Posted by: justineswalton | April 16, 2020

Women vs. Women

We’ve discussed before the importance of women leaders helping and lifting up other women leaders and being a strong force of support. We’ve also noted this does not always happen.  I personally wanted to do more research on why so often women are pitted against one another and feel they need to compete with each other on top of competing against a male-favoring society. To understand this topic more, I read through a Forbes article written by Dr. Shawn Andrews that was published this past January.  She explains some reasons behind why this happens and put names to phenomenons I didn’t realize I knew about.

First, she talked about the “power dead-even rule”. I had never heard this term before, but it explains something that I have seen and felt happen in real life. This is basically an invisible law for female “culture” that asserts the self-esteem and power of two women in a relationship must be dead-even.  It is a power-balance that both women must perceive the other woman to be on equal footing with their individual power. This is a subconscious rule that women are conditioned to adhere to. When the power of balance is shifted, say one woman gets promoted, the two will have behaviors driven to ostracize the other.  The woman who is seen to have “less” power may gossip about the other one to keep the dead-even power balance. This explains why some women find it difficult to support other women. Personally, I think about pressure I have felt in the past to feel ill towards other women who seemed to tip the power-balance of this invisible rule. I remember hearing phrases growing up that a girl would only be mean to you and start rumors about you because “she’s jealous of your confidence”. Maybe this thing I heard when I was little was actually referring to this “power dead-even rule” without knowing it.

Andrews explains a few other reasons why women don’t support other women in her article that I encourage you all to read, but they are pretty much in line with things we have talked about before in class or have gathered from our readings.  At the end of her article, Andrews concluded on a positive note that these sentiments are changing and more and more women are understanding the importance of helping other women and taking it on as part of their duty. She notes that women of younger generations are more inclined to help one another instead of belittle and compete with one another, which I found a hopeful take-away.  

I am curious to hear everyone’s thoughts on this issue of women not supporting women.  Do you feel this is accurate based on your experiences? How does society condition women to follow the “power dead-even rule”?  Do you feel that women from older generations are less likely to help other women or younger generations based on personal experience and research?  How can we come together to support one another as women instead of letting a male-favoring society pit us against one another?


  1. I find this topic of women supporting women to be very interesting because I feel like it is something that a lot of women say they will participate in, but when it comes down to it, this may not be the case. For instance, this was a topic that I talked about in my interview with a female leader in a male dominated field when she discussed how when it came down to it, females did not support other females because other females were seen as competition. For instance, if one female were to get the job, then other women would see this as losing an opportunity.

    As for the “power-dead-even rule” I also find this to be very interesting and I definitely think it is a real thing. To answer your question, I think society conditions other women to follow the “power dead-even rule” by making women feel like they can’t boast or should downplay successes or feel like they should “have it all.” Then by internalizing all of these feelings and emotions, women then project these feelings and pressures onto other women. I think overall, like you mentioned, women are not comfortable being friends with or associated with other females who they consider to be largely “better” than them as it is almost like an intimidation factor. I also agree with you that this is the case when girls gossip or talk about other women to almost fill an insecurity of theirs or make them feel better about themselves and to attempt to knock the other female down a notch. I feel like this was largely the case in middle and high school, however I do believe that the atmosphere at CNU is definitely women supporting other women, however this could be due to the women who I choose to surround myself with who are very supporting, and I am the same way towards them. If I had to hypothesize, I do feel like this issue of women not supporting other women has improved in recent generations, but again, this could be due to the women I surround myself with. But to conclude, I love that you asked how we can all come together to support one another as women, and I think the key is to separate one woman’s success from your self-worth and to see one women getting a position as further inching the door open for other women to follow, rather than taking a position from you.

