Girls in competition: The pros and cons

'When it becomes ‘I have to beat you to feel better for myself,’ then it becomes unhealthy, because then that target is always moving'

A competitive attitude between girls can be beneficial, but there are also moments when it can backfire. Girls and women across the board may struggle to form lasting healthy friendships with other girls around them due to a sense of toxic competition or jealousy.

Vera Lopez, professor of justice and social inquiry at ASU’s School of Social Transformation, said a competitive atmosphere in school, sports or a work setting can potentially be healthy and helpful, if the environment allows girls to challenge and compete with themselves instead of with others.

“When it becomes ‘I have to beat you to feel better for myself,’ then it becomes unhealthy, because then that target is always moving,” Lopez said.

Lopez said in a Western culture that focuses on individualism and achievement-oriented success, it can become difficult for young women to feel good about themselves and their achievements compared to those of their peers.

"Ultimately if you have a good sense of self-confidence, you have good self-esteem, you feel nurtured, you feel loved, then you are open to developing lasting friendships with other girls," Lopez said.

This can become an even more difficult reality in college.

Gabby Soriano, a freshman studying digital marketing and psychology, attended an all-girls high school. She said it was an environment where a toxic, competitive attitude could be felt in almost every corner.  

Before starting, Soriano was aware of the stereotype that all-girls schools are very competitive. She didn’t believe it completely though, thinking the sentiment would apply more for an all-boys school. 

But her expectations were proven wrong. 

“You get in that environment and you see what they mean, because girls don’t manifest very overtly,” Soriano said. “They are not loud about it, it's very passive aggressive.” 

She saw this kind of attitude affect her friends and their ability to have a healthy mindset when it came to themselves and to making more friends.

“They get in your head and try to emotionally manipulate you, putting you down so they can put themselves up,” Soriano said.

Rebecca Striffler, a freshman studying sports journalism, shared similar feelings to Soriano. But in Striffler’s case, hers came in college.

Journalism is a competitive field to begin with, and sports journalism for women can become even more competitive. Striffler has found it difficult to form close friendships with some of the girls in her major.

“In a time when you should really be supporting each other, sometimes it feels like that support is masked behind a competitive attitude because it's on the defensive,” Striffler said.

Striffler felt girls in her field were more about "show-and-tell," rather than wanting to form authentic friendships with her for who she is and her interests outside of the major. 

She said she found it easier to form healthy bonds outside of her major, and it has actually made her happier getting to talk about something other than sports journalism.

“It’s nice to meet people that you don’t feel like you have to compete with and that have completely different interests. That way you can celebrate each other's passions," Striffler said. 

When young women feel these things, they are not trying to constantly tear one another apart in order to gain something in return. Competition can be good, so long as girls are supporting those around them, Striffler said.

Lopez said it can be easier for girls to form lasting and healthy relationships when they have a good sense of self, good confidence and feel loved. 

“Other girls and other women's success can also be your success,”  Lopez said. 


 Reach the reporter at agonz295@asu.edu and follow @adriana_gc_ on Twitter. 

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