Are women constantly competing with one another for male attention?
I have grown to hate beginning a sentence with, “Men_____,” but am going to do it now, because I can’t quite think of how else this sentence could begin, but also seeing as we are responding to sweeping stereotypes about women, it seems apt.
I almost tweeted something last week that began, “Men insist women are always in competition with one another, but…” The tweet got longer and longer, and I determined this particular stereotyping required more breadth, so I gave up and drafted it, but a post from a podcaster I listen to regularly, Chris Williamson of Modern Wisdom, reminded me to revist the concept of “female competition” — specifically men’s conception of it.
Stereotyping requires caveats, so to be clear, I don’t think women only have “saintly motives.” They indeed can be, as Williamson reminds us, “petty, vicious, and conniving.” I also don’t think women never compete with one another. Women can be horrid to one another — I’ve experienced it firsthand within the feminist movement. And oftentimes it reads as envy — women who rise to the top are clawed at in an effort to topple them from their high horse.
This is not about positioning women as “good” and men as “bad.”
But in the realm of male heterodox/health/psychology/wellbeing content creators, which I see Williamson as a part of, I’ve noticed there is much that men get wrong both about women and feminism. Unfortunately, because this world remains male-dominated (perhaps not so heterodox after all!), challenges to these misfires too often remain stuck in social media wars a la “rabid feminists vs feminist-hating men.” Which is to say, everyone leaves feeling they’ve “won,” returning to their own side triumphant and confirmed in their original view of the other side as stupid, bad, sexist/misogynist, or crazy, and no one changes their view on anything.
I have endless criticisms of modern feminism, myself. Indeed, I’ve made something of a career of it. There was much I missed along the way, to be sure. I can now see that there exist fair grievances from men who feel feminism has tried to force them into its own image and worldview and that generally feminists rejected anything resembling “nature” in favour of “nuture,” leaving us without an honest framework within which we might understand people’s behaviour.
But considering the nature of the complaint on the part of these men — that feminists have tried to force a world that is not honest to suit their interests, why don’t these men see when they do the same to women?
What I see in these men’s assessment of “female competition” is an assumption that is based on their own worldview.
Williamson is an intelligent guy and a very good interviewer. Modern Wisdom is, as I mentioned, one of my go-to podcasts. But I think he, like many of the other men in this heterodox/health/psychology/wellness sphere, doesn’t understand women as well as he assumes he does.
His newsletter this week aimed in part to defend some points he’d made the prior week, which attempted to explain women’s distaste for both prostitution and age gap relationships (specifically ones featuring older men with much younger women) in terms of “female competition.”
Williamson argues that “Studies show women are more likely to express aggression toward women who are dressed more promiscuously, showing more skin” and that “most slut shaming comes from women, not men.”
“Why?” he asks.
Williamson responds to his own question, saying, “If one woman offers blowjobs on the second date, it’s harder for other women to keep them in reserve until the fourth date as their special treat.”
The initial argument that “got him in trouble” was in saying that “women’s disapproval of sex work was their intrasexual competition at play, trying to control the sexuality of other women.”