I’ve heard many a tale about the competition among women. There have even been some articles published in work-related blogs about women in business being far harder on other women than on men. I’ve long assumed it was primarily based on competition for a resource (position, power, money) that was viewed as scarce, but I have come to wonder if there isn’t something else at work as well.
This is a fairly fresh line of thought, so bear with me if it seems poorly thought out (or just flat-out wrong).
I’m reminded of how some Jews in concentration camps became agents of the Germans against their own kind. I’m also reminded of stories I’ve heard about how some Black people treat other Blacks. Similar stories come from Latinos, Asians and almost any grouping of humanity you care to name. It seems like any group that has been socially forced into a secondary position has among it what might almost be called traitors to that group.
It may be that this simply reflects, in the small, humanity in the large. There have always been traitors to humanity; those out for their own gain regardless of its effects on others. In fact, it may be merely a matter of there always being the sociopaths and psychopaths among us. (Some studies show that 5% of CEOs are (non-violent) psychopaths. A certain lack of humanity is almost required to be a successful CEO in charge of thousands of careers and lives.)
But a germ of a thought I had (and need to explore further) is whether there is an element of self-hate involved. Being born into a genetic group with no hope of ever leaving that group could cause resentment if you perceive your own group as diminished in society’s eyes. A woman I knew once told me how much she hated the ‘being weaker’ aspect of being a woman.
As a white male, I am (at least in the USA) the “social default,” so I don’t really experience that. (I recall an account by, if I recall correctly, Chris Rock, who spoke of how amazing it was to visit Africa and be the social default there.)
But as someone who has sometimes had weight issues, I do know what it’s like to be immediately filed as “lesser” upon sight. And I do have some inkling of self-hatred in that regard. Society views over-eating and under-exercising as a personal problem (which to an extent, it is), so if one struggles with that (as so many do), one can grow to loath that part of ones self.
So my question, then, is whether that translates to hatred for the group. If one resents being born a woman, or Black, or gay, or whatever, can that turn outward in a kind of mental self-defense? Combine that with avarice and self-interest and social disconnection, and you have a monster.
This seems to explain the problem I’ve always had with the ‘scarce resource’ theory. Why is it that women in business are harsh with other women, but not with other men.
Is it a matter of only viewing other women as the competition? Or is it some part of it anger turned outwards? Or something else entirely?
For what it’s worth, I first started pondering the idea of self-hatred a few years ago after reading the front page of this blog by Ana Marie Cox. I had rather a fan-crush on her after seeing her on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC. She was so highly intelligent and interesting to watch; one of the most expressive of Rachel’s guests.
In any event, on her blog she describes herself, “I am a Wonkette emerita, political junkie, self-hating journalist and occasional grown-up”
And I thought, how can someone with so much experience self-hatred? That started me pondering the matter, and I realized it can have all sorts of manifestations.
For instance, struggling unsuccessfully with a weight gain. Or, with regard to a journalist, perhaps in terms of ‘selling out’ to accommodate and facilitate a career (I have no idea what Ana Marie Cox meant; I’ve never seen it explained). It could be any place where your actions end up in conflict with your heart or your mind. We humans are, at least in part, driven by our desires and our perceived needs. Sometimes those conflict with our sense of what is “right” (which is an issue worth examining on its own; maybe you’re following what you’ve been told is right, what you’ve accepted as right, without really thinking it through).
Is the answer to buckle down and ignore ones desires? Perhaps in some cases, yes. In others, it might be more appropriate to examine your assumptions. I once was trying to console a very distraught friend, and the conversation went something like this (this was back in my college days, 35 years ago):
Her: “I’m exhausted and miserable from working two jobs. It’s just driving me down!”
Me: “That sucks. Why are you working two jobs?”
Her: “Because I’m trying to save up to buy a house.”
Me: “Okay… why are you so interested in owning a house?”
Her: “…Well, I guess because I’m supposed to. Isn’t that how life goes?”
Me: “[shrug] I donno. Do you really want a house?”
Her: “…No… I guess not really, it’s just what you’re supposed to do.”
Me: “But if it’s making you miserable, why do it?”
She quit the second job and was a lot happier. And while it might seem like the exchange above was obvious, I think it shows that we can become so wrapped up in our goals that we lose sight of who we are. Especially now, with life moving so fast, it can be hard to stop and catch your breath.
That’s why I think it’s good to be sure to snag some “me” time for quiet reflection and self-examination. I like to smoke a good cigar once in a while, and that takes about an hour where all you can really do is just sit, puff-puff and think. Cigars might not be your style, but find something that lets you listen to your inner voice.
It might well be trying to tell you something.