Wednesday, May 25, 2005

"I had a pony!"

I don't see why John Tierney has to give such a patronizing, upbeat conclusion to his argument that women are less competitive: "They realize, better than men, that in life there's a lot more at stake than money." It may well be that women are less competitive in the business world, and that some studies have shown women to be less competitive in general. But does this have to be embraced so smugly by someone who has himself clearly (by definition, given his space on the NYT op-ed page) reaped the benefits of being competitive.

Now, Amanda Butler's description of her attitude towards competition back in her horseback-riding days sure sounds familiar. This is exactly how I felt when on the track team in high school. If I could have just gone to all the practices but not the meets and had that count as an extracurricular activity, I would have. I ran in a race recently (whoa, alliteration!) and one of the people along the way cheering us on told me to try to pass the person in front of me. I have no idea if this is something I could have done, but I can safely say that I just didn't care. Also, Amanda's statement, "I used to ride horses," makes me think of the line from Seinfeld, "I had a pony!," but I don't see how that relates to the rest of this post...

But are women really less competitive than men, or are women just competitive about different things, things that (and here I will be the Bill Cosby of my demographic) are not doing us any favors in the world at large. Women--girls--are extremely competitive about weight. While most men would prefer a woman who isn't fat, only the hiring director for a runway show minds if a woman is not emaciated. While the obese may get treated worse in the workplace, being skinny rather than normal weight will not get you hired. The thinner, the better, is a standard applied by straight women to one another, and winning doesn't have any real prize except perhaps for models and dancers. The competition begins in middle or high school and from what I can tell only begins to dwindle by college, though apparently for some women this is when all the fun begins. Being thin, or trying to be thin, or at least trying to find clothing that doesn't make you look fat, takes time in the same way that rising to the top of a company takes time, but the rewards hardly match up. Do men want to be fat? No, but if they're not, they don't worry about it. Women, even naturally thin ones, worry about it. We shouldn't, it's dumb. But the silver lining is that we do have a competitive streak, we just need to channel it differently if we want to afford and not just fit into designer clothes.

3 comments:

Petey said...

"The thinner, the better, is a standard applied by straight women to one another, and winning doesn't have any real prize except perhaps for models and dancers."

I know you're a career gal, but you lightly brush over the economic benefits available to attractive women outside the workplace.

The economics of marriage is not a new subject, and the pursuit of thinness is not as irrational as you paint it.

Phoebe said...

I don't brush over the possibility that women might take into account men's preferences. What I was pointing out is that, while men tend to prefer women who are not fat, it's women, not men, who equate being the most attractive with being the thinnest possible.

Petey said...

"it's women, not men, who equate being the most attractive with being the thinnest possible."

Well, yes and no.

To be sure, only women are going to think that going to the extremes of anorexia-land is a good idea.

But don't discount the distance between "not-fat" and "thin". Your average trophy wife is likely to be model-thin. Everything else being equal, the model-thin woman will get more attention at the bar than the merely not-fat one.

Darwinian competition is a brutal business, no less in sexual selection than in survival of the fittest.

Now happily, self-confidence, intellect, and style become trump cards among civilized company. So civilized women are not forced to resort to bulimia and breast implants. But I think that elides your broader point...