The whole “other woman” thing has captured my attention lately. I suppose it began with Tiger Woods and the revelations that surfaced concerning his long list of illicit lovers, unknown to his loving wife. Then Jesse James ponied up the truth on his backroom dealings behind the back of Sandra Bullock, his devoted wife. Such high profile cases of infidelity, so heartbreakingly private to the one betrayed, splashed on tabloid covers and talked about by late night hosts; I shake my head in wonder.
It’s not like these men can hide who they are; they are both public figures with lives reported on in the media. It’s not like either of them could hide that they were married. The women who Tiger and Jesse bedded knew of “the wife’, and either didn’t care or hoped to supplant her. Competition at it’s very best. Or is it its worst?
While browsing in the bookstore a few weeks ago, I found Tripping the Prom Queen (2006) by Susan Shapiro Barash, who conducted extensive personal interviews of American women in order to uncover the “truth about women and rivalry”.
The women that Barash interviewed all came to the encounter with stories of betrayal and bad behaviour by other women. I had to remind myself of that as she told tale after tale of women behaving badly to each other, due largely to unrecognized and out-of-control competition that coloured each and every activity undertaken by women, with women. Being a wife, daughter, sister, mother, worker, boss; competing over husbands, children, family status, jobs, clothes, friends, whatever they can find to fight over. It got to a point where I had to put it down for a couple of days. The stories from childhood, I can understand, sort of. I was picked on by older girls and my teen years were treacherous, so I believe these things happen.
But at some point it all stopped, or rather, slowed down, maybe went underground, I suppose. For the most part the women I have worked with have been women I’ve been proud to call colleagues; women who don’t engage in malicious gossip, but who share information and pass along hard-earned advice. Not everyone, of course. But the women who have behaved badly in my adult life number maybe on one hand, and for the last 20 years, I’ve worked in a largely female work environment. So that’s pretty good, eh?
I have lost close friends, those with whom I spent my formative teenage years. That has been sad because judging by the comfort that I feel with those old friends I still see, I have lost dearly.
What I found interesting in the stories told by the women interviewed was how many of them that felt put upon because they were pretty. I’m not sure if that was corroborated, that is, the fact that they were pretty; I only know they thought so. So is it jealousy on the part of plain Jane, or arrogance on the part of conceited Cathy? (not you, Cathy). Isn’t that the classic comeback – oh, she’s jealous because you’re so pretty. Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful, the ad for shiny hair shampoo said.
It was the stories of bad behaviour coming from women in their 50s that were truly shocking and I wondered what a sheltered existence I must lead. Thankfully. But maybe there’s something else at work.
I thank the women’s movement for creating conversations that try to move us beyond the competition that has been dividing us for millennia. Competition has carried over into the feminist arena also; after all, women are human, too. You can see it in the competition for the term “feminist”: who gets to be one, who wants to be one, what it means. However, the spirit of collaboration and cooperation among women is a difficult one to quell and there is value to be had in listening to the stories of others and learning from what they consider mistakes.
So Barash has a few suggestions to those who find themselves caught in the green-eyed grip of sisterly competition:
- Acknowledge it – competition exists within us all. Recognizing what it feels like is the first step in putting it in its place
- Find an acceptable outlet
- Recognize its many manifestations; experience jealously, don’t fear it, don’t blame yourself and get beyond it
- Use it as motivation for yourself; “Don’t get envious, get your own life” said the bowling team captain.
- Develop a realistic concept of friendship, one that allows you to cherish your friends’ diversities and similarities
- Open communication is important
Despite the fact that at times I felt like I needed a shower while reading some of the more egregious tales of bad behaviour, I learned a lot about myself while I reflected on those episodes in my life where I may not have been the best of friends to someone who thinks I was.
Ah well, as Scarlet would say, tomorrow is another day.