When I was in sixth grade I was a part of an all-girl clique dubbed the “Fab Four.” While, in retrospect the name as well as the overall concept is completely cringe-worthy, at the time I felt as though my membership in the group was the ultimate gateway to adolescent bliss. Together my “fab” friends and I relished in the joys that came with Friday night sleepovers, trips to the nail salon and copious amounts of time spent giggling over boys. Bonded by our inside jokes and love for straightening each other’s hair, our friendship was seemingly unbreakable. That is, until things (naturally) fell apart.
As we grew older our once carefree companionship evolved into an adverse competition. Whoever had the newest Hollister or Abercrombie sweatshirt immediately took the lead. It dawned on me that affection from boys was now a prize to be won rather than a simple concept to ponder. Moreover, one wrong social move and I’d be chastised for the remainder of the school day. “Ugh, what were you doing talking to her?” I can still hear the critical remarks ringing in my ears.
When I look back on these incidents I acknowledge that they served as my first glimpse into the world of woman versus woman competition, a battle-royal type showdown that determines a winner based on her use of cattiness, drama and spite rather than fists.
Author Emily Gordon published an opinion piece in The New York Times on Sunday titled, “Why Women Compete With Each Other.” I wasn’t at all surprised when I read of her childhood collective, “the Sensational Six”. Much like my group, she and her girlfriends indulged the feelings of importance and contentment that stems from being included in an exclusionary group. However, just as my posse fell apart with the trials and tribulations of female rivalry, she found hers to quickly crumble as she and her friends grappled with their first moments of “indirect aggression.”
As I read further I was interested to find that instead of standing her ground in the war against subversive women and their accomplices, she retreated, thus favoring another type of combat tactic. Gordon elaborated that, “instead of openly hating women, I used hate’s sneaky little sister and told myself that I pitied women who worked hard to be conventionally attractive, who had jobs that utilized their feminine wiles, who were ‘too girlie.’ ‘Poor her,’ I’d cluck at parties, ‘wanting attention so badly.’”
Although my experience with the “Fab Four” is now a distant memory (one that conjures up a weird and unexplainable mixture of both nostalgia and embarrassment), I can’t help but wonder how much more elaborate and intense our competition would have been had we had access to the innumerable social media of today’s world. Sure, back then we toted our flip phones around the mall Cher and Dionne style, but this was preceding the existence of Instagram, and the extreme popularity of Twitter and Facebook. One can only imagine the melodramatic tweets and posts that would have undoubtedly ignited a firestorm.
People Magazine reported that actress-extraordinaire Kate Winslet has voiced similar concerns, as she has just recently acknowledged that she won’t allow her kids to use social media as it, “has a huge impact on young women’s self-esteem.” She furthered her point by asserting that, “all they ever do is design themselves for people to like them.” Winslet is a mother to two sons, Bear, 22 months, Joe, 11, and a daughter Mia, 15.
Remarkably enough, in her statement she mentioned nothing of the influential role (if any) social media plays within the realm of men. But I digress — that’s an argument that I could spend a whole new article discussing.
Whereas my friends and I were all avid users of AIM, today’s generation boasts a group of girls who are left to compete with the pseudo-identities of other girls projected onto countless digital platforms. I fear that this adds an entirely new dimension to the reality of female competition. This isn’t to say that brutal in-person comments, or the cutting “pitiful” remarks Gordon utilized are any less hurtful. Now, however, it is critical to acknowledge that the all-encompassing nature of social media, made available to users at any given time or place, leaves little room for a true escape.
I feel as though I’d be cliché if I were to conclude my musings with some tired statement about women needing to build each other up as opposed to tearing each other down. While the mantra is completely legitimate, it, in my opinion, undermines a reality about the nature of female competition. There will always be girls, especially during their youth, that look for outlets in which to release their negative emotions. I acted in a way toward other girls that I certainly regret, and I guarantee that if you ask any other woman she’d say the same.
At the risk of sounding cheesy I would suggest that we as women need to turn within ourselves and question the necessity of our hurtful words and actions. Will it really make me feel better to undermine her personality? Does projecting hate onto that group of girls truly make me better than they are? Sure, middle school Katherine probably wouldn’t have been able to fully comprehend these questions, nevertheless answer them, but the 19-year-old that decided to write more than 900 words on the subject should easily be able to.