The Politics of Envy: Why Women Envy Women

Who do you envy, what makes you do it and why?

The Envy Across Adulthood: The What and Who has found, not so remarkably, that what we envy changes as we age. In our 20s, it’s physical appearance, social, romantic and scholastic success that we envy, and we tend to envy those within five years of our age. By our 40s it’s money, job status and family — and we envy 23-year-olds for driving around in small cars that don’t fit families and being able to Netflix binge.

What the study also found was that women envy other women at a greater rate than men envy men. (We swear, this is proper research and not two guys scouring Instagram and Facebook accounts during Minecraft breaks on a Saturday night.)

“Same-gender envy,” the study found, "was more pronounced in women than in men.” While what we envied changed over the decades, the who did not — with researchers being unable to “find support for the idea that women particularly envy the privileges of men.”

Say what? Women don’t envy the privileges of men? Okay, maybe it’s not envy. Maybe it’s frustration, exhaustion, disbelief, sadness, anger … did we say exhaustion? Maybe the lack of envy women in the study felt for the privileges of men has something to do with why we envy. Researchers say that we are more likely to envy those we have “exposure” to and those we can realistically compete with.

“For example, a high school athlete can do little to surpass a professional athlete,” the study suggests. “However, envy of a fellow high school player could potentially be beneficial. If they are similar, the envious player has the potential to best the other player and accrue the benefits of a relatively superior status.

"For these reasons, it may be adaptive for people to focus their envy on similar superior others rather than the person who is the absolute best in any given domain.”


So, here's where I differ greatly from the research. I do think I can compete with the person who has the absolute best in the given domain (with the given domain in this instance being the small fry called life.)

I envy the men who started out in the workforce at the same time as me, at the same level as me, with the same qualifications as me and now have a family and earn probably twice as much as I do.

I envy the men who have amassed, probably, four times the superannuation as I have. I envy the men fussed over and congratulated for putting their six-year-old daughter’s hair in a ponytail. It’s a ponytail people. And he has hands.

I envy the men who don’t walk home at night with a set of car keys held tight in their fist. Who don’t check the doors and windows at least three times when their partner is away at night for work.

I envy the men who don’t need to envy women.

What women and men envy may change over time. The decades roll on and our focus changes from looks and social success to family and money. That makes sense. It’s probably a little confronting to admit we envy, but we are human and we do.

What doesn’t make sense is limiting who we envy. Through the decades we envy other women, and while we do we lose sight of the bigger picture.

The men “with privileges” we are still waiting for. And if we envy, it means we still see the unfairness. It means we’re not exhausted and accepting. It means we won’t be silent.

It’s time to be an equal opportunity envier.