This week I spoke at the Women’s Bible study on Philippians 4:1-9 (Audio at the bottom). This passage has an interesting beginning to it because Paul starts by admonishing two female leaders in the church. He never specifies what the problem was, but he encourages them to be of one mind and to live together in harmony.
When I first encountered this passage, I was a little frustrated. I mean, women already have the reputation for being catty. Do we really need a Scriptural passage to reinforce it? To be fair, we really have no idea what was going on between these two women–they could have had a genuine disagreement over how to disperse the church’s resources, and their feelings got hurt along the way. No claws necessarily came out. But even so, it caused me to stop and ponder why it is that women are so darn competitive.
I talked about this some in my message this week, but I wanted to highlight a few tidbits from it because I found this information to be so fascinating:
• More than 90 percent of women of different social strata claim that envy and jealously toward other women colors their lives
• 80 percent of women say they have encountered jealousy in other females since they were in grade school
• 90 percent of women in diverse jobs report that competition in the workplace is primarily between women, rather than between women and men
• More than 65% said that they were jealous of their best friend or sister
I found these statistics in a book entitled Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth about Women and Rivalry by Susan Shapiro Barash. Barash is not a Christian author, but she’s written a lot about female relationships. In this particular book, she included an explanation for female competitiveness that I found to be very insightful. She wrote:
“Our definition of ourselves is bound up in our perception of other women. We see ourselves through comparisons with our mother, our sisters, our friends, and our colleagues. For a whole host of reasons, we have a hard time seeing ourselves as separate individuals with destinies of our own. Instead, we view our identities as a kind of zero-sum game: We succeed where our mothers fail; we gain what other women lose. We can’t envision succeeding or failing on our own terms; we can only measure ourselves against other females. So first we envy the powerful women we see in the media, and then we symbolically triumph over them as they crash and burn.”
In other words, competition between women ultimately stems from finding our identities in something other than Christ. Namely, we are measuring ourselves against one another and against some vague, cultural conception of what “the perfect woman, wife and mother” looks like. Before the Fall, we were free to enjoy relationships, but ever since then we’ve been using relationships for our own broken purposes.
Barash’s comments were revelatory to me. Women do often function in a zero-sum game mentality, as if there can only be one winner. We have a scarcity complex, as if there’s not enough of God’s goodness and blessing to go around, so we need to fight for it.
That is why, in the face of our “threatening” sisters, we need to remember two things:
1. God’s love and grace are infinitely abundant. He will never run out of good, unique plans for His children. We don’t have to feel as if one women’s triumph is at the cost of every other woman around her.
2. God has a different plan for each of us. I like what Barash said about individual destinies. Rather than try to conform our lives to some pre-determined cultural mold, and subsequently feel like a failure when some part of your life does not, focus on the plan God has for you. then you won’t be stuck comparing yourself to others to see how you’re doing.
Some interesting things to think about. But the main thing to remember is that in a culture where women are so highly competitive, this is an area in which we can easily stand out. The first step in doing this is acknowledging that we women are competitive and understanding why: That is, we’re sinners in need of the peace and security of life in Christ.[audio:http://sheworships.com/media/Philippians_Part_5.mp3]