Ahhh......The C word. That vile, ugly word that women hate more than any other. I'm talking about "catty." What word did you think I was talking about? 😂
That word "catty" (and it's variants) sends women’s eyes rolling across the globe. It’s a gender-biased term to describe the unhealthy way women express their competitive feelings towards other women. As vividly as we can visualize the sisterhood of women standing together for equality rights, we can conjure up the image of women sniping at each other. Why is that? Where did this description come from? And why is it reserved just for women?
Some evolutionary psychologists hypothesize that cattiness in women developed out of natural selection. It has always been socially acceptable for men to openly express their competitive nature, which could result in physical injury. However, as the fairer sex, it is considered undesirable in women. Additionally, engaging in indirect aggression is low cost and doesn't risk harm to her body or ability to reproduce. So, out of this culture, women became more cunning and underhanded to get what they wanted.
Feelings of competitiveness and jealousy are all natural parts of the human experience. They are impulse reactions that are uncontrollable. But that's where it ends. What IS in our control is how we respond to those feelings. When we allow those feelings to lash out at others, typically passive-aggressively, it becomes cattiness. However, our view of others and situations is dependent on the lens we carry. In psychology, this concept is called your Critical Inner Voice. Critical Inner Voice is "a well-integrated pattern of negative thoughts toward one's self and others that is at the root of an individual's maladaptive behavior." While women might think they're just making a casual remark on someone else, what is really being revealed is our view of ourselves (not feeling as fast, as pretty, as smart, etc).
So, if these feelings and the Critical Inner Voice are a part of human nature, what can we do to sidestep the cattiness? Lisa Firestone, Ph.D, recommends the following steps:
- Acknowledge that you feel competitive. Accept your feelings as valid.
- Don't act out. While your feelings of competitiveness is valid, being means to others is not. Don't say or do things you'll regret.
- Identify and challenge your inner critic. Try to recognize how you might be putting yourself down in relation to someone else.
- Compete in a clean and healthy way. Part of ignoring your critical inner voice involves taking consistent actions to counter it.
I'm not immune to feelings of competitiveness and jealousy. I still experience them from time to time. But, the feelings plague me a lot less and I am no longer devastated by them. The wisdom that comes with age gave me a new perspective on myself and on others. I realized that happiness is a choice. There will always be someone faster, stronger, prettier, richer, etc. That is just the reality of life. To rally against that is like trying to stop the sun from rising every day. So, while I can't control the circumstances of life, I do control HOW I respond to them. I can choose to fester in my insecurities and jealousy and cut others down or I can choose to accept the situation, acknowledge my feelings and celebrate in the success of others. The adage "fake it until you make it" is applicable here. Forcing yourself to feign happiness for others has an amazing way of transforming you. You soon realize that you're no longer faking it but genuinely feeling joy for others.
I don't presume to have all the answers. I just want to get the conversation going. We need to shine a light on this topic, because cattiness is undermining women's relationships. If we want society to continue to improve, we need to face the ugly truth and do what we can to change it.