May 1, 2007

Do you remember who your prom queen was?

Honestly? I can't remember who was the prom queen for my class. So much for posterity via winning a popularity contest, I guess.

Anyway - this month's Cerebral Venus Online Book Club selection was Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry by Susan Shapiro Barash. This is how it will work:
  1. I will throw out some starter questions. They don't necessarily have to all be answered, but rather are a way to jump start the discussion. Feel free to pose more questions in your comments.
  2. Anyone is welcome to join the conversation - regardless if you read the book or not! Seriously. If you didn't get to read the book, just say so then add your 2 cents worth. It's a little more difficult to do this with fiction that has specific plotlines, but since this is a non-fiction selection, I don't think it will be a problem. Regardless if you read the book or not, I suspect ALL of us have dealt with rivalry in some form or fashion - be it with a friend, co-worker, mother, sister, daughter.......
  3. This post will be the only one up for at least Tuesday and Wednesday. I would rather just concentrate on the conversation and will take a blogging vacation in the meantime. I'm 30 weeks pregnant and feeling crappy most of the time - you'd probably welcome a vacation from hearing about it, eh?
  4. No holds barred on the conversation - say what you think!

The Questions
  1. Overall, what was your impression of the book? Was this helpful to you in understanding past relationships? What would you rank this book on a scale of 1-10(with a 10 being highest)?
  2. The author caught some flack for including so many examples from movies, television and novels. What do you think of this? Do you think the media and entertainment over-inflate female rivalry or are they simply depicting what exists anyway?
  3. Did this make YOU feel uncomfortable in any way as you realized that YOU were competitive? I'll admit, I got the chills a few times when I realized I'm not perfect. Who knew?
  4. This book doesn't mention the blogging community. Do you think female rivalry applies to bloggers as well?
  5. This book also received some criticism for lacking in the way of analysis - there was much presentation of the problem per se, but not much given in the way of solutions. Do you think there is a solution? What is it?
  6. How do you think families play a role in this rivalry? Notice, I did NOT say "mothers" but said "families". For example, in my family, emphasis was always laid thick on grades and doing well in anything else you participated in - be it music, sports or other extracurriculars. My family rarely was the type to compliment or make comments on your looks, your weight, or your clothes. In the sections of this book relating to beauty and competition, I was simply lost and rolled my eyes a lot because I could not relate. However, the sections regarding succeeding in school and the workplace struck a much deeper chord with me.
  7. Have you had rivalries with men? How did they differ than your rivalries with women?


Modern Day Hermit said...

I will start off by saying I did not finish the book, there were some sections that rang true for me in terms of mother|daughter|sister relationships and I do notice the ability to see women in the office doing things depicted in the book, but overall the book didn't strike a chord with me.


My ranking of the book would be about a 6/7. I think the material was decent and it wasn't a hard read and did provide some insight on how some women’s brains work but I didn’t find the material covered that ground-breaking.
I am not sure if the MIL section was broached more heavily in later portions of the book, but I felt that was poorly done. I am in a situation where my psycho-MIL fits the perfect profile of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and I was a little disappointed that such a stereotypical situation wasn’t covered more in-depth. I just hope that means my situation isn’t all that normal.


A little past half-way into the book I noticed that the number of television based examples seemed to increase a great deal. I did find this a little irritating, not due to feeling the depictions were incorrectly cited, but primarily due to the feeling that it was filler. With that being said, I do believe that television does depict female relationships but I like to think it is amplified more for entertainment’s sake.


As an individual, I know I am competitive, but not in a sense that I would ever with harm on someone, look down on them or not speak to them (as portrayed in the book, I was horrified at some individual's behavior) but I use it as a means of improving myself in sensible ways. I believe there is a big difference between destructive competition that involves jealousy and poor behavior and healthy competition that is utilized to improve your own skills.


I almost said no, that I don't think I pay attention enough to give a solid answer until I remembered some slam book that was passed around at some event. But, other than that, I don’t think I read enough blogs to see ongoing issues among females. I am probably one to skip by the bullshit, I have enough drama thrown at me with my out-laws that I don’t seek it out and if anything, try to skim on by.


In terms of (direct) family (mother, dad, sister and brother) didn’t have too much rivalry in terms of looks or grades. I think my sister and Mom being closer might have spawned some rivalry between my sister and I, but other family members? Not so much. I do have an aunt who is very competitive with her children and my family would mostly just comment on how irritating it was.

My MIL? A different story all together. When my husband was in his accident that woman dipped to all new lows and it’s gotten worse in some areas and truth be told, it is game on, I’ve had enough of her shit. But, not due to her being a female, more due to her just being a covert, manipulative bitch. I was honestly shocked at her jealousy and what she would do to maintain her top-dog status in the family and among medical professionals. It was downright disgusting.


