Text by Shandy Koh

The media seems stuck on the notion of female rivalry, perpetuating stereotypes that pit women against each other. Take “Mean Girls,” for instance. instance. In the movie’s closing moments, Regina George delivers a cutting line to Cady Heron just before a bus collision: “They say you’re a homeschooled jungle freak who is a less hot version of me.” This climactic confrontation between Cady and Regina pretty much sums up the intense competition Regina felt towards Cady—complete with false rumours, gossip, exclusion, popularity contests, and body-shaming. Yet, it’s not just Regina and Cady; nearly every other female character in the film displays similar behaviours towards each other. Some might argue that this is just Hollywood drama, but we cannot deny that stereotypes are caricatures of reality.

We are often turned off by these selfish characters, but maybe the truth is that we are looking into a mirror of sorts – an ugly, unsavoury reflection of our deepest thoughts. Consider this: we frequently hear the mantra of “girls support girls,” but do we genuinely uphold this standard? Phrases like ‘pick me’ and ‘not like other girls’ have become influential instruments in dividing women, suggesting that one way of being is superior to another. This division also spills into scenarios like the “Team Hailey Bieber” versus “Team Selena Gomez” saga, where the internet believes that one female celebrity is better than the other, even though the entire narrative is based on assumed feuds stemming from their intertwined history (and present) with Justin Bieber. The desire to be set apart while simultaneously conforming to some stereotype is a shared sentiment among girls though we often conceal carefully it out of shame. This self-doubt can lead to hidden self-loathing, not just for ourselves but also for the women around us.

Facing judgement for reacting naturally as a human is an experience that women around the world can relate to. It’s as if you’re caught between a rock and a hard place, with no winning outcome. This is because whenever you engage in comparisons with other women, you will ultimately lose. In hindsight, as I reflect on the instances where I’ve found myself in rivalry with other women, I realise that it often stems from a sense of insecurity about what other women possess that I might lack. While some may chalk it up to human nature, to me, it appears that the real culprit behind these dynamics is the patriarchy. Sure, society has made some strides, but our culture and systems remain rooted in misogyny.

‍Women are constantly expected to navigate a fine line, striving to meet everyone’s expectations of an elusive “ideal.” It often seems like there’s not enough room for women to progress together, which is why competition becomes the default method to secure the place we rightfully deserve. However, the idea that one woman deserves more than another hinders the progress of feminism and empowerment. It keeps the patriarchal forces in place, preventing us from fully celebrating our collective achievements and supporting one another. To borrow a phrase from Jessica Knoll in her GIRLBOSS interview, “I’ve started stepping back and saying, “I’m not catty, I’m not jealous. You put me in this position.” We can find an empowering response: “I refuse to let this culture define me or define my relationships with other women anymore. I’m going to be the one to define them.” Upon reading this interview, I recollected instances when I unfairly judged women for simply being themselves, all the while knowing there were times when others did the same to me.

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I made a conscious decision to bring about change, starting from within. As women, we find ourselves in a position shaped by a patriarchal system that is often unkind to us. This is why it is crucial to intentionally disengage from the sexist values we’ve been taught, realign with our selves, and make a conscious effort to perceive other women as allies rather than enemies. The idea of “girls support girls” should not be a choice we make at a certain point; it is a fundamental requirement as women to uplift and protect our kind. The ongoing rivalry perpetuated among women is an exhaustive game with no true winners. It mirrors a real-life version of “Mean Girls,” but instead of tearing each other down, we have the power to rewrite the script.

Picture a scenario where we consciously choose to uplift one another, finding inspiration in each other’s accomplishments and strengths. This intentional shift becomes a collective stance against societal norms that seek to set us back. The message I wish to convey is that we need to free ourselves from the ceaseless cycle of women pitted against women. Choosing to defy societal norms that breed unhealthy competition is a deliberate choice that we, as women, need to start making. Actively supporting and celebrating one another, finding inspiration in our shared strengths, is not just a choice but a necessity. By cultivating a culture of empowerment, we carve out a space where women can truly thrive. It’s time for a shift in mindset and a collective commitment to uplift each other.