There’s a difference in mindset between being THE person, the guru, the top dog whatever you want to call it in your field, vs being a contributor and part of the conversation. I recently read in a book that I highly recommend called “Chillpreneur” by Denise Duffield-Thomas in which she said something to the effect of it’s okay to NOT be the guru in your field.
It’s so hard to be the ONE person and everyone is different so everyone wants different things and brings different things to the table. This also creates a sense of hostile competition between you and other women to be the ONE person but really it’s okay to just be a contributor and part of the conversation. You’re still an expert and people still come to you but you feel less scarcity and competition and more a sense of helping others that are similar to you in your field.
When I read this, I felt a weight come off my shoulders. I didn’t know I needed someone to tell me that it was okay to not be THE person and how much pressure I had been putting on myself, and silently judging others who didn’t want to be THE person.
So today we’re going to go deeper into this and how it can maybe help you to chill out and to help others you might've previously seen as competition.
The Smurfette Principle 🫐
This phrase was first coined in the New York Times article “Hers; The Smurfette Principle” in 1991 by Katha Pollitt.
The main point is that in most stories (movies, books, TV shows, tall-tales, etc.) it’s a majority male cast with a few female characters to mainly support the story of the male lead, if there are any females at all. “Smurfette” was the literal only female character in the classic show from the 1960s in an entire village of male Smurfs, which doesn’t make much biological sense honestly.
In this village all of the Smurfs had some kind of special talent or skill, like the Seven Dwarves in Snow White, that was a strong personality trait and that’s how they were named. So there was the smart one, the musical one, the one in charge, the comedic one, etc. Whereas the lone female Smurf, Smurfette, just was the female Smurf with no discernable skill or talent other than existing and being different simply for being female.
In the NY Times article, Katha Pollitt goes on to list a bunch of example like “Kanga, the only female in "Winnie-the-Pooh," is a mother. Piggy, of "Muppet Babies," is a pint-size version of Miss Piggy, the camp glamour queen of the Muppet movies. April, of the wildly popular "Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles," functions as a girl Friday to a quartet of male superheroes."
But the point of the Smurfette Principle is most poignant when Pollitt directly states
The message is clear. Boys are the norm, girls the variation; boys are central, girls peripheral; boys are individuals, girls types. Boys define the group, its story and its code of values. Girls exist only in relation to boys.
Things haven’t improved that much from her original article in 1991. You can still see this trope in major movies like Star Wars, The Matrix, Oceans Eleven, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Marvel movies, etc. where it’s largely a male cast with a female or two thrown in, often times as a side plot to advance the man’s story and more often than not in a way that her main appeal is her physical appearance, much like Smurfette.
How is a Blue Person Related to Me? 🧐
I go into this back story because this Smurfette Principle breeds an inherent “there can only be one” mindset that women are trained to view other women as competition because there literally is only one seat at the table for them.
It doesn’t make sense to boost other women up, giving them our seat. That’s not in our best interest so instead we often just view other women as a threat to that singular seat and push them out, like a sad patriarchal musical chairs all rushing to the sacred sole seat when the white man stops the music.
You see it all the time when you see in real life as well in on big company boards, big TV production offices, official governments, any thing of importance really. In a room full of mostly white men, there is only 1 or 2 women to be seen IF you’re lucky.
If you’re super lucky there might be a non-white woman, which unfortunately will then often count as both the “diversity” and “gender” inclusion pick. Therefore that entity can feel good about their progress on both fronts and leave well enough alone without seeing that the real problem is that there’s a singular seat at the table to represent a majority of voices.
Wanting to Be “THE One” 🥇
Of course this breeds in us women the sense that there is only one spot for us because there often is just that one spot. There just isn’t room. It’s facts. Helping other women seems like you’re just pushing them INTO your seat, and that doesn’t make much sense so no wonder we don’t do it.
In Doja Cat’s song “Vegas” written for the “Elvis” biopic, she says “You aint the man, you aint a man.” That was probably how Elvis thought, and how a lot of us think. If you’re not THE woman, then you’re not a woman at all worth being considered. You’re nothing if you’re not everything. Super dramatic, right?
