Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice. That is what girls, and subsequently women, are made of. So, why is it, I wonder, that we aren’t actually Everything Nice to each other, or to ourselves?
I went to a shower recently for a friend of mine who I have known all my life. The shower was at a lovely country club, and I walked in with a group of women, most of whom were mothers of high school friends. I followed behind them into the reception room and smiled when we made eye contact. Even though I was dressed as they were and though I look surprisingly the same 10 years later, they were not as friendly as I would have hoped, not even holding the door open as I tried to squeeze through before it closed. They were surprised when I tried to stop the door from closing in my face as they entered the reception room, me a step behind the group. We were all attending the same event – one of the most enjoyable feminine events we could ever attend – yet somehow, I was not enough of something to merit good manners.
We talk about the gender divide, the gap between women and men, the disparity of the sexes, equal pay for equal work, etc. But what about the divide that actually exists within our own gender? Maybe it is not as predominant as it appeared to me while attending that baby shower, but I do believe that this tendency to sidestep kindness or friendliness amongst women, at times, is more common than we would like to admit, particularly if we don’t know the woman behind us in line, or if we feel intimidated by the one who sits next to us at work. What is it about an attractive, well-dressed woman, a seemingly successful woman standing behind us at the Starbucks, for instance, that makes us feel… anxious… or like we should stand up taller? You know how it goes, the casual way of dropping the high-end designer purse or its price tag into the conversation, or the doting on the new diamond ring that was upgraded recently. We are trying to prove that we are significant, that we have status, that we are important. It goes on and on.
In my own moments of comparing myself to the Wonder Woman, Super Mom, Business Barbie behind me who is undoubtedly finding the cure for cancer in her spare time (or at least she is doing all this in my head), I have doubted myself. I have felt a bit less self-confident because I felt intimidated by her. I wondered whether I am as “something” as she was, as pretty, or as successful. I was trying to measure myself against this woman based solely on what she looked like, what she was wearing and her general demeanor. I did not even know her! Somehow, though, I felt like I had to, I had to be as much something as she was. But it’s true, and it is not uncommon.
With all these observations, I started discussing them with friends, and really giving some thought to this behavior. Why do we do this? Why do feel like less than our fabulous selves if someone as equally talented or attractive is in our comfort zone? And on the flip side, if we find ourselves being that talented, attractive woman, why might we act in such a way as to promote another woman feeling less successful or beautiful? Does it make us feel like we are more important, or more prestigious? Not really. Neither role makes us feel truly and sustainably better about ourselves, nor does it make the other woman feel better about herself either. So, what are we doing? We are undermining ourselves and our purpose. I should smile at the woman in line, or feel inspired to be a better person, or appreciate her sense of style, but instead I thought she was wearing cuter shoes than I was and considered changing my coffee order to a skinny something or other.
So, after all of this self-realization, I discovered that in order to change any of what I have noticed, I could really only change myself. So, I have begun to challenge myself. I have challenged myself to be conscious of my self-talk during these moments of self-doubt, but even more importantly, I have challenged myself to be sensitive to the split second interactions with those around me, like smiling upon making any eye contact, or holding the door even if the person is a few more steps behind than the normal “hold the door” etiquette allows. And then, the idealistic wheel started turning…
Instead of just me making a difference, what if we all make a concerted effort to incorporate more kindness and more friendliness into our interactions amongst each other? What if we all hold the door for the woman with her hands full, or smile when we make eye contact with one another in the elevator. What if we all treat each other as we would our closest friends? With all of the voices in our head, the ones reminding us of the meeting next week, or the book club tomorrow, why not give them kinder and gentler words? It’s so simple, yet think about those repercussions. If a woman shows more friendliness to another, the woman receiving the kindness would likely do the same to someone else who would do the same to another woman, and the result? Boosting egos and changing the world with a simple act of kindness. Now, I may be reaching, but I truly believe that will bridge any gap, gender or otherwise. That will strengthen any cause for gender equality. That is innovative. That is feminine. And that empowers us to take on any challenge. Making the most of our strengths, our kindness and our confidence, we can do anything! If we as people treat each other fairly and kindly, we will set the example and the standard for how we as women should be treated, and we will then be left wondering, what gender divide?