On Women, Strength and Competition

Last week on International Women’s Day, I was exposed to the most wonderful poet: Fleassy Malay from Melbourne, Australia, and her incredible poem, “Witches.” It’s actually not about witchcraft, but strong women. Please take a moment to watch it.

If you liked it, you can buy a print of the text on Etsy. Until March 18, 50% of the proceeds will be donated to The Global Women’s Project.

I seriously have a girl crush on Fleassy now and immediately followed her on Facebook. The other night she posted a Facebook Live to explain why she wrote the poem, which isn’t necessarily why you might think. Among other things, she said something like “we’re really good as women at calling each other out on our shit, but we don’t really have a system for celebrating one another.”

That really stuck with me. I’m a highly competitive person, so I naturally want to compare myself with others, and I’ll admit to getting pretty jealous when others achieve the things I dream about before I do. Oddly enough, my Twitter friend Summer posted something similar the other day:

I know we all do that to some extent, but I have a problem with it. I’ve always thought it was just a flaw in my personality, something I need to work on – which it is – but now I wonder how much is societal. From what age are we taught to compete with one another, especially with other females? Does it start when we are old enough to watch television or even to consume fairy tales where women (sometimes even mothers and step-sisters) compete over the same man? How and why does this bleed over into other parts of our life? From where does this mindset of scarcity come? It’s not like there is a limited number of men/success/book contracts/what-have-you for which we have to compete Hunger Games-style. Yet we do it. Every single day.

I see memes like this one all the time and I want to say, “Hell yes!” because they are true. But in my heart, I can’t. As a feminist, I’ve long been ashamed of myself for viewing other women first as my competition and second as my sisters. It’s weird, but when the topic is something I’m not competitive about, I’m ALL ABOUT the sisterhood and the congratulations. But throw in something I think I lack and it gets ugly, at least on the inside.

Getting back to Fleassy’s question, how do we create a system to help build up one another? Social media seems to both help and hinder this idea. It helps because we can signal boost each other, offer our well-wishes, etc. And that is a great start. But social media also allows us to see what is happening with others on a much more regular basis than we otherwise would. It shows us the external, polished veneers of other women’s lives, and when we compare ourselves to them, we feel bad, which takes us away from celebrating their triumph. Many people call it the Instagram effect. What we don’t see is the hard work and tears that go into that success or the other issues that the person might be dealing with. This accolade over which we are green with envy might be the only thing keeping that person from despair.

As evidenced by my personal reactions, these platitudes are so much easier to say than to live. I don’t have any easy answers to these questions. It is a change that needs to happen at the societal level, but like everything else, likely needs to begin at the personal level. Hopefully, if each time someone we know/love succeeds at something, we try our best to be genuinely happy for her, we will slowly change the world. Share her posts, lift a toast, and dance for joy with her. Even if our hearts hurt, we can transform that pain into determination to do more/better in our own lives, and that can only make us stronger. And as each one of us glows brighter, we will collectively burn until we’ve changed this mindset of scarcity and competition into one of collective appreciation and abundance. Or so I dream.

I know I’m going to try. And like the rest of my fellow “witches,” I won’t come quietly.

PS – Does anyone else think Fleassy looks like Cosima from Orphan Black?