I was only 13 when I first experienced it. My three best girlfriends handed me a letter. It said they no longer wanted to be my friends. The only reason given was, “The guys pay you too much attention.” After delivering the letter, they simply shunned me.
The seismic waves of this emotional earthquake affected me for years, but upon reflection, I don’t think my friends were trying to be mean on purpose. They were simply trapped in the female competition game. The unwritten rules of the game are simple: male attention is the price, the means for achieving worth. Other women are rivals, competing for a seemingly limited resource. The problem is that it’s a game no-one ever wins!
And if you’re a woman and have ever walked into a room and, after looking at other women, immediately felt ugly, too tall, too short, too chubby or too skinny, you’ve entered the game.
We women are bombarded daily with the idea that our value lies in how attractive we appear to others—men. It’s the underlying message of many ads and the explicit message of many music videos. This lie can easily elevate male attention to a place that should only belong to God. When we buy into this idea, we compete for male attention as a form of validation.
Female competition is a social trap, and it “comes from a place of emotional deprivation,” writes Jennifer Kromberg in Psychology Today. “The person who fights for attention isn’t trying to get more of a good thing, but trying desperately to get enough attention to fill a missing part of herself.”
And while male attention cannot fill the missing part in our souls, seeking it can easily become addictive and perpetuate a vicious cycle. Such women become serial attention seekers, vulnerable to people preying on their need for attention and vulnerable to becoming emotional predators as well—flirting with someone just to get an attention fix and feel desirable. It’s a toxic behaviour that denies our inner self-worth and makes us fight with each other for a counterfeited version.
Karl Marx once said that a factory owner could subjugate his employees by turning them against each other. When every worker believes that his enemy is another job-seeking worker, they will all fail to recognise how the owner is exploiting them and getting rich off their labours!
Maybe we’re too busy competing with other women to see who’s profiting from it. Stasi Eldredge, author of Becoming Myself, says, “Whether we are aware of it or not, when we hate women, we are hating ourselves, cooperating with the Enemy, and perpetuating grave damage. . . . When we are jealous, envious, slandering other women, we join the Enemy’s assault on them.”
The real enemy is not another woman but the feelings of unworthiness, inadequacy and fear planted in our hearts by Satan.
It takes courage to stop numbing the pain with male attention and take an honest look at our hearts. To stop competing with other women, we need to admit that there’s a wound that fuels our behaviour. There’s vulnerability in the process.
But imagine what could happen if we stopped wasting our emotional energy on trying to be “better than” or dreading the thought that “we’re worse than.” Just imagine: What if we had nothing to prove? We could look at other women and know that God is writing a unique story in their lives too. Their success wouldn’t threaten us and their struggles wouldn’t give us an advantage. We could afford to be compassionate and kind, because God is writing a unique story in each of our lives.
“When you discover God’s plan by tapping into your gifts, talents and passions,” writes author and speaker Suzie Botross in She Will Run, “you will have less desire to compete with others. . . . [It] is so much more productive, natural and rewarding being a first-hand ‘you’ rather than being a second-hand ‘her.’ ”
Be exactly who God intended you to be. Stop comparing. Jesus is the unchangeable Source of self-esteem and value.
“You don’t need a man by your side to validate you as a woman,” says author and pastor Rob Bell. “You’re already loved and valued. You’re good enough exactly as you are. If you embrace this truth, it will affect every area of life, especially your relationship with men.”
Making Jesus your soul Anchor is more than intellectually assenting to this truth. It means coming to Him with your brokenness every time you’re tempted to “medicate” your soul. Healing won’t happen overnight, but He will heal you.
A ticking clock
Female competition has heightened over the years, especially as marriage becomes increasingly rare and eligible men become seemingly endangered. What happens when you see friends around you finding their soul mates, getting married and starting families, while you spend most evenings at home with dinner for one? There are many independent women who are mastering the fine balancing act of remaining emotionally available without compromising values, becoming overly eager or giving in to cynicism. But these same women are also watching their fertile years go by, wondering whether God has forgotten all about them. A friend even recommended that I freeze my eggs just in case (I’m 33 and single)! There’s no denying it, waiting is hard.
Yet there’s real peace in trusting and accepting God’s timing. It helps us to interpret other women’s successes as signs of God’s faithfulness rather than as indicators of our failures. According to Botross, when you “recognise that God’s plan is the best plan for your life, and it will come to pass at the appointed time, . . . suddenly the pressure to compete . . . evaporates. We will get to where God wants us to be when He wants us to get there.”
There’s no need to push and shove to get to the front of the line. You can’t miss out on what God has for you, whatever that may be.
When we stop competing, we start connecting. Because we stop seeing other women as rivals, we can afford to let our own guards down. Connection destroys the vicious cycle of competition-isolation-alienation and brings healing. As a senior editor of Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal, Amy Simpson says it allows us to rediscover the “bolstering power in forging a bond with another woman who also goes through the daily exercise of mustering the courage to be true to self and honest with the world.”
Inevitably, we will encounter women who still buy into the competition trap—women who can trigger our competitiveness or make us feel inadequate. We must recognise these women as victims of a false validation system and show them compassion. When we encounter a competitive woman, media critic Caroline Heldman advises us to “practise active love. Smile at her. Go out of your way to talk to her. Do whatever you can to dispel the notion that female competition is the natural order.”
Jesus said, “I demand that you love each other, for you get enough hate from the world!” (John 15:17, 18, TLB).* This generous love isn’t easily achieved, but it has the power to transform our lives and set us free.