Pop Culture dictionary

Shine Theory

[ shahyn thee-uh-ree ]

What does Shine Theory mean?

Shine Theory posits that powerful women would be more successful if they cooperate rather than compete against one another.

Related words

alpha female, ♀️ Female Sign emoji, Rosie the Riveter, positionality, BDE, #MeToo, 👩‍⚕️ Woman Health Worker emoji, 👩 Woman emoji

Where does Shine Theory come from?

Shine Theory was coined by friends Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman and first discussed in 2013, including in a column for The Cut. In this column by Friedman, she describes Shine Theory as the idea that “I don’t shine if you don’t shine,” using the word shine here as a shorthand for performing very well. According to this theory, people, and women especially, benefit much more by striving to collaborate with talented peers rather than succumbing to envy or jealousy and competing against them.

Friedman cites Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland as someone who didn’t practice Shine Theory and was overwhelmed with bitterness over the solo success of former group-mate Beyoncé, and suggests Rowland has yet to realize that Beyoncé’s success could also benefit her.

According to Friedman, Shine Theory is specifically wise for women, who have disproportionately low representation in high-level corporate and leadership positions. Among other factors, Friedman attributes this to the idea that powerful women often believe there is “limited space” for women in high-ranking positions, and so competition, rather than cooperation, is necessary for success. Friedman argues that powerful women should cooperate and encourage their peers to be successful for the benefit of all. She also thinks Shine Theory is applicable to life in general, such as with relationships and body-image issues.

In the years after Friedman first wrote about Shine Theory, major news outlets, including the BBC and HuffPost, have covered Shine Theory and found evidence for Friedman’s theory. According to the BBC and Time, the female staffers working in the White House during the Barack Obama presidency (2008–16) practicedand found great success withShine Theory.

Examples of Shine Theory

Shine theory: collaboration as opposed to competition #podcast #WDNConnect #womeninleadership #callyourgirlfriend
@kristinhull, November 9, 2018
Unlearning all my instincts to resent/compete with/take down other young women more successful than me because shine theory is very real
@bottrill, February 19, 2015
Since 2016, in a national climate in which women feel increasingly embattled, solidarity has become a potent tool of resistance rather than simply a workplace tactic; Pennsylvania’s new congresswomen were practicing Shine Theory on the political stage.
Eliza Griswold, The New Yorker, November 7, 2018

Who uses Shine Theory?

With the rise of the #MeToo movement (which Friedman supports) and the presidency of Donald Trump (not so much), Shine Theory has become a frequent topic in discussions of gender equality.

It’s also become a popular framework for women to think about issues concerning women in the workplace and public life more broadly.

In 2020, Friedman and Sow released the book Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close.

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