I don’t think my interactions with males or females is that different. I am remiss to say rivalry only because I am at a place in my life where there are much bigger and better things to worry about then who is doing what to who, I do my job in my home life, work and hobbies and with friends and that’s about it.


Disclaimer: I am not saying I’m perfect, by any means. I know that I’m not - I just think that *this* isn’t my issue, haha.

Leah said...

1.) Overall, honestly I wasn't a huge fan. My skepticism alarm kept going off for her methods. She would give all this anecdotal evidence, but (to be flippant) the plural of anecdote is not data. I wasn't particularly convinced that this is as widespread a phenomenon as she was making it sound. That said, maybe it is and I've just been spectacularly lucky. I'd rate it a 3/4. I liked the concept, I just thought it drew too many conclusions from these stories.

2.) I didn't know she caught flack about the media examples! That is interesting because I had the same feeling. My life is incredibly dissimilar to an episode of ER. Or Friends. (Thank God.)

3.) However, now that I've bitched about the book a bit, it did make me think about a few things differently. The first thing it did was it made me feel better. I am normal! I am somewhat competitive, but I never was REALLY jealous of anyone until various pregnancy-related issues came up. (That I don't want to post about to the entire Interweb.) I don't so much think that she did that intentionally. (Keep in mind I read this book a week and a half ago so I may have totally screwed up her meaning) I think she was coming at it from a "Isn't this awful that us women are so rough on each other." I read it as "All of us women have similar emotions that we can't help. But we all have them even though we know they're not particularly healthy emotions to have."

4.) Blogging drama makes me puke. I try my best to ignore it. :)

5.) Well, perhaps there are no solutions. AT least none easy enough for a book like this to bring up. I think it was better when looked at as anecdotes showing our similarities. Perhaps just by being aware of these issues we can stop being so toxic to each other? I know that when I have had jealousy issues, though, it never came out to the person involved. Perhaps I am too polite and too much of a people-pleaser for that? I'm actually very surprised that so many people did have open conflicts.

6.) I think families CAN play a role, but I definitely don't think it's a foregone conclusion that they WILL. My family has always been a refuge from competition (except for the divorce, blah blah more stuff that I don't want out on the interwebs), though, so I don't know as I can relate well to this either. But maybe my little sister or brother feels very differently, who knows!

7.) You know, I don't think so. I am trying to think of one. And I just don't think I've ever been in that "Same place at the same time" area with a man. Huh. that is very interesting.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I'll write more tonight...I thought it was an interesting subject but I was pretty...I don't know how to say it...surprised? Aghast? Raising 17 eyebrows? over her methodology. She designed a survey that wouldn't pass muster in a beginning social science stats course and the weakness of that, imo, ruined the book for me because I just couldn't take any of her conclusions seriously after that.

She also glossed over her methodology pretty quickly, I really had to read the fine print to see how she had elicited the responses. Not to mention when she states she felt herself getting too "close" to some of the subjects.

I think it's an interesting topic, I think it exists and she's not just making it up but I think she designed a piss-poor survey which ultimately undercuts her own conclusions.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

Since I'm obnoxious enough to say it, I will, by the way...I thought with her pop culture approach to social science she could have easily fit in a chapter on blogdrama, specifically the trainwrex phenomenon.

I also find it telling that she seemed entirely to gloss over male-female jealousy or resentment. The Wall Street example of high profile traders is characteristic of her approach-she elicits responses regarding the resentment towards fellow female traders but did she not think to ask ONCE how they felt about male traders? Are you telling me there isn't a single female trader on Wall Street who doesn't resent a male trader?

Issues of competition, resource scarcity and intra-sex competition are very real and she DID touch on where they occurs-marriage/work/sibling rivalry. I would have liked to have seen a more academic approach to the issue seriously factoring in issues like culture, socioeconomic background in a properly designed study rather than her quasi-armchair-psychiatrising narrative structure. All of her entertainment related stuff should have been stuck in 3 paragraphs in an intro.

Rozanne said...

I started the book last week, and like just about everyone else here, I was immediately shocked by her shoddy methodology. If memory serves, all she did was post a brief explanation of her idea and her phone number in health clubs and YWCAs. WTF?

Anyway, I'm only about halfway through the book, but so far I can't relate to it really at all. Esp. not the chapter on beauty. Seriously, I'm reading it with my jaw gaping open in disbelief at the lengths some women apparently go to appear younger and more beautiful than the "competition."

I have to say I've never felt competitive with my female friends and it hardly registers with me if they are pretty or not. My criteria is always: Are they smart, funny, interesting, and do they share my values?

Nearly all my female friends in Portland are at least 10 years younger than me; it totally doesn't bother me and I don't think it bothers them. I certainly don't feel like I'm competing with them.

