Competition between women: A conceptualization and an evaluation of the relational process

Constance Ann Johannessen (1992)

This study is an exploration of women's process of competition. It is embedded in Relational theory, as developed at the Stone Center for Developmental Services and Studies, Wellesley College. The theory acknowledges gender differences and recognizes women's propensity to value connections in relationships. Theoretically, competition is an emphasized value within a hierarchical and patriarchal system with inherent characteristics of autonomy and separateness. Given women's more relational style, competition presents conflict between women's more usual stance of connecting with others versus their disconnecting in order to compete. The major thesis in this study is that competition between women is a complex process because of this connecting/disconnecting struggle. Clinical and research literature is reviewed which spans the ontology of competition for women, gender differences, and the development of competition between women. The process of competition is illuminated through the integration of theory and research. By assessing women's responses to competition through a broad survey and in-depth interviews with six women, findings demonstrate that women undergo a particular and complex process. The findings from the factor analysis procedure showed four factors similar to the hypothesized stages: Pre-stage, Resistance to Compete; Stage I, Evaluation of Self and Other; Stage II, Interpersonal Struggle; and Stage III, Resolution. Three series of MANOVAs were conducted on these factors, followed by Scheffe's tests for post hoc multiple comparisons. The findings showed variability between groups for particular stages in each series. For example, significant findings were evidenced between older and younger women when evaluating an opponent upon entry into a competitive event. It was hypothesized that competition for women would present as a complex process. The study explored, through a narrative technique, six women's process of competition. The qualitative findings complemented the anticipated identified stages and illuminated a sequential process. The results of this study should be useful to women as they continue to venture into the public sphere to compete. This study is a first step towards comprehending the difficulties inherent for women when competing. By understanding our competitive selves, ultimately a more progressive paradigm can evolve which supports women's strivings towards excellence.