The Mean Girls workshop was attended by over 60 femmes! All of whom were fucking stoked to dissect, dismantle and dish about the very real phenomenon of femme on femme mean girl and competitive behavior. We laughed, we cried, we yelled “fuck the white, colonialist, ableist, capitalist system!” And at the end of our hour and a half together, I think many of us felt that community building and growth had taken place.
I gathered up all of the notes from our activities and typed them up here for all to see. It is my hope that this post can serve as a permanent documentation of our conversations and commitments (and ongoing conversations too! see bottom of this post for an invitation to continue the dialogue).
You will find the notes laid out in 5 parts:
1. A brief introduction to the topic by yrs truly, miss arkansassy
2. A working/first attempt definition of “femme competition”
Some answers to the questions:
3. What are the root causes of femme competition? AKA Why do we do this shit?
4. What does mean girl and competitive behavior look like?
5. What are some ways we can transform mean girl and competitive behavior into femme solidarity and community building?
I. An Introduction
At the 2010 FemmeCon, my great friend Rachel Schiff and I, co-facilitated a workshop called PolyFemmory: Living, Loving, and Fucking as Poly and Femme, which was about the joys and challenges that happen at the intersection of being polyamorous and femme. What came out of that workshop (besides a lot of heartsharing!) was a profound need by participants to discuss femme competition as it related to dating multiple people. At the same time, it was evident to me and I think all in the room that this was a very real, very pressing queer community issue, not just a poly issue.
Femme competition has also cost me several beautiful relationships and friendships (as well as heartache and inner turmoil), and as a community organizer and someone deeply invested in anti-oppression organizing, I wanted to continue to help elevate this conversation in queer/femme community. Rachel and I worked up an initial outline for FemmeCon 2012, and unfortunately she was unable to attend, but I carried it through with her spirit and love in my wings.
II. What is Femme Competition?
(note: this is a working definition and just my initial first go at developing a framework to guide the discussion)
Rivalry amongst femmes that femmenifests in mean girl/catty behavior and/or behavior that hurts ourselves and/or others. This behavior can be the result of our own socialization (race, class, gender, ability, etc), trauma, and the pressures of systems of power and oppression. Femme competition, in many cases is rooted in scarcity models. We compete because we feel there isn’t “enough.” Competition looks like us vying for some perceived or real limited “resource.” Femme competition is not just an interpersonal or femme only issue but also a queer community issue.
III. What are the root causes of femme competition? AKA Why do we do this shit?
This section was facilitated through an "Open Space" model where participants used a self-guided and self-regulated activity to discuss some of the main reasons femmes compete. What they came up with is as follows (in no particular hierarchical order):
- Internalizing dating thinner people
- Between and within size communities
- Even smaller communities!
- “when you shame your body, you shame my body”
- The idea that perceived attractiveness is correlated to self worth
Competition for AGs, butches and studs
- Coming out as femme later in development
- Masculinity on a pedestal
- Searching for the love of self
- Through the hateration of others
- Anger at black cock for white grrrls, always white supremacy
- More grrrls than clients with sex workers / transgrrrl sex workers, no sisterhood
- Feeling insecure!
- Feeling that femmeness is not worthwhile
- Power and commodification
Fear of vulnerability
- “It’s all about me” – ness
- Capitalism – individualism, free market shit
- “feeling special” being the best
- desire to be the focus
- “crazy” I’m dealing with shit better than others
- Not considering the other grrrl
- “Not my responsibility”
- Feeling “not enough”
- Not getting dates
- Normative attractiveness privilege / abelism / diffrerent types of bodies
- Masculinity over valued
“The Chart” (small community, many sexual tangles)
- talking shit about style of sexual relationship (e.g. polyamory is “slutty”, monogamy = “not sex positive”) – policing
- friend groups (teams) involved in relationships
- bad breakup behavior
- mixed messages too public, insensitive
- people’s sexual happenings are considered free information
- way of bonding, but taken too far is shaming
- sexual health info (“that person has herpes”)
- oversharing, “I’ve been there,” “rite of passage” “fresh meat”
- trapping people in their own histories
- Responding to tokenism
- Undesirability of self-worth as POC
- Gender roles
- Light-skinned perpetuation
- Racism amongst poc dating white people
The white capitalist colonlialist abelist patriarchy making us not actually have enough and feel undesirable
IV. What does mean girl and competitive behavior look like?
This information was sourced through participant feedback with one facilitator.
