By Halee Gray Scott
Most of us have memories of them. Those girls on the playground, in high school, in our sorority house and even in our workplace, who were bent on making life miserable for anyone not included in the elite “clique.” They teased, bullied and alienated. These are the girls now epitomized in a slew of Hollywood teen films such as the “Mean Girls,” but it’s a relational dynamic that strings it way through human history all the way back to Rachel and Leah: the harsh reality of female rivalry.
In politics, business and our personal lives, both men and women are guilty of merciless competition, envy and catty criticism. We don’t need to look any further than ESPN or E! to know that competition and envy abound in relationships regardless of gender, but in relationships between females, it takes on a new form because of the scarceness of opportunities for women and even the scarceness of “good” men.
Often times envy is spurred on by fear: fear of rejection, of alienation, of anonymity, of a perceived purposeless of one’s life because ‘someone else’ did it first.
Unfortunately, these expectations and fears can cause women, even more so than men, to have twisted relationships in which we are constantly comparing or criticizing one another.
As Kelly Valen, author of Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships, stated in an interview regarding an incident of alienation and abandonment by her sorority sisters, “Although the incident obviously involved both men and women, it was that lingering hurt that I had from women and that betrayal … we have expectations of support from women.”
Yet, in 1 Thessalonians 5:11-14, the apostle Paul calls Christians to rise above these contentions and set an example for those outside the faith.
In this passage, Paul exhorts us to “untwist” our relationships by encouraging one another, building up one another, helping one another, and seeking the good for each other. Matthew Henry comments, “We should not only be careful about our own comfort and welfare, but promote the comfort and welfare of others also. He was a Cain who said, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ We must bear one another’s burdens, so as to fulfill the law of Christ.”
I’m learning that to truly “untwist” our relationships, we must be willing, as Christian women leaders, to stretch ourselves and let go of both our judgments and perceptions about other women—as well as our fears about our own perceived shortcomings—by acknowledging and supporting the giftedness of other Christian women, our fellow sisters.
Halee Gray Scott, PhD, is an author, scholar and researcher who focuses on spiritual formation and leadership development for women leaders. She can quote Shakespeare by heart or give an hour-long discourse on the French Enlightenment, but she cannot make Ellie, her two-year-old daughter, eat or sleep on everyone else’s schedule. She writes on Christian women and leadership at www.hgscott.com.