Economists tell us a fundamental principle of their discipline lies in the relationship between scarcity and competition. When a resource is scarce (or perceived as such), people feel an increased need to compete for that resource. In general, the more severe the limitation, the more desirable that resource appears and the fiercer the competition.
Sociologists, and our own experiences, tell us this principle applies to human relationships as well as material goods. When men or women are scarce, society changes as members of the opposite sex behave in ways designed to increase their chances in competition for mates. For example, one study found that when men perceive a scarcity of women, they are more likely to spend lavishly, incur debt, and save less because they are driven to use their financial resources to successfully compete with other men for the favor of women.
When power feels like a scarce resource, people will compete with one another to grab what influence they can. Historically, women have perceived that a small amount of power and opportunity are available to us—and that these resources are controlled and granted to us by others. So when some small door of opportunity cracks open, we greedily shove one another out of our way in an effort to be the first—or better yet, only—woman through the gap. We often feel we must compete with one another to win a share of influence, and we resent one another for successes, believing other women’s achievement inherently erodes our own. The irony here is that in buying the idea of scarcity and bruising each other on our way through the door, we essentially guarantee that the real power stays in the hands of others.
So what happens when, instead, women stop focusing on scarcity, recognize their own abundance, decide to stop competing, and share? They find a kind of power they never would have otherwise: solidarity.
I used to feel like I was pretty weird because I didn’t think the way my culture told me girls were supposed to think. I didn’t care about all the things popular media told me girls were supposed to care about. I didn’t know a lot of women who felt compelled to write just to make sense of life, who couldn’t manage to pretend they didn’t have anything important to say, who were determined to leave a mark on the world rather than simply let the world mark them with its scarring promises of beauty and romance. So many girls and women around me were displaying the kind of empty-headed behavior society suggested they should. For a long time, I had a hard time finding like-minded women, and I often felt alone.
I’ve since learned—slowly—that I’m not alone. That such women are all around me—sometimes hidden behind a mask of accommodation that seems safer in a threatening world. Sometimes speaking softly as they grow in courage. It seems to me the chorus of voices of women like me is growing louder. Or perhaps I just hear it better now that I’ve picked up the tune and added my voice to theirs.
Last year, I spent a weekend in a living illustration that I’m definitely not alone—a group of 30 women, gathered for a writers retreat. We had somehow found each other, women with remarkably similar sensibilities, passionate about speaking truth in an age so full of lies. We committed to fearlessly expand the feminine voice in our churches, communities, and culture. We agreed to do this without competing with one another. And it soon became clear that we can achieve exponentially greater results when we work together.
Writing is by nature a solitary occupation. For most writers solitude is necessary and welcome, but it can become crushing. Particularly when words we painstakingly pour on paper are misunderstood, rejected, or harshly and personally criticized. Like everyone else, we need kind and understanding friends to help us see what’s true, to keep everything in perspective, and to keep going. But since we work alone, those friends can be hard to find.
One of the most common themes I heard at that weekend retreat was “I’m not alone.” And when women weren’t saying it, I could still see it in their eyes—their relief and reassurance at discovering they’re not weirdos and they’re not alone. The bolstering power of forging a bond with another woman who also goes through the daily exercise of mustering the courage to be true to self and honest with the world.
I was leading a discussion-oriented workshop when I looked at my meager notes and wondered whether I had anything helpful to say. A few minutes later, I looked at the faces of the women in the room, eager for knowledge I had gained through experience, and realized what I had thought was meager was actually abundance—and sharing it didn’t cost me anything. I shared hugs and felt the life-giving power of generous connection. I watched women soak in the nourishment of feeling understood. “You get me; you’re my people,” I heard more than one person say. I saw a beautiful kind of courage and a new sort of peace take residence on one woman’s face when another spoke up in front of the group and praised her for her courage in publishing a series of articles on a topic that opened her to severe criticism—and brought hope to many readers.
When women decide to support one another rather than compete—when they feel Christ’s abundance rather than their own scarcity, and they share out of that abundance—great things can happen. When we take small steps in solidarity, watch out. We’ll make a difference. Because we’re together, and that makes all the difference.