It’s the classic catty reaction that we have come to expect of most women when a particularly gorgeous, well-groomed lady walks into the room. The wistful gaze at whatever part of her body trumps your own, the eyeing of her shoes, or bag or jewelry, noticing the quick darts of interest of the men nearby before flicking your hair and turning away in haughty show of disinterest.
Not an unusual reaction given that in the context of today’s patriarchal culture, women are taught to see other women as competition for the attention of men.
Today, this means that whoever is closer to achieving the media’s unrealistic image of ideal female beauty, wins the race. Except “winning the race” literally equates to collecting appreciative gazes of men and the jealous admiration of other women. The combination of these results is detrimental to women’s relations among their peers and for feminism in general.
Firstly, it suggests that the most important reason for women to exist as physical beings in the social sphere is to be judged by men. This “perceived gaze” of the opposite sex that we inevitably learn to see ourselves through plays havoc with our self-esteem. In the pursuit of the ideal hair, the perfect figure and a beautiful face, women can collect a myriad of insecurities about their particular shortcomings in relation to what they think men will and will not find attractive.
Women can function just fine with a slightly softer stomach or perfectly capable shorter legs or flyaway frizzy hair. Privately, I think each woman wants to celebrate her uniqueness, even if its seen widely as a shortcoming on the societal beauty index. In intimate relations, men bond with their partner based on them as a whole, the beautiful parts and the imperfections.
But in today’s world where we are constantly exposed to a barrage of sexualized images of women in the media, we see what men perceive to be female physical perfection and embrace that as our goal. And girls from a young age learn to internalize these impossible beauty ideals and set their health goals accordingly. Instead of being encouraged to love ourselves for who we are, women are encouraged to fit into a mold to please men. We thought we’ve made enormous strides for feminism since the 1950s, yet this mentality of existing to serve as male eye candy lingers somewhat.
Besides stunted self-esteem, it also has a detrimental effect on women’s interpersonal relations with other women. Not only has this particular strain of patriarchy successfully made most women unhappy with their normal bodies, but has also put women at competition among each other for the approval of men, thus making inter-personal relations more difficult to manage.
Which if you think about it, is utterly ridiculous.
Jealousy is humorously portrayed as a natural trait of women, because the idea that women must vie for the attention of men is naturalized to the female sex. Women do not realize that this behavior that we perceive to be “normal” is actually learned and is the result of a patriarchal societal order. In order to sustain this immense drive by half the population to appear beautiful in men’s eyes, women must be encouraged to compete, in order to win. Thus “cattiness” and “jealousy” is assigned to us as typically female behavior responsible for our desire to be the fairest of them all. Mirror, mirror on the wall — it shouldn’t matter who’s the fairest of them all. Dammit Disney, we are all beautiful.
Of course I would not want to completely dismiss the fact that women want to look good for themselves as well, and it gives all human beings confidence when we look nice in public and in front of our peers.
However, if that was the simple case, then why do so many women still see other beautiful women as competition, or at the least, see their own aesthetic shortcomings mirrored back at them?
It is simply impossible to shake off this mentality of wanting to appease men in one simple go. It is biologically understandable why we do what we feel is necessary in order to increase our chances of finding a mate. However that, in my opinion, is no reason to continue seeing other beautiful women as competition or to continue comparing yourself to them.
If a beautiful woman walks into a party — why not just be happy for her and admire her sense of fashion, her lucky hand in the game of genetics that she has obviously won at? Because ultimately, feeling good for other people makes us feel much better ourselves. And at this moment in our time, when life is a constant uphill battle against impossible media standards of beauty, women need to start building up their self-esteem as much as they can.
The truly amazing thing is how much even the most stunning of women may sometimes lack self confidence, being so fixated on the things they lack themselves in the looks department. Try this next time, my fellow female reader, next time you are at a party, go up to the hottest woman and strike up a conversation. Then at some point drop a compliment about her hair, her dress or anything you like, and see the lady’s face break into a radiant smile.
We do so much in our lives to seek the attention of men and their compliments, we forget to support each other, our sisters in arms — or in heels should I say!
We all fight the same battles with our skin, our make -up, our hair. So why not be a bit more warm to each other and stop seeing each other as competition?