I watching a TV show where a character is bothered by another girl who borrows her clothes, tries to get in with her friends and finally, copies her hairstyle. I know most men will see this as typical teen queen drama. It reminded me of two incidents from my life and I realized why it’s not.
One, a classmate from college who started copying my clothes and hair, made disparaging comments about my appearance, tried to push herself into all my social events and eventually tried to displace me in my other friendships by lying to my friends about things I had said about them. The other, a blogging acquaintance who systematically flirted with different men that I had dated (one while I was still with him), constantly flaunted these associations and compared herself to me, turned up at outings with my friends, threw a party for all my friends on my birthday, lied to our common community about me, copied the things I was doing with my blogs and even set up a me-too blog to this one.
Most people don’t understand why I consider these two women, tangible threats. The first one ‘borrowed’ my look, then my friends and finally tried to edge me out of these things. The second ‘borrowed’ my ideas, ‘shared’ my friends, copied my blog ideas and finally tried to shut me out of these aspects of my own life. In both cases, I was told that I should be flattered that these women wanted my life so much. Well, a thief wants things that are yours and dear to you, as well. Would you not consider him a threat?
There is a thing that women do, the way they fight, that is quite unlike men. It starts with ‘borrowing’ seemingly unimportant things. A lipstick here, an idea there. Being women, we are conditioned to be collaborative, generous even, especially with other women who are nice and polite. This ‘borrowing’ and ‘sharing’ business is thievery cloaked in people-pleasing, polite manners.
Notice how women are bothered when they find another woman wearing something similar? It goes deeper than snob value or materialism. Uniformity via conformity is forced onto us early. Every notice how many female stereotypes and archetypes there are? So many of them, that it is assumed that as a woman you have to fall into one of these buckets or penalized socially. What is considered normal is very tightly defined. This encompasses everything from the way we look, what we wear, where we go, who we associate with, what we do with our lives, how and who we relate to and how we express ourselves. There is little to no scope for individuality if you are a woman. Deviating even a bit from the norm becomes your lifelong struggle and your identity.
Secondly, our sense of self and our self-esteem are closely linked to the external world. We are defined by our relationships, our possessions and our appearance. Human beings gender irrespective show traits of habit and possessiveness. But for women, the sense of self is actively pegged to external validation and systematically discouraged from attaching to more internal things. Thus our entire sense of self and our world is constructed on external things. If who you are is defined by your objects, appearance and relationships, consider how fragile your individuality is. Take away something and you risk falling into oblivion, into non-existence.
A woman who is borrowing one of my personal objects, is effectively taking a bit of me away. If this is being done without my expressly offering it, it starts as presumption and goes all the way to stealing. Sharing relationships does not come easily either, for the same reason. Girls have BFFs, women have those soulmate friendships that they value and guard jealously. These relationships – the role we play in them and the fact that they exist in our lives play a large part of our definition of our worlds. Indeed, I feel reduced since my best friend moved to another continent. So someone who is trying to occupy the role I play to the people in my life, is competing with me. This is not a share equation, it’s a fight-to-death one.
With so much riding on appearance, women struggle through appearance changes even more than men (sad since women’s bodies fluctuate more often and to a greater extent than men’s bodies). If a woman is deliberately modifying her appearance to mirror mine, then I’d think she is being driven by a more desperate need than the basic need to be okay in her own skin. That degree of desperation smells dangerous and cut-throat to me. I’d say she isn’t complimenting me, she’s issuing a declaration of war. She is saying, “I’m out to steal your sense of self. I’m going to take over your life.”
What if she looks better than I do, with my look? What if the world likes her more than they like me, cast in my role? And if she is better at being me than I am, what’s left for me? That’s why for a woman, imitation is not flattery, it’s a threat.