Speaking of values. I think that's probably why I can't relate (at least so far) to what the women interviewed are describing.

Anyway, this is not very coherent. I need to think about the book some more and get to that part you mentioned about competing in an academic or career arena. Maybe I'll see a little of myself there, but I kind of doubt it.

One last thing. I do think she relied too heavily on TV and movies--hello! FICTION--as "evidence." Again. WTF?

Cagey said...

First, I apologize for only just jumping in to comment. Yesterday exploded and bled into today. Second, can I just say "ditto" to most of the comments already out there? No?

I have not finished this book, either! I really enjoyed it in the very beginning and it made me think, but then a theme emerged. After that, the author simply began to repeat herself. Um, I think I get it now - women compete and can be jealous. Sigh. I do agree that her methodology was pretty lame - she just interviewed a bunch of gals, and then regurgitated what they had to say.

When I was younger, my competition was mostly in the areas of academics and music (piano and flute). Sure, there was competition in sports, but that was expected and had pretty clear definitions (you either win or lose), so that never bothered me. However, the stories about competing for guys horrified me!

Currently, I try to stay out of competitions. For awhile, we had a mother in our playgroup who compared and competed, but fortunately, she went back to work full-time and can’t attend anymore. The competition was just starting to heat up and her comments were getting outrageous, so her exit was good timing for us. Bleh. Who has time for that crap? I just want to enjoy hanging out with other mothers while we watch our kids play.

Unfortunately, I did have a foul weather friend who I suspect may have ditched me when my lot in life brightened considerably (my husband a few friends agree with that assessment – it’s not just me talkin’ sour grapes here). The clincher was when she blew off my baby shower and didn’t acknowledge my son’s birth except with an email that simply said “congratulations”. This was the same gal who was the maid of honor in my wedding, so I guess I expected more than an email with ONE word.

Overall, the book is a tad depressing (which made it harder for me to read) because you are left with a very negative impression that all women are just sniping jealous types.I will say after reading this book, I am very grateful for the influence of my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Sheesh. I give the book a 6. It made me think (always a plus), but had poor analysis and shoddy methodology.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

Yes, Rozanne, that's all I was left with regarding her "methodology"...she posted a flyer for it in the YMCA and health clubs. HOW is that a representative sample???

I was also disappointed she didn't mention the issues of race, socioeconomic background, ethnicity, religion or anything else.

For instance, Indian culture is still very male focused. Growing up my mother and her sisters were marginalised by her family for every opportunity-college, time for studying...the boys were cossetted, they got nothing. While things are better for my generation...there are STILL those families out there who "prefer" their son. Even if they educate their girls, the boy still remainds the darling.

If I had had a brother I KNOW this would have been an issue in my relationship with my mother because that's how she was raised and she was severely, severely disappointed that she had 3 girls (2 of us are alive). Not anymore, I mean, she got over it...but yeah, each baby was kind of a let down for her. It's not that she didn't love us, but that she was brainwashed to believe that she should produce boys.

My father talked her out of it over time and she got over her disappointment and is now insanely proud of us. But had I a brother than a sister, I know that my feelings for him and my mom would be far far far more complicated than they are towards my sister. Yes, I have a bit of rivalry with my sister...we are close in age. But I would never wish her ill. She is younger but got married first and not for a moment did I feel disappointed or jealous about it. She went to a better calibre private graduate school than I did and I know for a fact that she deserved it. She has always worked harder than I have, always, even when she has benefited from my experience (avoid this professor etc.).

I don't know how to pinpoint the rivalry with my sister-sometimes I feel like my parents think being a doctor is better but ultimately I know that we are both successful.

I also thought the author was remiss and obnoxious for not talking about rivalries between men in the family in regard to career and success. Are you seriously telling me one doesn't feel hurt if the other child is "favoured"? There is no gender line around resentment when one child is favoured by the parents over the other. Did the author, when discussing the issue of female sibling rivalry ever attempt to interview brother-brother or brother-sister combos to discuss jealousy and resentment?

Her strongest point, and one I agree with it, is that in many professions, especially law and finance, women feel like there are X number of spaces in the upper echelons (partner, head trader, management) available to them and that management may be funneling the rivalry to be woman-on-woman rather than woman-man so that women are particularly nasty towards other women rather than towards all competitors. For example, in one year, Dewey Cheatham & Howe will appoint 7 new partners, of whom everyone truly knows only 2 will be women. So if there are 4 female candidates and 12 male ones, the women will be intent on proving themselves to the hiring committee vis-a-vis the three rather than against 15.

But to do that, you know, you'd actually have to look at employment data, hiring patterns etc. rather than blithering on about sex and the city.

