Tip Tuesday: Shine Theory and the Power of Female Friendships

In 2013, Ann Friedman wrote an article for The Cut, describing what she aptly named Shine Theory”.  In this article, she challenges the way women traditionally handle friendships with other influential, powerful and #boss ladies. Friedman argues that decreasing the societal expectation for female-to-female competition and replacing it with a personal investment in other women’s successes and overall ability to shine ultimately benefits everyone:

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.

Emulating Shine Theory has been a mainstay in my New Year’s resolutions, ever since Ann and her bestie Aminatou Sow introduced me to the idea in their podcast, “Call Your Girlfriend”. Throughout their podcast, they consistently discuss the importance of Shine Theory, not only between the two of them and the rest of their Call Your Girlfriend team, but also examine its influences in a variety of fields, from the White House to the Olympics and marathons. Their constant support for each other and commitment to their success reminds me that female friendships are ultimately our greatest assets, not a source of contention.

Moving into 2018, Shine Theory is, as always, an important part of my intentions for the new year. Shine Theory not only allows me to feel comfortable and confident to approach women I admire and to pursue friendships with them, it also allows me to silence the ever-talkative, but completely human, voice that tells me I’m not good enough, that someone is always better than me. Instead, I reframe competition and acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses that ultimately allow us to be individuals and *gasp* work together in a way that allows our strengths to shine. If you’re still looking for inspiration in 2018, let me suggest Shine Theory and the following tips as a good place to start.

1. Invite other women into the Shine Theory fold

What’s a better way to start your Shine Theory journey than to educate the bada** lady friends in your life on Shine Theory and get them on your team? Friedman agrees - in her Cut article, Ann continues her explanation of Shine Theory and states:

I want the strongest, happiest, smartest women in my corner, pushing me to negotiate for more money, telling me to drop men who make me feel bad about myself, and responding to my outfit selfies from a place of love and stylishness, not competition and body-snarking.

And honestly, who doesn’t? Take some time in 2018 to talk and your friends about Shine Theory, to not only learn about their goals and dreams, but to understand where they feel they are struggling or not meeting their own expectations. It also helps explain why you might start crying when they get into law school (this may or may not have happened to me). Then take this information and use it to support them. I’ve always wanted a girlgang to run the world with, who else is with me?

2. Be okay with failure and learning as you go

My journey to live in accordance to Shine Theory hasn’t always been easy. At times I still find myself falling back into society’s expectations of competition between women and ascribing to the influences of the (falsely proven) queen bee syndrome. Queen bee syndrome states that there can only be one powerful woman in the boardroom, leading some women to undercut others in order to lay claim to their spot as the “token woman”. The sense of scarcity that emerges from the lack of women in C-suite positions (according to the Center of American Progress, by May of 2017 women made up 25% of executive/senior level officials and 6% of CEOs in S&P 500 companies) promotes that idea that there are only a few spots for women at the top and automatically pits women against each other, instead of placing them in the same corner.

If you struggle with ditching the bee demon, don’t get discouraged. Instead, reflect on why these women are making you feel this way. Is it because they are more articulate than you? Because they seem farther along in their career than you? Because they wear better clothes than you? Because they find more time in the week to write or read or exercise or meditate or… or… or...? Be honest with yourself and try to figure out what about about them intimidates you or makes you uneasy. Once you reflect and acknowledge the reasons for these feelings, turn this on its head and ask yourself, what can I learn from these women? What would it mean to have them on my team? And finally, what can I do to support them?

3. Promote Shine Theory in the workplace

The easiest way to practice Shine Theory is with friends that have different career trajectories than you, making the competition between parties basically nonexistent; if you’re best friend is a singer-songwriter and you have no musical talent, supporting her in her goals will have no influence on your own career success. However, practicing Shine Theory in the workplace, among peers who have similar goals and interests as you, presents a new challenge. In 2016, theBoardlist published a Medium article laying out additional tips of how to advance Shine Theory in the workplace, such as encouraging full participation of women coworkers and redirecting interruptions when they occur. These tips allow women to engage fully in their work environments, ultimately benefiting the entire company and fostering future generations of supportive, strong women. 

4. Step out of your comfort zone and connect with women regardless of age, race, occupation or any other form of identity 

A mainstay for my own version of Shine Theory is extending this support and respect to women that may not look, act or think like me. Just like feminism, Shine Theory performs at its strongest when it acknowledges the intersectionality of women. This year, a main subset of my Shine Theory resolution is to focus on intergenerational friendships. Due to influences like hollywood, women are taught to fear the younger “versions” of themselves - the woman that is seemingly smarter, prettier and more available than they are. This motiff expressed throughout films and shows illustrates a version of female relationships that harms our sense of unity and our progress as a gender. However, all women have something to bring to the table and there is always something to learn from one another, whether you’re a high schooler or retiree. Implementing Shine Theory while pursuing these friendships allows me to feel confident that I can benefit these women, allowing me to feel comfortable exploring these relationships. With Shine Theory I know that at the very least I can and will support their goals, regardless of where we may fall in our lives or careers.

We are two weeks into 2018 (although it may seem like a lifetime if you’re partaking in Audacious Wellness’ Whole30) and coming up on the anniversary of the largest show of female solidarity the United States has ever seen, it’s time to take seriously the power and influence our female friendships have on our lives and on the world around us and actively work to foster these connections. As Aminatou says:

“I don’t shine if you don’t shine”

Still looking for ideas? Check back throughout January to see more of The Riveter’s tips and tricks to finding (and nailing) your perfect New Year’s resolution!