  2. The article was very interesting and did apply names to the phenomenons women face. I do think older generations are more hesitant when it comes to supporting other women to reach higher positions or status within the workplace, because they grew up in the era where women had to basically fend for themselves and defy social norms to reach those positions. I could see some of those women thinking they exhausted all their efforts to make it to the top, so another woman can do the same on her own. With that said, we are in a very individualistic country where independence is valued and championed. While independent thinking and actions are important qualities for women leaders to obtain, there needs to be a socialization pattern coupled with that notion that states it is okay to ask for assistance. Not everything has to be done alone. I think that is where things are changing with younger generations, where more collectivist and inclusion efforts are incorporated into organizational cultures to promote women and minorities in the workplace. Furthermore, this plays into the topic discussed in class of what is “effective leadership.” Is it taking on only stereotypical female leadership tactics, like relationship building and collective inputs, or is it finding a balance between the masculine and feminine leadership traits?

    Today and in the future, I think women supporting women would be more impactful in increasing the speed of progress on topics related to women’s rights and equality with men in the workforce. I think this can be done if the women’s movement clearly defines its mission, chooses topics that fight for the benefit of ALL WOMEN (not exclude certain groups of women), and be realistic in terms of “having it all” (so that women are not discouraged or feel ashamed when they cannot reach an unrealistic aim). This would help more women obtain the view that it is their duty to help other women succeed and identify themselves within a larger movement of women leaders and activists.

  3. I think women not supporting women is definitely a big issue. Whenever we come across other women that in any way feel like a competitor, I think we tend to become harsher on ourselves as well as the other woman. It also doesn’t help that in essentially every piece of media that is released to the public, there are women competing. It is something that is consciously and subconsciously encouraged by our society. People like drama, and women competing is just that. Whether it be for a job, goal or partner, it is always the center of attention. How do we expect to get rid of this competition if it is always at the center of our media?

    As far as different generations go, my experiences have been beneficial. Women in older generations definitely faced more than our generation and those after us have, however there can be a hesitation in sharing those resources and advice. If there are older women that are “stuck in their ways” or feel uncomfortable with a woman leader, they may be less likely to help younger generations. As women we need to push really hard to change our competitive nature towards other women. Now, it is totally normal to be competitive- and obviously it’s allowed and important to be competitive- however, we need to change the story for generations to come.

  4. It is hard to think, as a woman, that I might inherently not want other women to succeed, in spite that it may diminish my chances at success. The thing is, I do not think that women think that way because they are evil. They think that way because they are constantly pit against each other. They are never given validation, and are forced to think that life is a survival of the (most beautiful, intelligent, successful, happy) fittest. Not only are women forced to climb a ladder that men never have to, they are forced to beat out their women counterparts, often because of the “there is only room for one” mentality.

    Based on my experiences I do think that women are conditioned by society to follow the “power dead-even rule.” I feel like many women (especially female CNU students) have an over-achieving complex. No shame, I have it too. When I am unintentionally put down by another woman because she got a better grade on the same test than I did, or she got the award or recognition that I wanted, I do feel a kind of jealousy towards her. I feel like that is normal, but what is not normal is that I probably would not feel such an intense jealousy if I lost to a man. Probably, because it is what I am conditioned to expect out of life. When in a competition for success with another woman, I want myself to be the best, but it does not mean that I want her to fail necessarily, I just don’t want her to get whatever thing I was working so hard for. We want to empower women to do everything they set their minds to, so long as it does not hinder our success. In my opinion, I think that is a normal human quality. However, the best way to combat this phenomenon would be to *try* and appreciate the woman who got promoted over us, because it means that another woman is moving up the ladder in this world. Even if it is not ourselves, another woman won. We can attempt to focus on that win. That a woman’s individual success can count towards the collective. In that respect, it makes the loss a little bit easier to cope with.