So in addition to women not having a seat at the table, there’s also a strong pressure to become the best in your field. Totally noble and worth trying for BUT the issue is how you view your “competition.” I feel like we often forget to stop and realize that most of the time, we’re still in different markets and serve different people.
For example, Target and Walmart are in direct competition with each other and sell basically the same kinds of things, but there is obviously a clear difference in each’s target markets, locations, branding, store fronts, purpose, etc. For example you don’t see memes about people buying Starbucks and just going to shop around at Walmart for fun, right? No, it’s Target that’s honored with those memes. Both companies are in the same industry with the same products (in a lot of cases) but have completely different selling points and branding for different purposes. Each has found a niche.
This applies to us as well. There’s a place for all of us because even if we are in direct competition with somebody. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for all of us to be successful as well. Just because you love Beyonce doesn’t mean you can’t also love Rihanna, or just because you love to wear blue doesn’t mean you hate green. You can do both…
These are silly examples but you get my point. When you make these kinds of examples you can step back and realize that’s basically what is happening to us in life when we view other women this way.
There’s Only One Oprah ⭐️
There’s only one Oprah and only one you. Oprah is obviously huge and can be instantly recognized with only her first name around the world, just like Beyonce, Madonna, Queen, Adele, etc.
Is it amazing to strive to be another Oprah? Sure. But you can also be a huge part of that conversation and carve your own niche out without trying to knock Oprah down from her perch that she worked so hard to carve and build for herself and others around her.
At the risk of sounding corny, take that pressure off yourself and try to just be the best you can be and help within your field the best you can. You don’t need to be THE one, THE guru to be successful. Because if that were true there would only be one person on all the TV and movie screens, only one author writing all the books, one singer singing all the songs, one person running the entire world, etc. This is obviously not the case.
This scarcity of being THE guru is just a made up thing in our minds that I wholly subscribe to that I’m trying very hard to click “unsubscribe” to every day.
The Smurfette Principle is very real but instead of fighting with other women for that singular seat, lets help other women cut down their own trees and make their chairs to bring to the table. Give that girl a chain saw and help her paint the lacquer.
Building Our Own Chairs 🪑
Bad chair making jokes aside, the best way I think to get our seat at the table is to help other women build their seat at the table as well. Be like Sylvester Stallone, nobody wanted to put him in a movie, so the dude made his own wildly successful franchise, “Rocky.”
If there isn’t a seat for you, build one for you and the woman next to you. Matter of fact, just build your own table and pull up the chairs for the women. If you own a business, make it a point to hire women, and not just women that look like you, but all kinds of women. Shop from women owned stores, support your girlfriends when they start something, read books written by women, watch their movies they directed, etc. Show that the world wants and needs more of women narration.
Side note: Solange “A Seat at the Table” deals with black women making a seat at the table in America. One of my favorite albums, highly suggest a listen or two.
Challenge for You! 🥳
Ask yourself “how can I help another woman build her chair to pull up to the table today?” The smallest things sometimes mean the biggest. That small thing can even be sharing this podcast with a few people..hint hint wink wink.
Cliff Notes 🧗🏻♂️
There’s a difference between being THE person, the guru, the top dog whatever you want to call it in your field, vs being a contributor and part of the conversation. When I read this in a book recently, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I didn’t know how much I needed someone to say it was okay to not be THE person. I didn’t realize how much pressure I had been putting on myself, and silently judging others who didn’t want to be THE person.
In this episode we discuss:
the difference in mindset between striving to be the guru vs a contributor
what is the Smurfette Principle and what’s that got to do with you?
building your own seat at the table and helping other women build theirs
how there’s a seat at the table for every woman, and if there isn’t then go to a different table or build your own.
Mentions in this episode:
Chillpreneur: The New Rules for Creating Success, Freedom, and Abundance on Your Terms by Denise Duffield-Thomas
New York Times article “Hers; The Smurfette Principle” in 1991 by Katha Pollitt.
Bare Minimum Babe Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bareminimumbabe/
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