Bottom of the Dogpile: An Experience of Female Aggression and Competition
Why It Matters
I’ve developed in my life a passion for supporting other women. I want to lift up every woman I meet and encourage her to be the best human being she has the potential to be. Why does this matter to me? Collectively, women have long been at the bottom of the dogpile. Call it nature’s sadistic trick or original sin since we took the initiative to talk to the serpent, but either way Jesus says with His life and death that curse of inequality has been broken through Him. So why do we linger in it? What amazes me isn’t the men who climb over us, use us to get ahead, or hold us down. No, I am amazed by all the other women who bite, scratch, claw, judge, and condemn one another more harshly than they would any man. Women who behave in this way toward other women are like freed slaves who are afraid to leave the plantation and claim their freedom. They know no other way. They would rather cling to their unjust masters than become the masters of their own fates.
Girls Can Be So Cruel to One Another
I have two experiences in my childhood which have shaped my viewpoint on this subject. The first has to do with a group of so-called friends, my first experience of harassment and torture outside my family, and the second has to do with my mother. Both were equally damaging to me growing up and grew a compassion in me to treat women differently.
I was having a horrible time at home the summer before my sixth grade year. I had just turned eleven and been handed an early womanhood. Just after the New Year, my mother’s violent, drug-abusing boyfriend had beaten her severely within a few breaths of her life. She finally left him after that incident, but then we were homeless. It was her and three kids living in the garage of a family friend for a few months. She tracked down my alcoholic father during that time and made a deal with him. She had friends in California who could get her a job and take her in, but she had to leave the kids. He would need to take care of us for just awhile until she got back on her feet again, and then she would send for us. She got us into an apartment before she left and made my father promise to stay sober and look for work. My younger brother was just seven. She put me in charge of taking care of him. The heaviness of the task weighed on me as he cried uncontrollably while her taxi pulled away from the parking lot. I took his hand in mine and gave up the rights to my own childhood in that moment. I was going to have to be the adult, and somehow I knew it. My father was not prepared to grow up so I had to do it.
It was a hard balancing act, trying to manage being a girl of eleven and also figuring out on my own what it meant to be a woman. At home I was barking orders like my mother, giving commands to the boys and my father, making sure everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing. Yet, I was also concerned about making friends in my apartment complex and worried about the transition from elementary to middle school in the fall. I met a girl we’ll call Mandy who was also half Asian and a year older than me, but going to the same grade. I liked her a lot, and we became fast friends. She would invite me over to her apartment quite often to hang out. I liked being there because her mother reminded me a little of mine. I missed my mother deeply so I spent too much time talking to Mandy’s mother in their kitchen when I visited. Mandy started getting annoyed with me for it and wanted to stop inviting me over, but her mother liked me and insisted she keep inviting me. So she did, even though Mandy began spending more time with the other girls she invited over than with me when I was there.
One night Mandy had a slumber party. I had never been allowed to attend one of those because I had a bedwetting problem. It was my mother’s rule that I was not allowed to attend sleepovers, but my mother was gone and my father didn’t care what I did. I was nervous to go, but I didn’t want to turn Mandy’s invitation down. There were going to be five other girls there, all the popular ones from the apartment complex. I wanted to be included even though I was anxious about my secret problem. So I accepted the invitation to go, prayed to God to keep me dry through the night, and drank as little water as possible that day.
Well, as you can imagine, the worst happened. I fell asleep on the floor at the foot of Mandy’s bed and when I woke up, I had peed all over her carpet. It was a pretty humiliating scene to say the least. I hadn’t brought a change of clothes either and had to walk home in wet clothes that morning. Here’s where the story gets interesting.
I knew Mandy hated me. I could feel it in the moment. I thought she would never want to speak to me again, but the next time I saw her she acted totally normal and friendly. I thought it was weird and my intuition was telling me to beware, but I was so lonely for friendship that I trusted her despite all my feelings. For the next week, she treated me like her best friend, invited me to go swimming and skating, and talked to me as if nothing was wrong. Even her real best friend, Connie, was being nice to me which was also unusual since she had always shown a jealousy toward my friendship with Mandy. Then it happened. Mandy said they were going to have a surprise birthday party for Connie that weekend, and I was invited. I asked if she was sure Connie wanted me to go and Mandy said that it was Connie’s idea to invite me. I was so happy to hear that. I felt like I was finally being accepted into their group. I even scrounged a few dollars together and bought her a gift, wrapping it in the comics section of the newspaper.
