Sugar and Spice, Can They Race Nice?

Sugar and Spice, Can They Race Nice?

Sugar and Spice, Can They Race Nice?
by Amanda McCracken
When I am faced with a situation in which I fear risking a friendship in the wake of competition, I vividly remember a fall cross country race when I was 14. In previous races that fall I would consistently run the majority of the race with my elder teammate, “Betty”, and then out-kick her at the finish. About 1000 meters before the finish of one evening’s race, as I began to pull away, “Betty” muttered, “Don’t go yet, Amanda! Wait!” I thought for a minute, “Will I hurt her feelings if I go ahead? Do I have the right to leave her since she’s older than me?” Somewhere tucked in my pockets of motivation, I heard my mother shout, “We are a family of ass-kickers! Now GO!” After this tug-of-war delay between my feminine desire to keep the playing field even, and my family influenced competitive drive, I, reluctantly, pulled the trigger. I had almost allowed “Betty”, now a lawyer, to successfully manipulate my feelings. My father was furious that I a) questioned staying with her and running my own race and b) felt bad for leaving her. Why did I allow a friendship to get in the way of my individual race? Would a guy in the same situation struggle or more easily separate competition from friendship? I decided this dilemma would enslave me in future situations on and off the playing field unless I understood my internal conflict.

It all starts in the beginning. In socio-linguist Deborah Tannen’s book, You Just Don’t Understand, she describes young girls at play based on several studies of children as young as three. The observations noted that “the girls mitigated the conflict and preserved harmony by compromise and evasion.” Many girls’ games (such as playing house) do not have winners and losers and everyone gets a turn, she remarks.

Tannen goes on to say that “girls are not accustomed to jockeying for status in an obvious way.” This is not to say that females are not competitive and that they don’t have hierarchies within their groups. Differentiation is measured by relative closeness so females try to minimize differences. In my recent conversation with one of my best friends and biggest competitors, Heidi, I experienced a great example of minimizing differences. After she complained about her recent bike split in a Half-Ironman distance race, I supported her by responding with, “Your bike pace was faster than mine in half the distance race!” “Yea, but you are still a stronger runner than me,” she said, thus evening the playing field. Girls tend to interact in groups where intimacy is the key and being liked is of high importance.

When you find yourself in a competitive situation with a friend, realize where your feelings are coming from and assess your priorities. There’s a time for “girl time” and a time for “competition”. Is it more important to keep the playing field even and minimize differences or to aggressively pursue your goal? Perhaps wearing pink skirts in races these days helps balance the competitive, assertive (what some may call masculine) behavior to defeat your competitor-friend or foe.

It’s okay, in fact, it is more than okay to go ahead of your “Betty” during the race.

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