It wasn't only the stories of past rivalries that haunted me. Women told me that they had blatantly set out to steal another woman's husband, lover, friend, or job. They described the times that friends had stolen jobs or relationships from them. They detailed the bitter envy that they still felt for or from their mothers, sisters, and in-laws. And I shuddered at the apparent freedom so many women felt simply to take what they wanted without regard for other women's feelings. It was as though we were all crazed customers at some kind of year-end shoe sale, shoving our fellow females out of the way as we clutched desperately at the few remaining pieces of merchandise. I had the discouraging sense that our culture had created female monsters, dooming us to play out these intense and bitter rivalries almost against our will..
But whether I felt close to my subjects as kindred spirits or horrified at the world of female jealousy they portrayed, I was always fascinated, particularly when I started compiling my data and realized how widespread the problem really is:
More than 90 percent of women of different social strata claim that envy and jealousy toward other women colors their lives
80 percent of women say they have encountered jealousy in other females since they were in grade school
90 percent of women in diverse jobs report that competition in the workplace is primarily between women, rather than between women and men
More than 65 percent of interviewees said that they were jealous of their best friend or sister
More than 70 percent of interviewees were familiar with the concept of women stealing a friend's husband, lover, boyfriend, or job
percent of interviewees reported themselves the victims of another woman's theft of a husband, lover, boyfriend, or job
25 percent of interviewees reported that they themselves had stolen a friend's husband, lover, boyfriend, or job
Although hearing the stories of female competition was often disturbing, I concluded my study with a feeling of optimism. Yes, at first glance, this portrait of hidden rivalry and cancerous envy seems bleak indeed. But facing up to this gloomy picture is the first step toward a better future of more authentic, loving bonds among women. If we are willing to look closely at this issue, we may be astonished at the rewards we stand to gain.
Shades of Rivalry: Competition, Envy, and Jealousy
As I sorted through the stories I was hearing, I began to realize that female contests took three forms: competition, envy, and jealousy.