  5. Wow, I never knew this phenomenon had a name. I have definitely also experienced this throughout my life. I am glad to know that experts find this is changing, but I still find that it commonly happens. I felt this often in my graduate school group interviews. Noted, we were al committee for spots in the school, women seemed to always strive to one-up each other. Personally, I also felt the urge to be at the same playing field as other women, but it reminded me to rewind the track as we talked about in class. I often had to remind myself that we all received an interview, so we were on the same level, and our differences past that made us all unique and special, not enemies. I think this is emphasized by the stereotype of women being catty and fighting to be the queen bee. It makes me think of the movie Mean Girls and the fight to be at the top. It is interesting to me that men do not have a similar struggle. I wonder is this is due to women haver lower likelihood of receiving leadership positions overall. I think most women do want to help other women regardless of generation, it has just been ingrained in women to compete. If women continuing supporting other women, I think this cycle can be broken.

  6. I think that the “power dead-even rule” is accurate based on the relationships I have seen in older women. For example, when a woman is a boss it is not often that her female employees respond well to her, I think that is probably due to this rule. In my own life, I do not see this as often as we have in the past. I am a very big encourager for women supporting women and I actively try and get rid of stereotypes and prejudices that I may have. I think that society conditions us with this rule by encouraging stereotypes like female leaders are bitches and being an assertive woman is mean. I think these stereotypes pit women against one another. I think that my generation is becoming more aware of these stereotypes and this socialization that has occurred and is actively trying to change our behavior. Older generations in comparison have been socialized longer and therefore it is more difficult for them to see this labyrinth that has been created. I think that in order to get rid of this socialization we should point it out when we see it in ourselves and others so that we can consciously try and fix it.

  7. I had never heard of the “power dead-even rule” until you mentioned it but it does align with a lot of my own experiences.

    Even when I was in elementary school, I remember girls wanting to “one-up” each other on what they were accomplishing such as things like math and English. In middle school, it became more about boys, grades, and popularity so if one girl became popular the other girls would ridicule her during recess. It’s interesting how all our lives, we see girls knock each other down a peg but boys rarely have this issue. I don’t think it’s because boys don’t care about popularity or things of that nature, but rather they’ve been conditioned by society to hide these emotions and maybe even to consider them “dumb”. I’ve grown up with the narrative that women are generally more “dramatic” and “emotional” than men and that’s why even little girls have drama. But is that factually true? I have read a lot of articles that do not prove that women experience more drama or emotion, rather that they are more comfortable sharing it. I find it interesting that our society WANTS this drama and conflict between women.

    I think about The Bachelor and how women in this show, all bright and beautiful women with talent to offer, are forced to “battle it out” over some man who usually does not even end up with one of them. And yes, The Bachelorette does this with men but The Bachelor has created this idea that this is how women treat each other and that life is only a game of who wins and who loses. I watch this show because who doesn’t love a little drama in their television? But what is this show telling kids? That women must fight “to the death” for some guy to pay attention to them. That falling in love is a matter of survival and who is most “intriguing”. It’s telling people that women should target each others’ characters to get what they want.

    What we really need is women who support each other, women who push each other to be better, and women who are leading WITH other women. We don’t need another Hillary Clinton versus Sarah Palin situation. The truth is that most women do not want this drama, but sometimes it’s the only means to get attention or popularity in pop culture. The “power dead-even rule” is super sad to me but also, unfortunately, is what most women use to gain the advantage.

  8. I definitely think this is accurate based on my experiences. It’s unfortunate, but more often than not, women bring each other down rather than supporting one another. I think it is more common for women to attacks each other and pin themselves against one another than to support and uplift one another.

    I think the whole idea that women are expected to be perfect conditions women to follow the power dead-even rule. Society places these unattainable, unrealistic expectations of perfection on women. Since women feel these pressures to be perfect, I think it encourages them to bring other women down so they feel like they are “better” than the other women. If a women brings another women down, I think it boosts their ego/status a bit more so they feel like they are more perfect than the other woman.

    I also think the media is another way society has forced this rule upon women. In mass media, you see this stereotype/idea all the time. There are so many movies and TV shows where there is the mean girl who brings the protagonist down. This stereotype is almost so common that you can find it in any media artifact. When young girls consume these media representations, it conditions them to think that this is how they have to act in order to succeed.

