If you’re successful in your field, you can expect to have some enemies. If you’re a successful woman, you can expect to have many enemies,” said one of the winners at the Sunday Standard Devi Awards in the capital on Monday. (For those not in the know, Devi is an initiative started by our media group in 2014 to recognise and honour exceptional Indian women who, through their work in different sectors, are helping to build the backbone of the nation. You can find more details about this year’s awardees on Page 12.)
The late American poet Maya Angelou once said, “A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.” Sadly, not every woman is wise. Which is why a lot of people believe that most of the enmity that’s hurled at women achievers comes from other women. They say that it’s not just the female CEO who’s among the top 10 of all Power Lists or the gorgeous filmstar who is the cover girl of every fashion magazine who earns the ire of other women.
Even regular working women who can’t attend every PTA meeting of her child or who skips the occasional sports day or school concert because she’s travelling on work or has an office meeting gets branded as a bad mother by her compatriots while stay-at-home moms are deemed lazy and criticised for not helping to provide for their families. Seems you can’t win either way.
I get that women can be, and often are, resentful of each other. It could be the other’s beauty, skills, fortune or higher social status that rubs one the wrong way. It could also be professional rivalry (whether they work together or not) where one woman doesn’t want to see another win or surpass her level of success. Maybe it’s envy, maybe it’s jealousy (though there’s a sexual angle to that); or maybe it’s plain dissatisfaction with one’s own lot in life that manifests itself as spite towards the other.
But, these emotions are not restricted to women. Enmity, sparked by envy or jealousy, knows no gender. Men are just as resentful of each other’s success. Worse, unlike women, they are also resentful of the success of the opposite sex. Which of us has not encountered or heard of men being envious of a female colleague’s better pay grade or position? And attributing her success to anything but her talent and hard work? The Danes, in fact, have a saying that captures the universality of envy rather pithily: “If envy were the fever, all the world would be ill.”
Psychologists say people most often direct their envy at those in the same age group as themselves (give or take five years). With time, the cause of envy reportedly changes. While young people are said to feel the most pangs over a rival’s good looks and social and romantic success, people over 50 are agitated largely by the monetary and occupational success of their ‘enemies’. The good news, say the shrinks, is that even that passes as the years roll on and most old people just feel goodwill (or plain nothing) towards those doing better than themselves. If only our success could wait till then. Or we could all become Angelou’s ‘wise woman’.