‘other women are most of the time a woman’s worst enemy.’
My heart sank when I heard those words coming from the mouth of someone who I respect and admire. Why? Because I could actually understand where she was coming from. Not too long ago, those words could’ve easily come out of my own mouth. The ugly truth is that I saw myself in those words and it felt strange. It hurt because now I know just how untrue they are. In fact, if 2016 taught me anything, it was the power of female friendship (yay Meufs!) and it showed me the magic that happens when women decide to support each other. In short, this was the year I drank the modern feminist Kool-aid.
Earlier this year, I had the honor and the privilege of being invited to and attending the first ever women’s conference hosted by The White House called The United State of Women. The conference gathered women from all over the country and the world who were leaders in their fields and working towards progressing gender equality. You had civil rights advocates, entertainers, politicians, CEO’s, scientists, educators, artists. Virtually every group you can think of was represented by the speakers or by the attendees. Single women, married women, divorced women, gay women, straight women, trans women, virtually every shape, size, color, and flavor you could think of. While the speakers like Oprah, Michelle Obama, and feminist titan Gloria Steinem were all impressive, I have to admit I was equally blown away by some of the incredible females I met as attendees.
The energy was powerful, positive, and most importantly, open. Dialogue flowed, compliments were traded, business cards were exchanged, people were connected, friendships were forged…effortlessly.
I realized that the one thing that all these women had in common was the fact that they were comfortable being themselves and understood that we share a common desire and mission. We were there because we were all proud feminists.
That fact superseded who had the more impressive job title, foundation, bank account, dress, or looks. It feels almost silly to note but we mustn’t underestimate how society’s standards and artificial constructs of ‘worth’ change our perceptions and therefore behavior in social situations. We are socialized into being competitive with each other and have a tendency to turn to judgment when someone's mere presence makes our own inadequacies surface and we feel insecure.
But why? Why do we insist on putting up walls when we should be breaking them down? Why do we preemptively and unfairly judge when we feel like we have reason to be judged?
Sure, there were women far smarter, more beautiful, more impressive, infinitely more successful than I am at the conference. Did that matter though? No. It didn't matter because little ole' me was the last thing on my mind when I was there. I didn't feel threatened because it was the work that mattered. For a moment, I was able to get over myself and really focus on the bigger picture.
Back in the real world this lead me to wonder why I hadn't come to this realization sooner and this strongly before. I had developed strong female relationships, even ran a women's group. I thought I was over the whole 'insecure' thing generally speaking. But this was different. I don't know how to explain it but it was.
So... What about my pre-conference past had been so different? Why hadn't I experienced that moment of clarity before?
Turns out, part of the answer lay in the fact that I was too wrapped up in my negative narrative about women in general for too long to see that I'd been projecting my own insecurities onto virtually all new females coming into my life. I’d also allowed society to subconsciously reinforce the myth of the bitchy woman over and over again. In fact, had you asked me three years ago if I would be involved with or simply attend a conference like The United State of Women, I would've probably laughed at the idea and made a comment about preferring to avoid large groups of females in the name of self-preservation.
You see, although my views have changed significantly in the last two years, for the vast majority of my life I was what most people refer to as a "guys girl". I was raised with all boys and have what I've been told is a very masculine energy. In our society this translates to “you’re confident, direct, ambitious, and have no issues asking for what you want.” Even though those are human traits that aren't gender specific, I have to admit that I felt a weird sense of joy in considering myself ‘different’. 99% of my friends were male and life, as I saw it, was simpler that way. I was perfectly happy living in my woman-free bubble.
Due to this and because growing up and until recently I had some unpleasant experiences with other females, my ego’s attempt to protect me led me to buy into the story that women were more trouble than they were worth. Females were dramatic, fussy, duplicitous, unsupportive, and jealous humans. By having preconceived notions about what I could expect, I'd always approached other women with a solid guard up.
Don't get me wrong, I'd always been nice and very friendly, but getting to know the real me wasn't ever on the table, even for some of those closest to me. This caused me to feel lonely and progressively more resentful, insecure, and quite frankly made me a crappy friend to some of the women of my past. When I saw a strong, intelligent, and beautiful woman there was a part of me that resented her. I wanted to be like her and because I felt it wasn’t possible, I judged her and myself negatively for it.
Funny. Everything that I conveyed to others was simply an amalgamation of all the things that I felt were lacking in me.
I giggle when I think of that now but those feelings were very real and the consequence of living in a world where the media feeds everyday women like me different flavors of ‘you’re not good enough’ daily and from a very young age. Even though I’m NOT 5’9, NOT a Silicon Valley CEO and still feel insecure sometimes, today I feel strong, beautiful, and intelligent and I’m not going to lie, it feels damn good.
Now when I see a woman who has traits I admire, I take a moment to dream a little and wish her well. Truth is, as women we’re in this together and the only way we’re going to create lasting change where feminism as a movement will be a thing of the past will be if we connect with that higher purpose... If we begin to focus more on our shared struggle rather than in the differences that trigger such unhealthy emotional responses we will realize that those pesky doubts are inside of all of us. If we start exercising the ‘I’m good enough’ muscle in our brains we'll be able to come to terms with the fact that it's ok to not be the most beautiful, smart, or successful woman in the room. Matter of fact, it's impossible.
The contrast in our lives provides valuable opportunity for growth. We need to take advantage of it. When we do, we'll realize that our self worth is nothing to be sourced externally and we will begin to really understand and own our personal power. When we do, the world will inevitably change and there will be nothing to stop us.
So in conclusion, thanks Obama. You, Biden, and Michelle helped me prove that my friend at the beginning of this post was wrong. Other women aren’t the problem holding us back. Our worst enemy isn’t even the patriarchy we’re trying to destroy--if we really band together, it doesn’t stand a chance anyway.
Our worst enemy will always and forever be ourselves. The good news? We can be our own best allies too.
The way I see it we have a choice. We can continue to be a part of many measly two-person teams with our egos and let them, and a bunch of dudes create our future or we can can join the most powerful squad on the planet and do some amazing things.
The future is female. The sooner we embrace and honor that fact, the sooner we’ll see the change we so desperately want to see in the world.
*A special shout out goes to two of the wonderful ladies I met at the conference: Abby Finkenauer, young and incrediby smart and driven Iowa legislator and Shay Spaniola, Founder and CEO of Bunglo, a heart driven and divinely inspired homegoods business.
(I picked Soy Yo by Bomba Estereo as the song for this post because it's unapologetic, catchy, and all things playful, quirky, and happy latino woman in a song. Hope you enjoy!)