Women supporting women: what to stop and start doing

We hear a lot about how women should support women but what does it actually look like and how can we do it genuinely? This was a blog request and I gotta be honest, I wasn’t sure how to write about it. I haven’t had a super strong and consistent presence of women in my life and I’m sure that’s partly my fault. To say this was intimidating to write wouldn’t be far off. I can only speak from my experience and I acknowledge this won’t be every self-identifying woman’s experience.

The Righteous Woman and The Queen Bee

The Righteous Woman

“The Righteous Woman” archetype believes it’s our moral obligation as women to lift each other up, to support each other, and to help one another since we all experience sexism. Madeleine Albright once said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”

You see this when women start organizations to help women who are struggling. I think of The Cyclists’ Alliance – an organization representing professional women cyclists in UCI Women’s World Tour Events. It’s operated by and solely benefits women because they know the plight of the women’s professional peloton.

Iris Slappendel could be considered “The Righteous Woman” for starting the Cyclists’ Alliance, being a former pro herself and knowing that women aren’t represented as equally as men in UCI professional cycling.

Another example I know personally is starting the Women’s Development Program through BRAC because I wanted to help eliminate barriers to entry for women and trans women who wanted to learn how to race their bike. I also expected women to help me because of what I was doing; they knew it was hard enough to start racing as a woman so I thought I’d have the unwavering support of women.

The Queen Bee

“The Queen Bee” archetype is when women in power distance themselves from other women and tend to be more critical of female subordinates.

They distance themselves by saying “they’re not like other women” or take on more masculine traits to be “one of the guys.” “The Queen Bee” sees other women as competitors instead of collaborators.

We’ve all been “The Queen Bee” too at one point and in some variant. Here’s my revelation:

I think subconsciously I became a “Queen Bee” when I first became a women’s team leader. There was major strife between the club and race members and there was no way of making everyone happy. I scheduled clinics and group rides. No one showed up. I know some women didn’t want to ride with me because I was “intimidating.”

Then I slowly started riding more with the men because they showed up to rides. I started distancing myself subconsciously. I liked being “one of the guys” because they welcomed me. This doesn’t mean I was ever unwelcoming to the women on the team. I took the path of least resistance and in the end, I think it made me more of a “Queen Bee” and less a “Righteous Woman.” 

I took racing seriously and I wanted to be surrounded by people who – I thought – also took it seriously. When I realized what I was doing, I joined BRAC in order to help women overcome different barriers to entry for racing. For example, most of the women on the team were moms, something I personally did not have experience with and didn’t understand the trivialities that came with it. And it was on me for not understanding and finding ways to support them.

Bullying

I’ve been on both sides of it: bullying, gossiping, and snubbing.

When I was little, like 1st grade, I bullied this girl. I can’t remember her name but myself and another girl picked on her all the time. Honestly, I don’t know why I did it and I still feel awful about it to this day. 

I’ve also been bullied as an adult by adult women. One woman, in particular, bullied me when I was creating the Women’s Development Program. It could have been due to her low self-esteem, unhappiness with herself, her own insecurities knowing she hadn’t accomplished a successful program, or being a “Queen Bee” herself. 

Gossiping/Snubbing

I’ve been on both sides of gossiping too – I’ve had people gossip about me and I’ve gossiped about women. Why the fuck do we do this? 

I’ve been told “not all the women…appreciate your personality. I don’t take issue with you. I understand why you are the way you are but not everybody does. I appreciate that you’re outspoken. I appreciate that you are hard on yourself and you have high expectations of yourself but I think the women…internalize that very negatively.”

We do it because of our own insecurities. We project our bullshit on to others. 

Scarcity Mindset

I think it’s the scarcity mindset that creates the rift between women.

To put it simply, it’s the belief that there isn’t enough to go around – whether that’s money, food, jobs, even podiums, FTPs, and spots on teams. 

When we view life this way, we act competitively instead of collaboratively. We think that if she got 1st place then that means I can’t get it. Then we compare ourselves and believe we are less-than them.

If she has a high FTP then we assume if ours isn’t as high then we’re not strong or not worthy. When really, her FTP has absolutely nothing to do with you. Her FTP does not determine your value. You determine your value.

Dead-even Paradox

There was another thing I read about all of this where women are collaborative so long as we’re “dead-even.

Once the scales tip in either direction, we’re competitive again. So, if we all had the same FTP and same results (I.e-we all didn’t make the podium), then there’s no competition between us, we can be friends blah blah blah.

