Recently a colleague of mine shared with me about a conflict they are having with another colleague. Conflicts between the two of them have been bubbling for a while, my colleague is a networker, like I am - we both believe in lifting each other up, supporting other colleagues, referring to them, empowering ourselves and each other as colleagues. The other colleague of them is much more reproducing dynamics of “female rivalry”. They are part of the same network. My colleague was told they were too loud, sharing too often about their competences, too out there and everybody else from the network was feeling the same way about their behaviours.
This rivalry behaviour, that has a lot to do with envy, is deeply partriarchal on one hand and very common between women* on the other hand.
Envy is a very difficult feeling. It's projecting onto someone else, when often it's about vulnerability, feelings of insufficiency and inadequacy, feelings of lack and many times hidden desires. Envy is considered one of the mortal sins, has a strong culturally negative connotation and is therefore a rarely disclosed feeling. At the same time, envy is so deeply rooted in the hierarchical systems that humans created on this planet, driven by the pressure to become better, bigger, more successful. Goal is to have it all in order to be “somebody” and being “somebody” means being worthy, respected, loved, and safe.
Envy also comes up when one feels misunderstood, unheard, unrespected. When we use our voice, but remain voluntarily or involuntarily misapprehended or when others don't even take the time or energy to connect and understand, but rather project onto each other. This is the point where people trigger themselves continuously, without ever being open about what vulnerable topics this whole mess is actually about.
How often were you open about being envious?
I remember when I was in my early 20s, I was struggling with burnout, an eating disorder, grief and so many things on my plate. I was part of a therapy group of “overweight” women with eating disorders. There was a woman that I on one hand liked and on the other hand I was envious of. I was annoyed by her being so loud and open and unapologetic. She loved to sing and articulate her opinions to everybody. It really bothered me. I realised that she expressed so many things, that I refused myself to express - I told her. I told her that I was envious and in fact insecure embracing my voice, my body, my desire to be in the center of attention sometimes. That she is able to do everything that I can´t. In this moment she got really vulnerable too and shared how lonely and rejected by women* she has felt so long in her life. Because she always faced this energy of envy and projection from other women*. This was such an important moment in my life. I stepped into this uncomfortable place of admitting and accepting feeling something we are not supposed to feel and verbalize it out loud. And in this place I met another human, who shared their vulnerability with me. Real connection happened. Real healing happened. Because I realised that I will never ever put another human, another woman* down for using their voice and their body, for taking up space with their body, for being loud and authentic. I realised that, if I wanted to be authentically me, I would have to find ways to be that - best by doing it together with other people and lift each other up.
So, when my colleague told me what was going on, I remembered this situation. I remembered that the mutual ending of silence and shame, the openness and vulnerability that happened between me and the other women from group therapy back then was an enormous change and healing in my life.
Looking back at my life, listening to friends and colleagues and also clients, there is a core wound that is happening between women* (or people assigned female*): women* executing and perpetuating structures, mindsets, behaviours and mostly evaluating other women* (and their bodies!). Shaping them, belittling them, degrading them, shaming them so they would fit (better) in the molds of our patriarchal, racist, sexist, ableist, binary societies.
“You are too much!”
“You don't do enough!”
“You are too loud!”
“You are too big!”
“You want too much!”
Especially fat women* or women* with severe body image issues that come to me, share with me their self-doubt and self-hate about their bodies and their eating brought up by the women* who raised them.
Some women* might have done this to pass on a survival strategy to survive within structures that want you to be small and submissive to white man*kind. But in the end it´s a way of perpetuating a violent and harmful system that belittles everything and everyone that is not fitting those acclaimed ideals - and the majority of humans are affected by this. This system blows out our lights, ignores our diversities, erases our creativity, buries our talents and passions, negates our sexualities and foremost: our enormous power.
If you are not partaking in molding yourself into certain ideals and you decide to even dare to raise your voice or embrace your uniqueness - and that concerns every woman*, every Black Person or Person of Colour, every queer person, every disabled person - you become the “too much” person - the subersive, attention seeking kind, the too weird, too loud, too big, too ambitious, too ugly, too egocentric, too insane. Fill out whatever comes to mind.
What is needed after this “evaluation” to continue within this system is keeping your mouth shut, best feeling deeply ashamed or afraid. I hardly know anyone who hasn't a story to tell where one was shamed by someone else or called out for something they are or did, for not speaking up, feeling ashamed, feeling guilty. Many - go round and round in their heads to analyse the situation and find out what they could have done differently. Fuck it!
Shame and silence are THE two dynamics needed to perpetuate this system. And women* participate in it. Women* say these things to their daughters, other girls or women* mostly behind closed doors “to protect them”, “to help them”, because they “mean well” for them. BULLSHIT!
My colleagues colleague said to them “I only tell you to help you. I wish somebody had told me when I started if I did something wrong.”
So when they had an online network meeting, my colleague asked the network for clarity about their potential misbehavior, they would like to reflect and change their behavior, if needed. The reactions of the network showed: it wasn't remotely true. Nobody else felt that they were behaving in ways that were uncomfortable or annoying to others. Afterwards my colleagues colleague came to them, told them they were hurt by my colleagues “indiscretion”, by crossing a boundary by telling everybody.
DING DING DING! I am seeing red flags flying all over the place!
You know what´s ending shame and cycles of violence and bullying? Openness, speaking out, finding a voice, making it heard, being present, being there, being unapologetic.
You know why many of us don't embrace their full greatness and magnitude? It's not because we doubt our greatness (another bullshity myth!) - but because our core wound is that in this world, where women* are seen (and see themselves) as victims, where women support a system that shapes other women* into victims, whose own fault seems to be whatever happens to them - we are betrayed by the ones closest to us. Because behind closed doors, covered up by shame and silence, we are told, we should have known better, we should have behaved another way, or dressed another way, or spoken another way, even thought another way. Women* are shamed and betrayed by other women*. Women* are co-wounded by other women* - because instead of being empowered and embraced with all their abilities and possibilities, strengths and fears, they are put down by other women* - it's the ultimate betrayal in a patriarchal society that women* shame each other for their not-enoughness or too-muchness. Women* telling each other they will never be as good as a certain ideal construed by men*.
This is the reason so many of us question their bodies, their instincts, their intuitions, their decisions and their connections to others - questioning “what could I have done better/differently/more?”
At the end of this article, I want to say - I am a feminist, deeply to my very core.
And yes, I am still aware this system is called patriarchy for a reason. I am not saying it´s womens* fault. I am saying women have a core role in the perpetuation of these structures. This article might have come across as women* bashing. It really isn't. I want to voice a dynamic between women* that is creating damage and very deep wounds - let's address it. For me there was always that betrayal by women*, complicit to men* or silenced by shame, that shaped me much greater than any man that came into my life could. Denying each other that we address this, is silencing something quite important. I have been shamed into adressing this when I was younger - so I kept my mouth shut, because I was a feminist, because I know that women* are less privileged and have experienced so much violence, bullshit and whatnot in this society.
And in the end - I have healed so much in the arms and palms of women* and queers, where I could share this. Again today I was sharing in a round of lovely beings about feeling envious and shameful. I was heard and appreciated, not judged. This is authenticity and this is how healing happens.
I envision a world, where we can truly lift each other up, in our uniqueness, full of joy and gratitude about the awesome humans we are surrounded by.
So next time, when you hear or witness something, use your voice, shine your light, allow your whole big self to grow - support others in their being.
You may be a role model to any other little one or even grown up, who has never experienced that kind of support and empowerment. Using a voice can be that powerful.