“The sort of natural competitiveness that many male groups enjoy is something that encourages mutual respect for each other’s strengths.”

Photo by botheredbybees

The competition between shearers is keen, and noticeable when they’re at roughly the same stage in the process.” — Sheep shearing competition, photographed by Peter Shanks, on Flickr


This comment below is by Alastair on the post “How Competition Among Women Reinforces Sexism” by Susie Meister

Looking at this as a man, it seems to me that it is not competition per se that is the issue. I have found competition to be an incredibly enriching force in my life. Competition encourages me and pushes me to play to my strengths. I have also found that competition can be great at producing respect for those with whom you compete. In competing with them, you explore their strengths and start to admire them for them. Competition strengthens and develops my sense of agency, which is central to my identity.

In competing with someone I seek to outperform them at something. My goal is typically the pursuit of excellence and the excitement of overcoming a challenge. Once I have overcome my opponent, I do not kick him when he is down, or viciously crush him with excessive force. The sort of natural competitiveness that many male groups enjoy is something that encourages mutual respect for each other’s strengths.

However, when I look at the sort of relationships described in this article what I see is not competition, but envy. Envy is a destructive force that is not focused on exploring your strengths in competition with a respected opponent but which seeks to tear down and attack anyone who seems to be a rival. It is vicious and personal. The envious person isn’t even focused on their own pleasure: all they want to do is to destroy the enjoyment of the other. They hate the other person for being more popular, smarter, prettier, or wealthier than they are and so will go to whatever lengths they can to poison that enjoyment.

The number of women who have independently commented to me that they find such envy to be peculiarly characteristic of all-female groups has surprised me. I think that many women could gain a lot from learning the value of healthy competition, which depends upon a detachment of one’s identity from contexts of stifling intimacy, where differences and oppositions cannot be explored, where those that surface result in demonization and cruel and personal attempts to destroy others, and those that don’t surface simmer away in vicious passive aggressive tactics and backbiting. Such competition enables non-personal opposition, non-poisonous conflict, the encouragement of a thick skin and a sense of humour, and a general attitude of playing to strengths rather than using one’s weaknesses and sensitivities to leverage attention and privilege.

Read How Competition Among Women Reinforces Sexism by Susie Meister

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  1. “The number of women who have independently commented to me that they find such envy to be peculiarly characteristic of all-female groups has surprised me.”

    Yes, I have heard this a million times. I think women’s negativity to the concept of competition stems from this and that they project their own experience with this form of envious competition within female groups to male groups. Male competition tends to work very well and actually is a form of cooperation in that one competes for leadership continuously but always give up leadership to whomever gets the most respect at the time. I don`t think many women get how much men respect hierarchy and changes within the hierarchy.

  2. A Reader says:

    It is important to take into account how the competitive worlds of men and women are constituted. It is also important to remember how patriarchal allocation of gendered roles imbues the ends to which this competition is directed. Men are seen as belonging to the “public” sphere wherein striving for competitive success is not only seen as inherent to their masculinity but also as a public proof of their worth as “men”. Women’s entry in the sphere of competition on the other hand, is circumscribed by a reiteration of their roles withing the “private” sphere, where they are seen to primarily belong. Therefore, when women compete (against other women), they are necessarily seen as establishing their worth in order to please a man. This stems from the patriarchal belief that the measure of a woman’s worth is the bank balance of her man. No matter how intelligent, successful, independent, or talented a woman is, her primary mission in life is to secure her “man” and not only that, but that all her talents are to be directed in achieving this target. Hence the “envy”, to which the author has attributed the souring of women’s competition. So instead of implying a dismissal of women as incapable of rising above envy and being unable to mutually respect one another, let us look at how competition is unequally constituted for men and women.

    • wellokaythen says:

      This may be my own weird language pet peeve, but I can’t help but notice all the passive voice in this message — men “are perceived to be” and women “are seen to be,” and competition “is…constituted,” etc. I’m left wondering “by whom?”

      Someone needs to be held accountable on some level. So, WHO exactly is pressuring men to behave in a certain way and women to behave in a different way? I suppose one could say “patriarchy,” but then we’re still left with the question of accountability. You can’t write a letter to patriarchy and tell it to change its ways. Give me some names of people I can be mad at. Who exactly is setting up this double standard about competition, and who is maintaining it? The embarrassing answer may be that both men and women are perpetuating this double standard.


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