    I think the only way women can come together to support each other is to overcome this stigma. We need to adopt a new mentality that one woman’s success is a success for all women. If one woman gets into a top position and succeeds “more” than other women, then it is a win for all women. Women already have a hard time making it in a man’s world. There are already so many gender norms and gender discrimination women have to navigate and overcome. The last thing women need is other women trying to bring them down.

  9. When conducting one of my interviews for our paper, the woman I spoke to was a lawyer and she said, about the company she works with, “it fits all the stereotypes of there being no female role models because the older women didn’t want me to succeed.” Although the competition among females feels particularly evident in law and other male-dominated fields, where it seems like only a few women are allowed at the top, it made me feel hopeful that my interviewee had started to see a shift in the competitive vs supportive tendencies of women in her field as time has gone on. I don’t think it is surprising that older women are more prone to the “power dead-even rule” because there was not a culture of supporting other women and they were conditioned to compete. I think now women are more likely to have an unintentional or subconscious need to be dead-even with their female friends, but I think that the discourse surrounding women supporting women has permeated a great deal of our society and it seems like a matter of fighting against an internalized instinct to compete. I will support other women with whatever they do but I do sometimes catch myself thinking negatively about other women and their approaches to succeeding, and I have to remind myself that she is not my competition. I like to see any woman’s success as a success of mine, like it’s a team effort. Sabotaging your own teammates just means you all lose.

  10. Though I had never heard the technical term of the power dead even phenomenon, I also recognized what it was right away. I am an advocate for women supporting women and recognize the importance of celebrating the success of other women, but the power dead even phenomenon is something I have experienced and been a part of, especially in high school. I do remember being like secretly competitive with my female friends; I would get jealous if they were getting better grades, got better job opportunities, or were involved in more activities than me. I also kind of received this behavior from them as well; if I was succeeding in something, it was hard for them to be happy for me. I never really had this same sort of competition with my male friends. Now in college however, I have definitely made a point to not compete like that with my female friends and make sure that I express how happy I am for them when something good is happening and act as a cheerleader in their lives. I do think that one way to combat this phenomenon is to recognize when we are being affected by it and make an active effort not to let it take over our actions or behavior.
    I do think that media plays a part as a driving force behind why this competition amongst women happens so frequently, and why it is such a well known thing. The idea of “mean girls” or girls being “catty” towards each other are very well known topics, but why it is a thing or how it is harmful to women is not really talked about often. In movies and t.v., it is so often that I see other women competing with each other for a job or promotion, or over getting into college or getting the best grades, or competing over a guy. I very rarely see women being in serious competition with other guys, or if it does happen it is overly dramatized to make a clear point that a woman is capable of competing against a man because it is not considered a natural thing. I think part of this comes down to society’s need to always put people into categories. Men and women are always seen as separate, so it is expected that they are only competition to each other. Women are just naturally assumed to compete against other women. And in male-dominated fields where there are not as many women in high up positions, women may feel this power dead even phenomenon because they see another woman being promoted as a loss for themselves and that they are not as skilled, where they may not feel the same way if it were a man being promoted because that is the norm of who is in power. I do think that a large part of combatting this, as I mentioned before, it being aware of how we are perpetuating a women against women dynamic and taking accountability for ourselves to create change to build up other women.

  11. I think that women not supporting other women is something created by culture and society. Society has created a stereotype that pin women against each other. So many movies, TV shows, books, magazines highlight this idea and these things are what keep the stereotype alive. I do believe we are seeing a shift in society’s ideas about women supporting women. Many more organizations have been formed pushing the idea of empowering women and girls supporting girls.

    Like you mentioned, I have found it hard to support women with a lot of power. I obviously don’t intentionally act a different way around them but there is a subconscious part of me that envys their power and wants to be their equal. Additionally, you mentioned that the woman who has “less” power may gossip about the one with more power to balance their power. I think this is very true and I have seen it happen in my own life before. These kind of actions are not okay and I think that steps are being taken in the right direction to fix this problem.

