I believe one of the most basic and pervasive impulses of the female is to compare one's self to other females.
As far back as I can recall, I've been playing the comparing game. When I was in 4th grade and in fluorescent orange spandex for my Janet Jackson dance recital, I distinctly recall comparing my 10-year-old belly rolls to those of the other girls around me. My OK-ness was determined through the comparing game: As long as my belly rolls were fewer and smaller than the majority of the other girls, then I won. Thus began a life-long value system of determining worth through comparison, an almost subconscious instinct to constantly rank and either win or lose. Perhaps men do the same thing, but I can't pretend to know anything about the male psyche.
As we grow older, the comparing continues but slightly alters based on context. The body comparison game continues...well at least to age 33, I can vouch for that. This is why I've never understood why any woman would want to work out at Curves. So many women dislike working out in front of men, afraid of what the men will think of them. It's not the men you have to worry about, honey! It's the women checking out your backside 95% of the time. Unless you're super hot, perhaps. I don't know; I haven't had this problem. When I work out at a gym, the men pay no mind to my legs. (Unless they're just super-stealth, which I highly doubt.) The women are the ones quantifying and ranking all other females in their proximity to see how they measure up.
I have come a long way in resisting the urge to compare myself to other women, but I'm learning that I still have a long way to go. I've been feeling, as many pregnant women do, like a plodding heifer for the past many months. But after attending my birthing class last week, I felt much better after playing the comparing game with the other preggos in the room and finding that I wasn't doing too shabby, relatively. I know this doesn't make me a very nice person, but it does make me an honest one.
With pregnancy and motherhood, new aspects are now added to the comparing game, "natural" childbirth and breastfeeding being the two that immediately come to mind. I don't know how many times I've been asked what my plan for these two things are. Most often, of course, they're simply appeals for information. But there certainly exists a culture of pride and guilt surrounding both. Whether or not we've triumphed through unmedicated childbirth and fed our children from breast rather than bottle become the next two notches on our feminine comparing belt. We don't, as some Native American tribes did, hang scalps from our belts as signs of our value, we hang our natural childbirths, our breastfeeding, our pant size, our job, our stay-at-home status, our method of schooling, and on and on.
My own disease of comparing has been brought home to me as I contemplate what birthing, parenting, etc. decisions I will make. As I've researched the various birthing options, the thought always lurks in my mind, "But what will other women think of me if I get an epidural?" How vile a thought. I like to (perhaps mistakenly) think of myself as a logical, even-minded person who makes decisions in a balanced way. What someone else will think of us if we choose a or b should absolutely never play any role in decision making.
So, as I embark on this new step of my journey as woman, I realize that I have come along way from my fluorescent orange spandex comparing days, but also how weak I still can be. I would like to be a woman who makes her choices by carefully weighing the factors and making the decision she thinks is right or best. A woman who evaluates and values herself without reference to those around her. A woman who views other women not as a measuring stick, but as unique and beautiful individuals. I'd like to be that woman, but I'm not there quite yet.