanted nothing to do with them.
“You just can’t trust other women,” I’d say as I surrounded myself with guy friends and only a handful of female friends. “Women are just conniving and nasty to each other.”
In essence, I had become a ‘mean girl’ myself.
Then I met a remarkable woman who completely changed my perspective.
I was lucky. When I started at Google, I had a manager (let’s call her SC) who always held her hand down to lift other women up. She certainly did for me. And it changed my self-confidence and perspective on the female rivalry thing.
You see, I had always been on the quieter side and disliked self-promotion. I apologized too much, vocalized my ideas too little and felt most comfortable leading from behind. This didn’t serve me well in a male-dominated corporate setting. SC recognized this.
She challenged me to sit at the table, to speak up in meetings, and to promote my own work. And she provided me with a safe space and platform to do so. She gave me credit for my work, sponsored me for promotions and new roles, and supported me in my dreams, passions and desires.
Most importantly, SC never stopped telling me, “I believe in you Amy Yip.”
During my first year working for her, I witnessed the magic that happens when women come together. When you create a safe space for sharing. When you support other women with unconditional care. And that creates a ripple effect.
Now, I’ve made it my personal mission to uplift women.
- To help women let go of their ‘should’s’ and find their inner power and confidence.
- To bring women together and break down the notion of female rivalry.
- To continue to learn about my own feminine power, what it means to be a woman and empower others to do the same.
To cultivate a ripple effect of love and kindness among all women and people around the world.
Because I know it can get pretty lonely when you’re always on the lookout. I know how draining it can feel to always be wondering what is being said about you behind your back. It gets exhausting trying to straddle the line between your womanhood and acting ‘masculine’ to succeed in this ‘man’s world’.
I’ve always craved a deeper connection with remarkable, like-minded women. I just didn’t know where to find them or who I could trust. But now I do.
I know now that the female rivalry thing is old. It gets us NOWHERE.
What will get us somewhere is to get rid of the scarcity mindset and think abundantly. To let go of the notion that there’s not enough room for all of us to succeed. To recognize that if there isn’t enough room at the table, we can build a bigger, better, more modern table. It’s not a zero-sum game.
So find your Inner Circle of women. Surround yourself with other women who will uplift and support you. And do the same for other women. We can all rise up together if we support each other.
My challenge to you:
- Think of a Remarkable Woman in your life. Or maybe two! Or three!
- Reach out and tell her all the reasons she is remarkable.
- Find out what her goals are and help her take her first step toward her goal whether it’s by connecting her with someone you know or just letting her know you believe in her.
Take action. Because there are plenty of remarkable women out there and we need each other!