  12. I have always been curious about this topic, especially living in a society today that has placed such an emphasis on Women’s Rights and the women’s movement. I think that this phenomenon is not something new and like it said in the article seems to be changing but with that being said, I think there is a lot of room to grow.

    To answer the questions you posed, I think the most time that I have witnessed this phenomenon has been throughout my childhood in middle and highschool. This idea of “dead-even rule” is something that I witnessed many times, especially in my involvement in the theatre community. Whenever there was a female lead or a few amount of female parts that were in a production it seemed that instead of being happy for the women that were able to gain the roles, other girls would gossip behind their back or would justify why the other woman got the role over them for negative reasons. This being said, this phenomenon is not something that I have come to experience during my time at the University as much, and as someone stated in the comments above, I don’t know whether it is something that is less occurring or rather the choice of friends I have chosen to surround myself with. In addition I think that the notion of women from older generations not being role models or mentors for women of younger generations is changing. However, I know from talking with some of my mentors their want to help younger generations came from a lack of help that they received going through life. I think that a reason behind this lack of mentorship can come from two places. One of them being as stated in the article, this notion that “I figured it out, so should you”. While some women may use this ideology as a positive in the sense that they feel that in order to be stronger when reaching top positions women need to work through their obstacles on their own. Other women may be saying this out of bitterness of it seeming as though are younger women looking to find an easier way to the top. The other reasoning I think that older generations may not be as inclined to mentor or role model younger generations, is that they may not know how. Since, many of them did not receive mentorship they may not know the correct way to reach out to and help younger generations achieve similar success. In order to change society and the common practice of women being pitted against each other I think it all starts with not letting society pit us against each other. I know a lot of times if I didn’t receive a position I wanted and another woman did, in order to make me feel better people would try to say negative things about the other woman. I think in order to change, if this notion were to occur it is our responsibility to stop and say that negativity is not the way to approach but instead look at some of the positive aspects of that person and maybe learn from that person instead.

  13. In my personal experience I must admit that I have experienced a huge lack of women supporting women, especially the older I have gotten. Prior to this post, I had never heard of the “power dead-even rule” among women before, but it is absolutely something I have experienced, and sadly something I have partaken in. I actually find it really promising that this is something that is conditioned in us, rather than it being something girls are predisposed to from the time they are little, because if people are able to become aware of it, then we can take steps to fix it for future generations. However, I think society has shown young girls that all women should be equally inferior, therefore when one starts to pull away from the pack, they are taught to try and tear her down in others ways. It’s almost as if we are taught that one woman’s success is another woman’s failure, but this isn’t how we should be taught.

    I definitely feel as though older generations are far less likely to support other women than younger generations are. Based on things I’ve seen, I feel like there have already been many steps and movements taking place that are helping this cause, such as the Girls Supporting Girls campaign. Being a woman involved in Greek life, this was one of may main concerns, especially things I had heard from older women I looked up to. One of my closest friends mothers was in a sorority when she was in college, and when I was a freshman and told her I wanted to go through formal recruitment, she really discouraged me from going through. She spoke of exactly this rule, where basically all of the woman were competing against one another, gossip and rumors were constantly going around, and she didn’t want me to experience the same thing. However, in today’s society, and being involved in Greek life, I can happily attest that this isn’t true at all. Of course conflict and competition still happens, everyone is genuinely happy and supportive of one another when they accomplish something. I think it is a very outdated topic to be so condescending toward other women for simply working hard and achieving their goals. Women already experience so many roadblocks and difficulties in the world, they don’t need it from each other too. So, I think it is really important for younger girls to constantly be reminded that a win for one woman, is a win for all. It truly starts with the younger girls, and as long as this attitude is instilled in them the younger they are, the more likely they are to grow up and still believe and follow this rule.

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