Key things: share situations, not names. Share/take the plot, not the characters. Use supports and trust intuition!
- Not making eye contact
- Someone talking shit about your date in a public space
- Cut eye “look of death”
- Ice queen behavior
- Femme presentation too much/not enough
- Sexuality to undermine power
- Organizing privilege – using this to exclude
- Amongst organizing communities
- Conscious and unconscious
- Insults hidden in compliments
- Slut shaming, especially non-monogamous relationships
- Expectation of isolation among friend groups
- Refusing to name someone as femme / recognize their gender
- Oppression Olympics
- Insecurity femmenifesting as judgey pants
- Not acknowledging privilege/oppression – making this individual
- Calling people “crazy,” “insane,” invalidating emotions through ableism
- Friend possessiveness
- Sharing ppl’s dating histories, hooking up with someone as a right of passage (this is slut shaming)
- Setting up partner of black femme, calling this femme a bitch
- Anti-whore shit
- Holding ppl’s histories against them, not allowing for growth
- Questioning ethnicity, “what are you?” “that name is so interesting”
- “femme solidarity” that actually shames other femmes
- competition around performance/art/production
- not sharing the stage/spotlight because of history and competition
V. What are some ways we can transform mean girl and competitive behavior into femme solidarity and community building?
This is just the beginning of ongoing work!
- Vulnerability – think a lot about how the goal is to transform relationships, name behavior, speak from experience
- Be willing to meet the other person where they’re at
- Speak specifically to the incident
- Be mindful of dumping your history
- Call out gossip and catty back talk amongst yr safe group of friends – moving the conversation
- “It’s not about me”
- personal rituals: journaling, thinking a lot. Greatness to make space for others. “watering your positive plant.” – from World Famous BOB
- be vulnerable/call out AND ALSO provide both sides while validating feelings. Loyalty doesn’t have to mean taking sides
- Be open to hearing when you’ve hurt someone. Some of this is about survivorship. We have to recognize both sides. “You have to hear me” can look like entitlement
- Fashion – focus on this for connection BUT we can relate on other levels, e.g. organizing, something someone said
- Have a safe person to be vulnerable with in order to build muscle to be vulnerable in our communities
- Tend the bountiful friend garden
- Relearning which relationships to invest in when histories of abuse are present
- How do you protect yourself when you don’t have a history of girl/femme friendships?
- Checking in about intentions, righteousness and hurt feelings
- Get good with yourself about checking in with yourself!
- Finding other places outside the conflict to process the conflict (therapist, friend, etc)
As you can see, we got very fucking real, to the core, to the bone, down deep in the gut and pulled out a lot of hurt and trauma we carry as femmes around competitive behavior. I felt deeply humbled and proud of femme community after this honest conversation-- a conversation that is really only one part of a larger piece of dialogue and movement building around deconstructing divisive, competitive behavior and transforming our competitiveness into solidarity and love.
my babely friend Elisabeth in front of the love/notes wall at FemmeCon2012. do you have love to share via community transformation strategies for femme competition? comment and share the love!
I invite all who were in the workshop who want to clarify points in these notes to please do so in the comments of this blog (remembering our agreements about personal names, stories and plot. Confidentiality femmes!). And, I of course invite ALL of you, my femme community to add to this dialogue both here and in your communities.
Do you have anything to add to my working definition of femme competition?
Why do you compete?
What mean girl behavior have you perpetuated or witnessed in community?
What strategies do you utilize to work through competition and strive for solidarity?
Do you have success stories?
Please, I invite you to be part of this herstory archive on this topic as we continue to build our knowledge and our capacity to love ourselves and each other.
"It is our duty to fight. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains." -- Assata Shakur