by Leonne Sharkey, Brisbane
My Experience of Competition and Comparison Between Women
At the women’s group last month, Mary-Louise Myers, a presenter on Women’s Health, spoke briefly about the competition and comparison that occurs between women. I knew immediately that Mary-Louise had stirred up something big that I had not allowed myself to really feel before. Of course I have always been aware of the competition between women, but I always thought it was something ‘out there’ in the world, ‘just the way things are’ – something that I was affected by, but in no way responsible for.
I love people, I really do. Most of my closest friends are women and I truly love and appreciate them. I cannot imagine deliberately trying to hurt another person, let alone those closest to me. I want nothing more than for myself and others to be living wonderful lives full of true love and joy. So you can understand my alarm when it dawned on me that I had never pondered the way in which I had personally compared myself to, and competed against, the women in my life.
Over the past month I have allowed myself to be very honest about the ways in which I have compared myself to other women. At first the truth was so confronting I went into absolute reaction and found it very difficult to face. However, within this, I was instantly able to pinpoint many times in my life that I had tried to make myself less or more than another. I could also feel that I do not generally feel the same level of comparison and competition with men.
A week after the presentation I was in a clothing store with a friend when an attractive young woman pushed past me aggressively; as she went past, my friend and I observed that this young woman did not appear to be wearing underwear with her very short dress. When the woman left the store my flabbergasted friend asked me when it had become socially acceptable to go out in public exposing one’s bottom? I agreed it was terrible – as I was shocked too, but I could feel the energy in this exchange between us was uncomfortable and unpleasant, loaded with judgment, blame, reaction and comparison.
Later, I reflected on the exchange; why would we have reacted in this way, why would the encounter have upset me? What if the young woman’s need for attention was so great that she would go out vulnerable and exposed? Could attention be a substitute for Love? Might famous people on the cover of magazines make it a desirable thing to receive attention for their lack of underwear?! Why can we be rough and tough with others – could this be a form of protection? Only then could I start to feel how much it hurt me to take in the whole of this situation. Observing the young woman and our interactions was showing me the consequences inherent in the objectification and abuse of all women (including myself) that goes on in some obvious, and many not so obvious, ways. I also felt the fact that this young woman, even being completely unaware of our reactions, was not safe from being harmed by our judgment, as everything is felt by everyone on some level. I was amazed by how awful it felt to consider these things.
My friend and I had made this young woman the issue; in doing so we temporarily ‘protected’ ourselves from the hurtful truth that we are living in a world where women are sexually objectified and abused almost everywhere we look. This one incident, and my reaction to it, is representative of so many situations we are all exposed to on a daily basis. It is the same reaction, whether it be blaming a woman in any way if she has been raped, labeling someone as trashy or skanky, or perusing the best and worst dressed list in the latest glossy magazine.
The worst part is, women as a whole are an active part of a culture that urges us to compete against each other, hurt one another and judge each other in a million ways; from using gossip magazines to scoff at the misfortunes of the rich and beautiful, to sizing each other up at a party. We have been drawn into a ridiculous game, one where we compete with each other for a nonexistent prize. The price has been the quality of our lives, our relationships, our feelings of worthlessness and self loathing, and a deep sadness.
I have been able to feel that allowing this constant comparison and competition in my life has caused myself and others great harm. It has both stopped me from shining bright for fear that another will not like me as much, and compelled me to assert my superiority when I felt this would win me more favour. It happens so subtlety and in so many tiny ways – many just taken for granted by most, as part of life. It is there whenever I do anything in the hope of gaining recognition or acceptance from another. It might sneak into the way I shop for clothing, get dressed or put my makeup on. It pops up in the way I do my job or into a conversation about my education, relationship or financial status. It can even happen when I observe a beautiful woman being herself – where I can feel how content and joyful she is, but tell myself that way of being is out of my reach and I cannot have it for myself.
I had wanted to put off writing this blog until I had cured myself of comparison, as the way I have played this game was so ugly to me I didn’t want to admit to it until I had fixed myself (laughable I know!) – I didn’t want others to be able to judge me and make their own comparisons. After a day or two I came to my senses and realised that this comparison and competitiveness will probably not ever disappear entirely while I continue to live, but that there is a way to lessen its hold.
I have spent the past few years learning how to love myself again and have noticed that as my love for myself grows, so too does my love for others. I have always been able to feel and see beauty in another, but now I am able to feel it more deeply in everyone I meet, even when they may be acting in a way that is not pleasant to be around. As my love for myself grows, I realise I have always known deep down that every human being on this earth is my absolute equal, regardless of the fact that everything about the world sets us up to compete against each other. I am learning that love is not jealous and it does not judge, and I notice how I now judge myself and others much less than I did in the past.
Imagine what the world might start to look like if women everywhere begin to develop a deep love for themselves, and consequently others: if they begin to let go of the need to judge and compare. Imagine women everywhere supporting one another, taking care of each other, being inspired by the other and celebrating each other. Imagine every woman dressing, shopping, working and going about her life in a way that is self loving and honouring, without needing an ounce of recognition, or hiding her true beauty for fear of being cut down to size.
I have been fortunate enough to know many women who are doing just that. When these women paint their nails it is for no other reason than to playfully honour their delicateness and loveliness. When they dress up it is simply a celebration of who they are and no thought is given to outdoing another. These women deeply inspire me. When I am around them I feel a level of honesty that makes it more difficult for comparison and competition to sneak into my head in the usual ways. Instead I find myself feeling incredibly appreciative of the beauty and loveliness they exude.
Sure, there are times when I catch myself feeling jealous of how incredible some of these women are, simply being themselves, living their lives in this beautifully loving and nurturing way. This usually happens when I am having a difficult time doing this for myself and another’s life looks to me to be so effortless and joyful. The wonderful thing is that now, when I catch myself doing this, I can remind myself of the pointless game I am playing… and of the fact that I am exactly where I need to be, perfect in my own way and no less or more than any other.
When I allow myself to celebrate the beauty in another and recognise that I have the potential to claim the same for myself, I get the gift of true inspiration as opposed to the poison of comparison and jealousy. I have the opportunity to make a true choice, a choice that can inspire.