There’s a line from the Hollywood movie Mary, Queen of Scots that I can’t shake. Saoirse Ronan portrays Mary and pleads with Margo Robbie, Elizabeth I of England, saying,
“Do not play into their hands. Your heart is in mine more than theirs.”
This story about one woman begging another to come over to her side is timeless. We’ve all seen it or experienced it, especially if you’re a woman. Maybe your sister doesn’t believe you about something or your girlfriend doesn’t trust you enough to support your request.
While I don’t know if Mary really said these words to Elizabeth since there is no historical meeting between the queens on record, it’s easy to imagine this sentiment from Mary in Josie Rourke’s directorial masterpiece.
Truth be told – I loved this movie because of the complex relationship and timeless issues that evolve on-screen between Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary. One had political power and wealth and the other had beauty and a baby. And, yes, the costuming and acting were phenomenal, but the age-old questions and struggles between women and deeper female conflicts are something we never talk about.
This may seem unimportant these days as women band together and harness needed change in pay equity, industry job parity and a list of other changes needed for women to be equal among men. But what about that darker side that we don’t share? How about the ways we as women undermine each other’s happiness or progress?
Mary’s history with Elizabeth suggests there isn’t room at the top for two ruling women. This was especially true when women were treated as political pawns, brokered in marriage to improve national alliances. The sad truth is, however, that women need to band together, even more, to rally for change. And this means truly supporting another woman especially if she has a shot at breaking the barrier and helping to open the gates for more women to be welcomed to that next level.
Yet how often are we too suspicions and casting doubt on each’s intentions?
Mary’s allegiance to Elizabeth and her desire to usurp Elizabeth’s power might have been malicious but what’s important to consider is how honest we are with ourselves. Would we willingly support another woman at the expense of possibly lessening our own power play for a higher or better job?
The pivotal questions become what we are willingly doing to advance the success of women as a group, and how much trust we have for one another? I should clarify that this rivalry is not exclusive to women and men experience it too. Maybe there’s a job promotion and you want over your associate so you’re willing to overlook praising them for something they did well or supporting their bid for the job promotion even though you know they are more deserving or capable?
Suspicion and competitiveness can bring out the worst sides of our best selves. If you haven’t watched Josie O’Rourke’s movie, do.
Look for the escalating tensions and how suspicious could have been managed if pride, arrogance and communication were better managed. Ask yourself if you’ve seen these troubling mistakes before in the workplace, your circle of friends or your family dynamics.
What I do know is this: to the woman who told me she would never sit on a panel of women engineers because it would prevent other male engineers from seeing her as a serious professional, I beg you to reconsider.
We have history to shows us not where we’ve and a place that hold us back, but history to show us the opportunities that lie ahead.
Happy Friday and I hope this discussion, regardless of gender, inspires self-reflection and ways to better support women. To learn more about the rivalry between Mary Stuart and her first cousin Elizabeth I, you can watch Josie O’Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots on Apple, HBO or Amazon. Other free options include the documentary,