by Melodie Davis
for release October 6, 2000
Women and Men: Do You Play Cutthroat?
Traditionally, sports like football and hockey have taught men that they can beat each other's brains out on the field or in the gym, and still be friends afterwards. This is obviously an exaggeration, but I've been pondering whether maybe this is a valuable thing to learn. I always think it is interesting to watch pro football players greet each other after games like long lost friends; indeed many of them were teammates/friends in college.
In playing games like Risk, Monopoly, or even a game of cards, do you typically play cutthroat and go for the win at any cost? Or are you more likely to hold back and feel sorry for the losing players, and play less competitively? Where do you learn your tendencies? Are you good at not taking things personally?
Some would say not taking things personally comes harder for women than men. However, with changing opportunities for women, many women are learning to argue or defend their proposals or points of views with their male colleagues in a meeting. Peggy Noonan, in a July 2000 article in Good Housekeeping, puts forth this idea. And she notes that with girls now engaged in very competitive sports from an early age, we'll see more women being openly competitive in the future.
I'd say this is one of the most valuable things I've learned in my 25 years on the job: that critique of my work, proposal, or an idea is not a criticism of me. Therefore that frees me to be more competitive, which I define in the workplace as being willing to speak up, defend my point of view.
I posed this question about how we learn or where we get our competition comfort level to an e-mail discussion group. One young woman attributed her competitive streak to being the oldest. By having two younger siblings, she was "displaced from the throne" of her parents' attention, so traditional psychology teaches, and then she tries to reclaim the throne by trying to be "better" at everything. She also feels that giving it all she's got is more fun.
Rex, in responding to my query, makes a fair caution against stereotyping, "I'm not sure that it's fair to say that men and women learn anything in a typical way. We all find our way individually. Some people learn better in a competitive environment than others."
Len notes that he most enjoyed "ordinary activities with girls" when they were pre-adolescents. "At that age, there seemed to be less difference [from males] in their way of competing, freedom to explore, freedom as individuals. Post-adolescent females seemed to me much more cautious, cliquish, secretive, worried about group approval, and yes, peevish. My off-hand impression is that more is learned from peers than from adult role models."
Len goes on to reflect that in his experience, some teenage and adult women are more concerned than men with group approval, with being seen as OK. "That certainly does not mean a lack of competitiveness. I see women as being extremely competitive within the group."
Dori, on the other hand, thinks that the way we are is inborn. She says while she did not enjoy team sports, in her work she was very competitive as a journalist: "I thrived on breaking stories: take that, fellow reporters! I was first! In some cases I enjoyed covering politics because I was one of the few, if not the only, woman in the room at any given time." She prefers working with men because she has experienced them to be less "stab-you-in-the-back." Dori admits that maybe part of her competitive streak comes from parents who felt it was not polite for women to be competitive, and she maybe is inwardly rebelling against that, (which may work against Dori's argument that our attitudes are in-born).
Len feels that women "could definitely lighten their burdens" by allowing themselves to be more openly competitive, although he wonders if women would then "lose" some of the nicer traits he has observed and admired in women's friendships.
Perhaps being competitive is totally different from not taking things personally. While I feel like I have grown in my ability to let certain kinds of criticism roll off my back, I still prefer to go easy on my children in a game of Risk or Monopoly. Even in a game of Pinochle with friends, with men versus women, while I love beating the guys, if the men lose too long, I start to feel sorry for them.
What do you think? Send your comments and stories to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 740 words; end material = 105 words
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