[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hree years ago around this time, I was playing a war game to demonstrate strategic skills in history class. At the table sat three girls and four boys. Before we had begun to play, the boys had conspired to take over the game. I thought the girls would do the same, but the opposite happened. Instead of coming together, they became hostile towards each other.
We began, and every time I made a risky move, I was criticized by the girls. If a boy praised me for my “guts,” the girls would follow suit. In one strategic play, my army was overthrown because a girl betrayed me in the last moments. The boys seemed oblivious, while I became increasingly irritated. I had seen this behaviour many times before. If these boys were going to stand together, why couldn’t we?
A couple days later, I came across an article entitled “Shine Theory: Why Powerful Women Make the Greatest Friends.” The author, Ann Friedman, spoke about the concept of women encouraging each other and holding each other up, rather than bringing one another down.
As I read the article, I began to believe that Shine Theory had the ability to beget a revolution of sorts; it presented a new way for young women to view leadership and female fraternity. It seemed to me that if young women began to put this theory into practice at university, the results could be transformative and lasting.
In the article, Friedman claims, “In many industries, women are still perceived to be token hires — which means that other women can feel like our chief competition… When we hate on women who we perceive to be more ‘together’ than we are, we’re really just expressing the negative feelings we have about our own careers, or bodies, or relationships.”
Her solution to this is to flip the script: “When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”
The culture of competition amongst women has historical roots in Western society. As women flooded the workplace in the 1980s, the prevailing model of leadership was masculine; women have been working since then to change that, and it has been an uphill climb.
The releases of two books: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, and #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso, present different models of female leadership. Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, Amoruso is the founder of the clothing brand Nasty Gal, and both women have a net worth of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Lean In suggests that women should try to overcome the inclination to ask for permission, reject the label ‘bossy’ in description of female leadership, and recognize that there is an uneven playing field between men and women. Yet the framework that Sandberg provides in Lean In, does not deter women from competing with one another to be more ‘put together’ or in charge of their lives.
#GIRLBOSS suggests that a woman does not need to ask permission; she should demand her rights, embrace the notion of being a ‘bossy boss,’ and realize that the playing field is what she makes it.
Shine Theory is catered towards the model presented in #GIRLBOSS. This model does not imagine female leaders as men with breasts, but as women who are the best versions of themselves.
Shine theory is important for many reasons. First, it creates a reality where women are not competitors but assets to each other’s well-being. Secondly, it destroys the convention that women must overcompensate or hurt other women to reinforce their status.
The destruction of this convention could mean a world where womanhood is rooted in camaraderie and fraternity. This is what Daouii Abouchere, a fourth-year Economics major, sees in her friend group: “Female camaraderie is important… It is not a race but rather a journey of growth and self-discovery. Having some of the most accomplished and beautiful, inside and out, women in my circle of friends has allowed me to feel like the world is ours for the taking.”
Since many young women form their leadership habits in university, it is an ideal place to implement Shine Theory. The first way that women can do this is to cultivate a personal community centred around inspiring women: find yourself a ‘Girl Gang.’
It’s well-known that successful people surround themselves with other successful people. When a woman who is aiming to become a CEO connects with another woman who is aiming to become a CEO, they may feed off of each other’s drive.
According to Sienna Jang, second year Health Studies student, “All my friends who are in the same group. We all study [Life Sciences] and [it’s] a lot of work and studying. So, when somebody [does well], we cheer each other.” She continued, “I think Shine Theory is what happened to me as I entered [university]… I met such beautiful, positive, passionate and smart people who upgraded me.”
I love social media and I follow plenty of successful women from various fields on Snapchat and Instagram. Something I’ve noticed is that they all hang out together. If you find an Editor-in-Chief of one magazine, she will probably be power brunching with the marketing director of another magazine. Not only do they hang out together, but they encourage each other professionally.
This extends to university as well. According to second-year Life Sciences student Nikita Lavres, “In my circle of friends, which is comprised of a lot of science students, if one person particularly excels in a certain subject, there isn’t [this] sense of ‘I’m better than you, figure it out for yourself… it’s an attitude of ‘let me show you and teach you my ways so that you too can excel like I do’ and it’s incredibly empowering.”
Where do you find these women to power brunch with in university? Try joining groups on campus. With over 800 societies and clubs on campus, there is a plethora of spaces to meet your future best friend/role model.
By joining societies and clubs, I was given the opportunity to see excellence in action. It also allows you to observe women who are older and more experienced. Role models come in many forms, and for me it’s the great university women who came before me. They are young enough to relate but old enough to have a different, wiser perspective.
Another method is to reach out to someone you admire. See a girl on Facebook who is ambitious, cool, and fits your aesthetic? Contact her and let her know you think she’s cool. My greatest gift in first year was meeting a group of talented and ambitious women through social media. U of T is a large university, and, for me, Facebook is the glue that keeps it together. During the hardest times in the school year, these girls reminded me who I am and what I’m capable of.
Lastly, look for mentors. By learning the stories of women who have succeeded in your field, you equip yourself with the lessons of their triumphs and errors.
Alexandra Sundarsingh is a masters student studying Food History, and while she hasn’t seen the Shine Theory in action explicitly, she notes that female mentorship has helped her navigate her own path: “I think that the female mentor is important, not just because of similar experiences, but also because only they can teach you the flip side: needing to respect and consider the perspectives of a non-nurturing female role model… Female mentors point out and help explain the other women that often men just don’t know about or care to.”
In a world where competition is the norm, having people around you that will encourage and uplift you is vital. The Shine Theory provides a framework where women have the chance to create their own spaces and make their own definitions. By connecting with like-minded individuals, you can create a new reality for yourself.