So in my estimation...the book was good, it exposes a phenomenon that does need discussion, but falls far short of being a reputable study.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

Incidentally, I will say that I do feel competitive in my friendships with my lawschool classmates in regard to our post-graduate employment. My "friends" actively put down my job because I don't get paid as much as a guvvie and I can't let them get away with it so I actively put down their benefits and make sure to rub in how much free time I have.

Does it make me, and them assholes? Yes, I'm quite proud of the fact that I'm an asshole. But this goes again to Bashares's methodology. If she asked me the "right" questions she could get out of me that I have female friends with whom I have an intensely competitive relationship regarding our jobs. However, if she went out and talked to a male government lawyer...she'd get the exact same statements regarding his experience with his private sector colleagues, both male and female. I know, because Mentos bitches about similar skirmishes with the private firm lawyers we work with. It just so happens that I have more female friends. I have a lot of "female" interests, I am shyer around men, I often end up dating male friends etc. leads me to seek out female friends for platonic company.

However, another point I agree with her on is the sense that you're only allowed to be "successful" if you put a clueless, good girl ditz facade over yourself. Cunning aggressive insolent social and career climbing is still seen as tacksville in women...and while it is seen as somewhat grubbing in men, I think not to the extent that women are villified for it.

Then again-to justify that statement she should have gone and done much better research of men AND women.

Shalini said...

Didn't read the book, but I'm enjoying the comments! I like your book club format-hope to get in on the next one!

Leah said...

I'm so glad you guys agree. I was feeling all bad for getting annoyed at the book, and now I see I am just one of the cool kids. (/kidding!)

I agree that the career issues are the biggies.

Another thing that I think could have been included, though, is something I read on a blog ages ago. I would try to find it but it would probably take me all day. The gist of it, though, was that the reason for the Mommy Wars is that women want other people to choose things similar to what they chose because it gets them more goodies. For instance, if more women work, the gov't and companies are more likely to want to appease them by giving better childcare, etc. If more women stay home, women are more likely to have friends and playgrounds and such instead of feeling so isolated.

I don't agree that we can't all just get along (how's that for a double negative?), but I do think that women have their own interests at heart from a macroeconomic point of view when we all start hating on each other.

Celebrate Woo-Woo said...

I'm still in the process of reading, but it seems I've had different experiences than some of the previous commenters with females and rivalry.

My mom has always worried about her appearance. Growing up, I can recount many tales of feeling the need to boost her self esteem because she would complain of being ugly or fat or wrinkled. She wants perpetual youth. Her insecurities have been learned from her mother's criticisms, but they have also had some impact on my own life. My mother has aged well, and even while I'm still in my 20s, I'm looking for ways to preserve my youth because I feel like it's something I have to live up to. I'm not nearly as obsessed as my mother has always been, but the thoughts are definitely there.

I also have been in the midst of competing for a guy with a close friend. I don't even think it was that either of us wanted him so much because he was that great, it was more that there was an unequal balance in our group. One friend was with her boyfriend. The boyfriend brought along one friend for our outing, so my friend and I somehow clung to some need to see who could win him over. I know that my need to win him over went deeper than that from childhood experiences that she hasn't had, but the competition was evident and not something we could be proud of.

I'm not gung-ho about climbing any ladders at work since I don't live for my work and never have, so I don't compete with women I work with in any way and just want them as friends since I find it so difficult to make friends outside of work these days.

I'll be back for more that actually relates to my thoughts on the book.

Cagey said...

Awesome comments so far!

I wanted to say that sometimes a "not so great" book can still make a great bookclub book as long as conversation is spurred. I've been to some BC gatherings where we all adored the book, but it didn't create much conversation. In the grand scheme of things, I would not consider this book a failure. It's too bad my wino book club didn't read this because I can imagine the comments to be made after a few glasses of El Vino.

I am not certain the author should be criticized for not including male/female rivalry - that simply wasn't part of the book. For sure, this book was only telling half the story, but it didn't appear to be claiming to tell the WHOLE story, either.

I have a post coming tomorrow about the so-called Mommy Wars! Interesting comment.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I just want to say that while I didn't think her methodology held up, that is not in ANY way a critique on a choice for the book club. First, because I'm having oodles of fun mocking her YMCA survey sample and B because I thought she covered a very, real and very very salient issue.

She is also a very decent writer. Some of the examples are repetitive and I question the value of the entertainment tidbits but I don't doubt that even if she had designed a proper survey that the calibre of the writing would have held up.

I also thought that going over multiple areas of rivalry (men, work, siblings, between mother and daughter), while difficult to execute as a properly structured survey unless you made the book huge-was good in that it gave the reader a variety of examples to think about the issue of female rivalry and what it means. I related most to the issues she covered about work.

Leah said...

No, I totally agree. It's more fun sometimes to discuss a book that pisses you off than a book that you adore. Good job, cagey!

MB said...

I remember our prom queen only because it was a gay guy! I loved my high school!!!