On Being Competitive as a Woman

As women we often apologise for being competitive. It's considered unfeminine. Here's why we should celebrate and embrace our competitive edge.

I recently read this article which talks about how as women we are conditioned to apologise often. We apologise for ourselves, our lifestyles, our bodies and our choices, even when no apology is needed.

Being competitive is something that women needlessly apologise for. A competitive edge is not considered to be feminine- it’s associated with being too aggressive, ambitious and demanding. Men rarely apologise for being competitive, but it somehow feels wrong as a woman to admit the desire to win.

I often hold myself back for fear of being perceived as competitive. Lane swimming etiquette says that slower swimmers should let faster swimmers pass if they are being tapped on the toes. However, at my club swimming session I’ll often hold back and avoid overtaking as I worry I’ll be seen as rude or pushy. The same goes for cycling, I’ll stay at the back of the group as I feel I’m perceived as a show-off if I push forward to the front.

At Cycle Rhythm, the studio environment is set up to foster healthy competition. Stats are displayed on a screen at the front of the room, ranking each rider based on power output. Men seem to embrace this concept from the outset. However, I often hear female members initially claiming they are not competitive, then being sucked in by the leaderboard wanting to overtake their rivals.

Women play just as hard as men. We’re just as competitive- Sheryl Swoopes

A clubmate described me as being competitive last summer when we were training for the Cotswold 113. I was taken aback and immediately felt the need to justify myself. I’d never considered myself to be competitive, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised it is OK to want to win. The desire for success is an innate human trait regardless of whether we are male or female. It’s something I want to celebrate and stop apologising for.

I am a competitive person and it’s not something to be ashamed of. I’m competitive in triathlon, my blog, my career and my life. A little healthy competition gives me the drive to push myself and achieve my goals. It helps me to put in my best effort and perform better. Training alongside someone who is slightly faster than me spurs me on to catch them. Of course, I’ll never win a triathlon, but I can always compete with myself to improve on my last performance.

I recently came 1st lady in a 25 mile Time Trial organised by my club. To be fair, there was only one other female taking part, but regardless I felt that ambition to win.

You can’t always be the strongest or most talented or most gifted person in the room, but you can be the most competitive- Pat Summitt

We are often told that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ but in fact I think it can be useful to compare our results to our peers in order to bolster the desire to achieve.

Being competitive doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see others succeed. I’m hugely supportive of my friends, family, colleagues and clubmates- I love to see them achieve their goals and reach their potential. I’m not threatened by their success- they are not my rivals, but my inspiration.

What are your thoughts on being competitive as a woman?

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7 Comments

  1. May 19, 2017 / 6:52 pm

    I feel like there are two sorts of competitive: the arrogant outspoken competitive and the quietly confident competitive. I try to be the latter and I don’t apologise for it. That’s just who I am.

  2. Excellent post! I watched yesterday the TEDTalk by Caroline Paul about raising brave girls by encouraging adventure, and your post sort of complements her thinking. I am not really competitive but I agree with your point – it’s not something women should be ashamed of. Competition only makes me feel uncomfortable, or downright angry, when it means crushing everybody else in your path to victory.
    #OutdoorBloggers

  3. May 19, 2017 / 7:11 am

    I really agree with what you’re saying, and I think culturally women are discouraged from having too much confidence in themselves, it’s seen as undesirable, too masculine and a bit arrogant. It also holds women back and promotes shame. We need to stop apologising and then we can flourish!

  4. May 19, 2017 / 7:07 am

    I am with you on the competitive side. I do have a very competitive streak. I’m no where near “winning” races and probably never will be. However I don’t want to be last, if I’m running a park run and there is someone just in front of me, I try my hardest to be in front of them by the next corner. The main thing is, I am competitive with myself. I try to run slightly faster or longer every time I run (this isn’t always the case) or with weights go heavier or do a few extra reps.

  5. May 19, 2017 / 7:01 am

    I think there is nothing wrong with being competitive at all! I’m not really, only against myself (eg when going for a new pb or something). I would happily overtake someone at parkrun, and if it was a lapped course I would try to keep over in case someone else was coming on their next lap to go past me, but I think everyone has as much right to the space in the park so as long as you are not being inconsiderate then it’s fine.

  6. May 16, 2017 / 12:33 pm

    As somebody who now works in the US working with young female athletes, I feel this is more prevalent in the U.K. You’re 100% right, it isn’t something females should feel sorry for. They certainly don’t here. If anything, the girls I work with are accused of not being competitive enough at times, as I am constantly asked how I can improve their aggression levels.

    Those that do have a problem with it…it’s exactly that, THEIR problem. I know we as Brits tend to apologise a lot for other people lack of comfort when we really shouldn’t.

    Keep the competitive spirit alive

    • May 17, 2017 / 4:26 pm

      Thanks, that’s a really interesting perspective, I didn’t think of it as a British vs US thing but you are right that we have a different mindset here to in the states.

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