When I showed up at the party, it was an ambush. I knocked on the door and someone yelled come in. When I walked through the door, all five girls were standing there around a party table and looking menacingly at me. Connie approached me threateningly and said, “What are YOU doing here?” I told her, “Mandy invited me.” Mandy stepped forward then and said, “No I didn’t. She’s lying.” Connie stood close to me with her face in my face and yelled, “GET OUT OF HERE. NOBODY WANTS YOU HERE. NOBODY LIKES YOU!” I looked around the room and all the girls were in agreement. Something indignant in me rose up just then. I refused to leave and told her I had been invited and was going to stay. Connie grabbed my arm suddenly and twisted it, pulling it hard across my back in an upward direction. It felt like it was going to break. I screamed at her to let me go. As soon as she did, I threw the present on the floor and ran out of the apartment in tears.
That was enough, but it didn’t stop there. It was the beginning of an entire summer of harassment from this group of girls. They made my life a living hell. I could barely leave my apartment at times. They left nasty messages on my doorstep, threw rocks at the door if I tried to step outside, and told everyone about my bedwetting. It wasn’t a secret anymore. All the boys knew, but they were kinder to me than the girls and didn’t bring it up. I’d say the harassment would have lasted all year had fortune not intervened just before school started. A new girl moved into our apartment complex. I was the first to greet her and introduce myself so the first week or two she was there, we became friends. I hung out at her apartment once and thought she was nice. Then she met one of Mandy’s friends, and they began letting her hang out with them. Suddenly, she was no longer my friend. I felt sorry for her because they used her to harass me. They made her do things to prove she was one of them and not my friend. One day I was standing outside around the steps to my apartment and this gang of girls marched right up to me with an obvious plan. They had the new girl in the front of the pack. She looked nervous. They pushed her forward towards me and said to go ahead. The new girl began trying to get in my face and be rude to me. I stepped back from her, refused to fight her, and told her to leave me alone. At the insistence of the group, she stepped forward and pushed me aggressively. We were standing on a kind of incline then in the grass which sloped upward. I had a decent footing and didn’t fall backward. She was standing downhill so when I shoved her back as hard as I could, she lost her footing and tumbled all the way down to the sidewalk just below us. I have to admit it did look pretty impressive. The girls just looked at me in amazement and scattered. They never bothered me again.
The experience left its mark on me however. I suppose if I had never met any nice girls at school, I would not want to have any female friends at all. Yet once I started school, I made a friend here or there who also knew what it was like to be on the outside looking in. I always made my friendships on the fringes or the margins in life. I was drawn toward individuals who thought for themselves and didn’t buy into the groupthinking. I even found some kindness and genuineness in a few female friends that year so the experience of the summer didn’t make me bitter, but grew in me a deep compassion for every woman. I realized at some point that we are all the same, even the meanest girls have their share of insecurities and scars. There’s always a reason people behave the way that they do. If there’s one thing you learn in those experiences it’s that it isn’t ever about you.
Before my mother left me, she did her damage too. As early as I can remember, my mother was always comparing me to someone else’s daughter. I realized into my adulthood that this was a tactic she was trying to use to manipulate me into whatever behavior she desired of me at the time, but it was painful and scarring. She would tell me that her friend’s daughter was so beautiful, so Korean-looking, so graceful, and so elegant and why couldn’t I be just like her? I’d look in the mirror at my Americanized face and my sandy brown hair crying that I wasn’t more Korean. I thought it was something I’d done wrong and didn’t attribute it to the fact my mother had chosen to marry my American father and have half-Korean kids. I was always too this or too that, not enough of anything, and too much like my father.
