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OP-ED: Female competitiveness in male-dominated fields: why do we try to one-up each other to find success?

As a woman pursuing an engineering degree, I feel threatened when there’s another woman in the room. It’s not that I don’t want her to succeed; I want all women to succeed, but I wish for my success more.

What’s funny is I don’t know if I believe that consciously. It feels like some kind of subconscious wiring that’s been programmed into my psyche. But eventually, as all beliefs do, mine was challenged by an event that happened a couple of weeks ago. 

Megan Thee Stallion broke her silence by releasing her newest hit, “Hiss,” calling out individuals in the rap industry. Rapper Nicki Minaj, offended by the lyrics, responded to Megan via Instagram Live, criticizing her for allegedly talking about her family. Not long after, Minaj released a song called “Big Foot,” a diss track directed towards Megan. 

What interests me about the situation is how Minaj allowed a song that wasn’t directly about her to penetrate her so deeply. What power does Megan have over Minaj that makes her feel so attacked?

They’re both successful female rappers with respective fan bases, but Minaj has been in the game for ages. She played a pivotal role in changing the course of rap, paving the way for other women in the industry.

Minaj has been a focal point for inspiration to the younger generation. Time has run its course, though, and she isn’t the main focus for inspiration anymore. She’s held the spot as “Queen of Rap” for so long, but now that new female artists are on the rise, Minaj feels attacked. She begins competing with them instead of welcoming them into the industry and showing them the reigns. 

I found myself judging Minaj. At first, I didn’t understand why it was necessary to compete with other women when there was supposedly enough space for everyone. However, being a Black Muslim Woman, I reflected on my position in engineering and realized I, too, would feel the same as her.

Any woman in a male-dominated field, regardless of race, is a minority. Being a member of multiple minority groups and the child of immigrants, I’ve noticed most of us exhibit a scarcity mindset. 

If life was one long race, and we’re all looking ahead, always focusing on how much distance is left to cover, how would it feel to be the one whose starting line was 100 feet behind everyone else’s? How daunting would that journey be? Can you blame individuals for wanting to surpass the ones next to them with complete indifference? 

The feeling of being left behind leads to competition. Minorities believe that when it comes to resources and opportunity, they are behind their white counterparts, which is true for the majority of us. We are not less capable, but we are less qualified because we’re so far behind. Therefore, despite the many opportunities, we know that the majority are not exclusive to us. As a result, this creates an illusion of scarcity within our community.

The scarcity mindset ignites jealousy and competitiveness within minorities. In many fields, like the rap industry and engineering, women feel the need to compete to secure a position. 

Since engineering is full of men, most jobs are stashed away for them. In the handful of positions left over for diversity hires, I want to show that I’m better and more capable than other women to get that position.

A few days after the conflict between Megan and Minaj occurred, I talked with a friend about my conflicting ideas. I told her I felt overwhelmingly guilty to admit I’d selfishly prioritize my success over another woman’s. I feel extremely happy when I see another woman winning, but at the same time, there’s always a hint of panging jealousy. 

From an outside perspective, the engineering field may not appear suffocating for women, nor does it seem scarce in opportunities. But it’s not the truth that matters; it’s the false reality we conjure up because of the systems that work against us. 

While it’s true that the unconscious bias in many hiring managers often favors male applicants over female counterparts, it’s not necessarily true to claim that opportunities for women are scarce. Yet, it is doubtful how many openings truly exist for us.

I’m sure that we are all capable and qualified, but will there be enough space for us all? That question and uncertainty are what create a competitive nature in me.

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