But once one of us gets first place and the rest of us simply just finish the race, then we’re competitors and we see this Queen Bee vs the Righteous Woman develop.

How does this tie into a scarcity mindset?

We start to think that because she got this thing (1st place, 230 watt FTP, can squat double her body weight, etc.) that means either we can’t get that thing because we have a scarcity mindset or we think less of ourselves because we don’t have that thing.

I was once snubbed by being publicly critical of a 4th place finish. I never said anything about any of my other competitors. It was women outside my category who read that and chose to feel insecure. 

This is another way that brings women down. I wasn’t dead-even with them so they chose to distance themselves from me, to ostracize me and to gossip..

We’re often critical of women when we feel bad about ourselves.

My complaining about 4th place brought up their own insecurities of cycling – maybe their lower FTP or finish result.

If this is how women are confronted about their own emotions, it’s no wonder why many of us stay silent about our feelings. We don’t want to be ostracized.

How can women support women?

First thing: stop comparing yourself to other women

It’s good to want to become a better version of yourself but comparing yourself to other women will only make you feel inferior.

Remember that you are on your own path with an entirely different history from someone else. You have a different upbringing, set of skills, and innate abilities.

Remember that her success does not diminish any possibility of your own success. Instead of seeing one woman’s success as a spotlight on your own shortcomings, see it as shining a light on the possibilities.

She has a 230 watt FTP? She made it onto a professional team? She got first place in your race? Great! Now you know that it’s a possibility – it’s something that can happen. If she can do it, so can you.

Celebrate the fact that someone proved to you that it’s attainable and nothing’s stopping you from accomplishing it as well.

Show up for them

I’m not a fan of crits. I think they’re boring because we ride around in a 1-mile long loop for 45 minutes. My friend’s team was putting on the DFC Crit. I went solely to support her and her team. I paid my registration fee. I posted about the race on my social media. I even wrote a blog post about it. I literally showed up to her race to support her.

When I hosted the Women’s+ Bike Night a ton of women came because I personally asked them to. They showed up with giant smiles and it was awesome.

Last weekend I was racing on Zwift and one of my Zwift teammates sent me a message just as I was losing the group to “Keep going. You’re on fire!” And apparently, that’s all I needed to squeak out enough power to close the 1-second gap to catch back up with the group. I ended up in 4th place out of 63 women. All it took was one message.

Have an abundance mindset

It’ll be easier on you to adopt an abundance mindset. Believe that the good thing that happened to her can totally happen for you as well.

It’s like sunshine. If 1 Million people stood together during a sunny day, everyone would get the same amount of sun. More sun wouldn’t go to the more attractive, stronger, highly intelligent woman. No, you’d both get the same amount of sun. Her success does not mean you’re a failure. Her success shows you what’s possible – what you can also achieve.

Support them

Do you have a friend who runs their own business or sells their services or products on the side? Buy from them. Share their business with other people.

Celebrate the fact that they had the courage to start their own business, to go through the ups and downs of running it, and to acknowledge their hard work. Supporting their endeavors will give you the boost you may need to do the same thing.

If you can’t monetarily support them, emotionally support them. Women are naturally collaborative. We work well together when we put aside the bullshit. If you know someone who’s going through a hard time, offer your ear or shoulder. Hell, ask them if you can give them a hug.

Sometimes a hug is all it takes.

Or, in this day and age, send them a supportive text or call them. Seriously, one little message can do wonders.

If you can’t emotionally support them, support them professionally. If you have a friend looking for a job or who needs a mentor and you have the capacity to help, then help them.

You see this “Queen Bee”/”Righteous Woman” dynamic play out in the workplace a lot more than other settings.

If you’re in a position of power, help the women working to get to your level and don’t hold them back. Maybe you didn’t get that kind of help when you were moving up in the company. That doesn’t mean other women have to learn the hard way as well. We all benefit when there are more women in higher positions in companies. 

If you see a woman bullying/harassing/snubbing another woman – call it out or walk away. You don’t have to be an audience to that. And if you’re not confrontational, change the subject. It’s as easy as that.

I’ve learned that you truly don’t get anywhere or feel any better by talking shit about other people. It ends up hurting you the most because it affects your mood and how you look at things and to go through life super negative and hating on everyone just causes distress. 

Society has taught us that we’re competitors and if someone has a thing, then we’re not going to get it. But it’s just not true. We can support each other. We can cheer for each other. Women can support women and when we do, we’re stronger together because of it. 

What'd you think?