On The Power Of Sisterhood
Since I began to swim competitively at the age of eight, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t competing against other women. I competed against the other girls to be better, faster, and stronger. For years, I’ve spent practices challenging myself to swim faster than the other girls in my lane and, at swim meets, lined up behind the starting blocks alongside seven other girls, each more determined and laser-focused than the next.
Yet while my female teammates have been some of my fiercest competitors, they’ve also been some of my best friends. Through the grueling sets of laps, early morning practices, and championship races, my female teammates have undoubtedly been my strongest sources of support. After a bad race at a meet, I could always count on my teammates to cheer me up. After a great one, they were who I was most excited to celebrate with. Though we may have competed against each other for a place in the championship finals or a spot on the travel team, the competition between us was never about pushing each other down in order to succeed ourselves, but pushing each other to be better.
When I hit middle school, then high school, though, I realized that competing against my female peers was increasingly less simple than trying to finish with the fastest time in the 200 freestyle. In the “real world,” outside the four walls of my favorite swimming center, women were not always encouraged to support each other in the way that my teammates and I did.
Beginning my freshman year of high school, I spent less time swimming and more time involved in school. The girls in my grade and I idolized the gorgeous Instagram influencers who filled our feeds with perfectly filtered posts about their seemingly perfect—images that infiltrated into our real lives. During free periods, we would gather in the freshman lounge, the social center for underclassmen at my small high school. There I started comparing myself to and competing with the other girls not to be more hardworking, more driven, or more skilled as I had before, but to be prettier. To buy the more expensive winter formal dress. To own the hottest Sephora products. I often spent my time in the freshman lounge sizing myself up to the girls around me. Were her clothes more expensive than mine? Were they newer? Were they trendier? Did she look cuter than I did, and was that why the boy I liked paid more attention to her than to me?
This type of competition against my female peers didn’t make me better at doing the things I loved or help me accomplish important goals. Instead, it was a source of insecurity. I often felt resentful and bitter towards the girls who seemed to be doing better in these arbitrary contests of high school beauty and popularity.
Despite this rocky start, though, now, in my last year of high school, I feel that my female peers and I have pushed each other to grow into stronger, more open-minded women. I think we owe this growth to the mentorship of our amazing female teachers, coaches, and community members. My freshman English teacher, for example, taught me not to be afraid of speaking up in class. My mock trial coach taught me to say everything like I meant it; to always speak with confidence and conviction. My mentor in all things business-related, the CEO of a Portland-based tech company, taught me how to confidently network with people many years my senior. Thanks to them, I have learned to grow with the other girls in my class – who now inspire me every day to do better by myself, others, and our community. Because we were supported by smart, kind, accomplished female mentors, my friends and I grew from anxious freshmen into more self-assured, confident upperclassmen. We all learned that by supporting each other in our professional and personal endeavors, we could foster healthier environments where everyone could succeed.
Yet many young women never get this kind of mentorship. The widely popularized archetypes of the “catty woman” or “queen bee” perpetuate the idea that women in positions of power will refuse to help other women achieve that same status, for fear of losing their own high rank. Yet research shows that women do help and support each other, in both professional and personal realms alike. Women are more likely to hire other women. Women are more likely to give other women promotions. Women are more likely to mentor other women. Women don’t (and shouldn’t be encouraged to) root for another woman’s failure in order to succeed themselves.
So it’s time for our society to stop encouraging women to pit themselves against each other in both professional and personal realms. We must teach girls to build each other up rather than tear each other down. We need to stop telling them that another girl’s strength or success is the absence of her own. We have to foster environments where a girl in her freshman year of high school won’t compete with her female peers in petty battles over superficial characteristics and materialistic issues.
And not only must we stop tearing each other down, we must be allowed to compete with each other in a just, fair manner that allows us to make each other better. In a society where our commander-in-chief debases women and actively drives racial resentment and cultural divide, it is more important than ever for women to be there for each other. Because I refuse to believe that we must bring down others in order to succeed ourselves – we truly are stronger together.
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