Thursday, February 10, 2011

Power in Numbers

I live in an apartment with three bedrooms: two singles and one double. I live in a single, as does one girl I vaguely knew before move-in, and the double is occupied by two girls who are very good friends.

The girls in the double are the ones in power, even though they're only 50% of the people living in the suite. They determine the level of cleanliness me and the other girl are expected to live by. They rearranged the common room furniture after moving in, and then re-arranged it this semester. The common room is full of their belongings.

This is not new for me. In fact, almost every set of roommates I had new each other well before moving in, and because they were so close and lived in the same room, they made the decisions, and often took over the common areas of the apartment, usually without consulting the odd girl out.

I've seen this power dynamic other places as well, like on the sidewalk. When people walk in a group, they're less likely to make room for anyone trying to get past them. When girls are mean, they're usually mean in groups, often swarming an individual as their attack method. To put it simply: people have more power in groups than they do alone.

Not a ground-breaking discovery, I know. But considering this principle, it's no surprise that the second wave feminist movement grew out of women getting together in groups and talking. Women gain power when they work together.

The problem is, we don't. Sure, girls have friendships and sisterhoods. Problem is, there's a lot of fighting between girls and between groups, even sororities compete for members, bids to pair up with fraternities for events, and even general prestige - not to mention countless games between Greek houses. Girls are in constant competition with each other, and they learn this from an early age when they watch Disney movies where a female villain tries to screw over a pretty girl to get the attention of a man. Many girls may understand that this is wrong at first, but that virtue may go out the door when girls realize that they need to do just that.

And we live in a competitive society as it is. Kids compete in sports and spelling bees, teenage girls compete for homecoming queen and prom queen (traditions my school thankfully got rid of), and teenagers of both genders compete for grades, scholarships, spots on teams and roles in plays, and finally college admissions. And the competition never stops. Ever.

So if both genders compete all through life, why do girls seem more competitive against each other than guys, and why are they more likely to compete against other girls than guys? Is it that they don't think they're strong enough, or smart enough, or good enough to win against guys, or do they avoid it out of fear of intimidating guys, thus turning them off? After all, even modern relationship advice warns women against being too intimidating. A guy needs to feel manly, and masculinity involves being dominant - the best.

So if being dominant and being the best is so important to men, why aren't they the more competitive gender? Maybe it's because men are more confident than women. Men's self-esteem isn't eroded nearly as constantly by the media as women's self-esteem, and men typically have outlets for their competition such as sports and video games. Where do women compete? Women do play sports and video games as well, but competitions that really test which women are "better" are things like beauty pageants and ____ queen competitions (homecoming queen, spring fling queen, prom queen, carnival queen, etc.). And let's not forget that cheerleading, one of the few sports where women need to look good while they compete, is the most widely accepted sport for women in this country.

Remember, beauty pageants were created as a way to remind women of their "priorities" in the wake of them getting the right to vote.

Too many women and girls make comments, either directly or to their peers, about other women. Typically, those comments insult the woman in question's appearance, figure, fashion choices, makeup, complexion, hair, etc. - or they insult her for being a bitch (unfeminine) or call her a slut (immoral). When girl is laughed at by her female peers in the classroom, it's not because she was necessarily wrong, but that she dared to try being smart instead of merely pretty - the mocking is even worse when the girl in question had the gall to speak with authority instead of uptalk and sprinkle her speech with "like," "um," and "you know?"

Many people blame the patriarchy for all this. I'm not sure whether men decided to do this intentionally, but it certainly benefits them to have girls fighting each other all the time. The infighting means less solidarity, less power, and less awareness of the gender inequality that still remains.

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