Comparison is an infrequently talked about feminist issue. Perhaps it’s because comparison and competition between women is a less overt form of sexism, perpetrated by women against other women and themselves. It’s a subtle and cruel practice that all women could benefit from letting go.
Why? Comparison means you’re judging yourself against another women and determining one of you is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the other. Well, have I got news for you? Life is not a competition. You are no better or worse than other women. We’re all just living our lives the best we can with the tools we have at our disposal.
The reasons people use to determine themselves superior or inferior to others can be quite arbitrary and hard to quantify: I’m smarter than her, she’s got fatter thighs than me, she dates terrible guys, she dresses like a slut. All of these sorts of thoughts and their ilk are anti-feminist, yet plenty of feminists will still fall into the trap of comparison and competition with other women. Heck, I know it’s a toxic practice and I still find myself doing it.
To give you an idea, let’s look at three common comparisons and why they’re toxic.
‘I can’t believe she would let herself go like that’ says you think you are somehow a ‘better’ person than someone else whose body, life and challenges you’re not privy to. Maybe she is on anti-depressants that cause weight gain. Perhaps she’s taking a stand against society’s beauty myth by not pandering to it. Maybe she doesn’t have the income to spend oodles of cash on being plucked, waxed, dyed, tanned, lipo-sucked and implanted to the point of looking like the beauty standard. Here’s the truth: how you look has 0% to do with the contents of your character. The number on the scales does not make you better or worse than someone else.
‘As a mother, I don’t think women without children have any right to comment on parenting styles’ says you think you are somehow superior and smarter than another woman simply because she’s not given birth. For starters, I think I missed the memo that says you get a sudden increase in brain power when you give birth, so it’s an utterly ridiculous statement. Perhaps the lady you’re judging can’t give birth, perhaps she has chosen not to: neither of these things makes her less intelligent or makes you more qualified than her to comment on parenting. We all have parents, we all live in a society where others’ parenting styles affect us, many people without children still have experience taking care of them (babysitting, teaching, younger siblings). Maybe that women you judge is an expert in early childhood studies. Maybe not. Regardless, it’s a hurtful thing to say and it degrades childless women.
‘She’ll sleep with anyone! She’s such a slut’. Slut shaming has had a bit of media interest in recent years. It’s important we look at how slut shaming brings women down. Why should another woman be judged as somehow ‘bad’ for wanting to explore and express herself sexually? Maybe she’s genuinely trying to find love and her partners keep dumping her. Is she a bad woman for moving on and trying to find love again with another person? Is she bad for being duped into bed by someone professing love only to be dumped? Or maybe she doesn’t want to commit right now. She could be emotionally unready for commitment, about to move overseas, or she values her independence. In reality, how is another woman’s sexual choices any of your business at all?
Now before you start thinking, “Argh! I’m a terrible person, I compare and compete all the time”, let me remind you, that’s how we’ve been taught to behave. The Biggest Loser, The Bachelor, fashion parades, magazines, movies, our partners, our parents, schools… the ways in which society constantly teaches us to judge, compare and compete are endless.
But the good news is, now that you know the problem exists, you can start to recognise when it is happening and make a change for the better. You can ignore the haters who are judging you. You can recognise when you are competing and comparing and stop yourself. You can start to support and love other women regardless of their life choices, their dress, and their looks. You can free yourself and others from the pressure of being a ‘perfect’ woman, because nobody is perfect.