My mother pitted me against every girl that crossed our paths and somehow they were always better than me. I fell short every time. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I be more like her? She’s so talented and beautiful. What I would give to be praised and loved. I wanted to be anyone else other than myself. My mother would even say things like, “I have a friend whose daughter is twice as fat as you, but she still dresses nicer and has better style.” I might have been nine or ten when she said that to me. The takeaway from those experiences was I’m not good enough and literally ANY girl is better than me. One of the most memorable compliments my mother has ever given me in my life is, “You aren’t pretty. You aren’t thin. But you have a good heart.” I clung to that for dear life. It was the most nurturing thing my mother had ever said to me when I was a child. I had a good heart. I was a good person. So I didn’t have to be pretty or attractive in all those other ways as long as I was nice to people.
I spent my childhood and my teenage years in particular not only comparing myself to everyone else, but never measuring up. I esteemed all other women above me. I was nothing, but they were everything I could never be. It affected me deeply even into my adulthood, leaving me with feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy I had a hard time shaking. I truly believed I was absolutely ugly until I was 27. I had such beautiful friends. Why couldn’t I have been born looking like any of them? It was agonizing for me. Yet I was blessed with many quality female friendships in my 20’s. I was known in my group of friends as the support system. They echoed what my mother said about me, telling me I have a heart of gold. I was always the bridesmaid and never the bride in a proverbial sense. However, I learned a lot from them and enjoyed those relationships.
Well, I’ve changed a bit since then. I’ve learned to value my individuality and find beauty within my own uniqueness. I’ve learned the importance of being my own best friend and doing what makes me feel beautiful instead of focusing on other people’s standards of beauty. When you get into your 30’s I feel like the gift that age brings you is a certain kind of clarity and assurance in who you truly are, what you want, and what you deserve from life. I did a lot of work personally as well to work through the damage and understand it so that I could grow beyond it. I still have my triggers, and I avoid them usually, but I’ve found a way to manage the way I deal with the abuse done to me. I would say, however, that those experiences gave me a unique perspective on the way women compete with one another. It’s sad to me to watch women degrading and tearing one another down, especially when it involves trivialities like fighting over the affections of men. The way I see it, we have a long way to go with gender equality so our competition isn’t one another. In the fight for equality either in life or in the workplace, our competition should be men.
The Myth of the Weaker Sex
I grew up without a mother in a houseful of boys and men coming and going all the time. I was one of the boys and barely recognized as a girl. I preferred it that way. There was a safety in that environment of not being seen as a girl or a woman. I dressed in oversized men’s clothing a lot and cussed them when they cussed me. I fought when I had to fight too. For me, being one of the boys was necessary for survival. Women, I learned, were not the weaker sex, but the more vulnerable in certain ways. If you could protect your vulnerabilities, you could actually be stronger than the other guy when it came to most things. Also, most men are unusually weak when it comes to emotions. Maybe it's because they aren't encouraged to express them and are often forced to give the appearance of strength so in actuality they are emotionally unable to express themselves as openly as women. My father and his drinking buddies cried over the silliest things and gossiped worse than any women I had seen. And often it was up to me, even as a girl of thirteen, to make them feel less guilty, listen to their stories, and give them lessons on taking responsibility. It amazed me all my life that men were in charge of most things. There wasn’t anything they did that I couldn’t do. Most of the time in my world I was the one running things and keeping everyone going. It felt very unfair to me to have to relinquish my femininity in order to gain respect from the men in my life. Also, I was better than the men at most things, yet was overlooked or dismissed much of the time simply because of my gender. In my 20's I learned the power of mascara, but I felt reluctant when I had to use it to get a door opened for me. I wanted to open my own doors.
Fellas, This Isn't About You
I’m not really a feminist so much as I am a humanist. I believe in equality. I don’t believe gender should be a factor when it comes to deciding competency or value. My point is I’ve met more women who put down other women than I have met men who are chauvinists. It is women who criticize one another’s appearance, ridicule one another’s decisions, and compete with one another for men’s approval. Why do we do this to each other? Why do we cause one another pain and scars instead of having compassion for the plight of all women in general? We are all in the same pile, heaped at the bottom. When you tear down another woman, you are simply tearing down yourself.
© 2013 maramerce