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TangoMan

Whether a young woman from this background is considered "successful" by the terms of her family and community is no longer contingent on her ability to marry an overachieving doctor or lawyer, but rather on her ability to become an overachieving doctor or lawyer.

So we should expect to see a flood of pairings between professional women and appealing garbage men, bikers, ex-cons or any other group of men, for the status of one's mate is immaterial to how a person's success is defined.

Thus, I don't define myself in terms of my sexual and marital success,

Let me volunteer to be your contrapoint. I do define myself by the women I've been involved with, for they've all changed me in some fashion, though certainly not the fashion that they intended. I define myself in relation to my family and feel that the success I experience there adds much to my self-esteem, happiness, and sense of fulfillment. I'd be a poorer man, with lower self-esteem, if I found myself without the love and support of my family.

You understand what Hugo seems to miss, and that is that life is competition. There is no feminist nirvana where we all get along and don't compete. There is a cooperation-competition spectrum that we all operate on, with cooperation being limited to smaller groups where common goals can be supported. This environment is not extensible to life at large.

The Happy Feminist

So we should expect to see a flood of pairings between professional women and appealing garbage men, bikers, ex-cons or any other group of men, for the status of one's mate is immaterial to how a person's success is defined.

HA! I proabably would have married an appealing garbage man or a biker if I knew any. As it is, I was involved in a 3-year relationship with an unemployed actor, and wound up marrying a lawyer -- but one with a serious physical handicap, blue collar roots, no money, and less prestigious credentials than mine. I think marrying "down" will become more and more common for women as time goes on.

I think one can be changed by one's partner and fulfilled by one's relationship without that being the defining aspect of life. My relationship is of central importance to me but I am defined by my work
and I am judged in my community by my work.

Antigone

Even if competition is inevitable (a debatable premise, but I'll take it as writ) competition does not to manifest in such unhealthy displays like "pissing matches" and "cat-fighting". Interpersonal relationships should not be a series of power relations.

TangoMan

competition does not to manifest in such unhealthy displays like "pissing matches" and "cat-fighting".

If the unhealthy aspect to which you refer is indeed the phyrric victory aspect of some of these practices, and not actually the prospect of someone winning and someone losing, then I agree. Winning at all costs can be counter-productive.

What I'm not sure of is how to replace "unhealthy" competition with "healthy" competition and to do so by fiat. If two people are feeling the need to establish themselves in the social hierarchy and they are keying in on an unhealthy contest as a means of differentiating themselves, we need to offer them a meaningful alternative. What's that going to be? A contest on who can sing the best? :)

ARConn

While much of what U say holds truth, there is a more fundamental issue that often underlies the personalities of 'catty' women. Commonly, we would say that such women lack self esteem, although it would be more accurate to say that they are other-actualized: that their sense of worth is detemined by external factors, such as who they are with, who/what they posess/are posessed by.

When U, in U'r middle class family, where taught to want to be an overachieving doctor/lawyer, instead of wanting just to marry one, U were in fact learning to value U'rself for U'r own achievments, U were learning to be self-actualized. Unfortunately, in North American society, young girls and women (in particular) still recieve an overriding message that their worth comes from being desirable to someone else (volumes can, and have been, written on the influences of princess fairytales, music videos, romantic comedies, etc).

Where this intersects with cattiness should be somewhat obvious. Because these girls/women get so much of their own sense of worth, sense of identity, from being with, being seen with, by riding the proverbial coattails of, their man that other women can quickly become a threat to that identity.

The reaction of these insecure women to the percieved threat to their identity is not that dissimilar from the recation of most nations, religions or ethnicities that percieve a threat against the collective identity which they hold. That this response, this reaction, is often laughed off as mere cattiness, and trivialised to the singular dimesion of sexual rivalry when expressed by women, should, I think, be taken as evidence of the actual status of women within the culture and cultural psyche of North American society.

Richard

I don't buy the "privileged background" theory to competition. I think the theory is elitist and sounds like a way for privileged people to feel superior to the less privilege. (“Oh, those silly poooor girls. So glad I’m not one.”) I agree with Tango. We’re talking here about plain old-fashioned competition, which exists in women, men and the animal kingdom in pretty much equal proportions. I suspect sexual competition is far more prevalent in both the sexes, regardless of economic or social standing, than you think.

The Happy Feminist

That's how it struck me too when I first read Hugo's post. But then when you think of it in terms of different circumstances affecting behavior, I think it is actually less elitist than scorning the behavior. It isn't that privileged people who don't engage in sexual competition are better; it is just that they are more inclined to engage in this sort of competitive behavior in other arenas, which are then labeled "better" because they are more valued.

I don't mean to suggest that sexual competition is absent in the high-achieving middle classes. Just that it isn't perhaps as central or as prevalent. Personally, it's not my thing but I have plenty of other foibles.

mythago

Nah, it's just Hugo nattering on again.

Mandolin

Really? I very much respect what you have to say mythago, but I thought Hugo had a few points on this one. One thing I didn't think he brought out in this post was the idea that women are competing as part of the funciton of policing one another's dress for the patriarchy. It seems to me that the attitude of policing each other's appearance and dress recursively stems from and creates anxiety about one's own appearance and dress, which can then be expressed through competition (as well as other ways).

TangoMan

I don't mean to suggest that sexual competition is absent in the high-achieving middle classes. Just that it isn't perhaps as central or as prevalent.

I actually think it is central and prevalent, it's just not blatant or easily recognizable via easy cues, like dress and make-up. Even demeanor is different but between the classes, but what remains unchanged is the dynamic.

Lower class women may be keying in on certain male features while upper class women are keying in on other male features. The competition between the women on the same class is always present, same too with the men.

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