It began about four years ago for me, but one could say that it became an issue for womankind after World War II, when men returned home and rained on our professional parade, so to speak.
I’m talking about female competition in the workplace, and if you’re like me, you cringe at the thought. As feminists and girl’s girls, we hate to think that this is a real occurrence in our professional spheres, especially considering all it has taken for us to get to where we are today. But alas, it does exist, and if we’ve learned anything from our history, we know that this is just one of many reactions to—drum roll, please—the patriarchy! Yep, it strikes again, and the crazy thing is that sometimes, we act accordingly without even knowing it! I say this because it happened to me, like, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers or something. I didn’t know I was feeding into the thing I hated most—workplace competition between women.
In 2010, I was working in the child care field, which is predominantly female but has its sprinklings of males here and there. This was where I was first told to “stop acting insubordinately” by my boss, also female. Fast forward four years and I am getting a “talking to” by my male boss because of a “condescending” note written to my female coworkers. Imagine my surprise! I was competitive, and still am. You could say I was raised to be, having been an athlete since the sprite, young age of five years old. It’s in my DNA, my make-up, and it’s what often makes me successful, believe it or not. It’s a part of myself that I embrace. So, imagine my horror when it started to get me in trouble at work. My pride was out of control, as I could easily justify all of my actions and thought I knew what was best for the company at all times. The terrifying part was that I wasn’t even cognizant of it happening; I was on HBIC auto-pilot and had alienated myself in the process. It wasn’t until I overheard my coworker explaining female support to a student that I finally got it:
“If I see a job posting that suits my girl, I’ll send it to her even if I want it, too. I figure, if it’s meant to be mine, it will be, no matter who applies; and I want us both to be successful.”
Why was this a novel idea for me?! I wasn’t sure, but it was. Perhaps it was my athletic grooming or simply immaturity, but it was new. I felt embarrassed and like I didn’t even know myself. As someone who had worked since turning fifteen, my professionalism meant the world to me and I was discovering that I wasn’t showing much of it at all. It got me thinking.
Now, though I was often blind to my own competitiveness at work, I did see it around me; I knew that it wasn’t just me that was acting counterproductively for the female cause. It must be something bigger, I thought. And, it was. Pardon the Women’s Studies lecture that is about to happen, but it truly explains a lot (and, if you relate to me at all, it’ll make you feel a little less crazy).
We are all familiar with gender inequality in the workplace. Heck! We’re still fighting for that remaining 20% or so difference in pay. Institutionally, males have been dominant and continue to be in most professional fields. As workin’ girls, this is one of those unfortunate evils that we have to accept because we feel we can’t necessarily change it on our own, which leads to this low self-efficacy where we think that typical, “male jobs” are off limits (cue narrowing of scope). This makes us frustrated, and naturally so! It’s a feeling of confinement and limitation, like a mouse in a box scratching the sides for its way out. Here we are, trying to make a name for ourselves and climb the ladder to nowhere.
Because our resources and opportunities are often limited against that of a man, it seems to become a game of survival to beat out the other women in order to get noticed by the man at the top. (Sound familiar? We do this with beauty and fashion, too). And like animals fighting for scraps, women often resort to passive-aggressiveness, condescension, and downplaying of the skills of women around them to obtain that bit of praise or promotion.
. . . But what if we did the complete opposite?
What if, instead of shutting down other women at work, we lift them up and do what my coworker does? I can’t help but think it would eliminate the “catty” stereotype that men often use against us. I’m still in the process of imagining what female solidarity looks like in the workplace, but from what I can put together, it looks a whole lot like what our feminist “foremothers” would have wanted.
So. What did this woman learn? I learned that it is not wrong to be competitive, but how I utilize competitiveness can be the difference between lifting myself up and keeping another woman down. I learned that my credentials will speak for themselves, so the best way to get ahead is to challenge myself more and perfect my individual work, not tarnish the work of others. Most importantly, I learned that it’s okay to notice a personal fault like this one, because it leads to a breakthrough. . . and maybe even a snappy little article.
Laurel Vozely is a writer, creative vagabond, and active feminist from the Golden State who believes in living a life as bold as a fuchsia lip. With a background in Psychology, she plans on effectively reading your minds and writing pieces that speak to you. When she isn’t telecommunicating, she doubles as a Marketing Assistant who dreams of becoming an editor and “coffee table book” author one day. She invites you to follow her on Twitter @laurelvozely and engage in her daily musings on laurelvozely.wordpress.com.