Women Talk: Why Women Can Be So Mean to Each Other.
Actually, nothing personal here.
Well, almost nothing. The vague adolescent-era memories of being bullied by other girls shouldn’t really count. It was back in the Soviet times, and sharing a Spartan room with 14 teenage girls at a Young Pioneer camp for almost the entire summer put us all in rather Darwinian conditions. The fittest and most obnoxious thrived. The shier ones survived, but barely. I happened to be among the latter.
But it was way long ago anyway. Since then, I’ve been really blessed with girl-friends – loyal, understanding and trustworthy. Even so, the stability and authenticity of all types of female interactions has long been a source of an argument with my boyfriend. He insists friendships women are capable of sustaining are way less lasting and reliable than those existing between guys. Not to mention other, less close rapports, such as those between female colleagues and strangers when women can act like monsters to each other.
Well, he surely knows what he’s talking about – his sandbox buddies are his best friends still. My closest girl-friends date back to late high school and university years. But what I do tend to agree with is that girls, adult ones now, could indeed be excruciatingly mean to each other.
“Look at her dress. She looks like a cow in it!” “No, more like an oversized female pig!” “And her guy’s ugly as hell!” “They make a nice couple, don’t they? That bitch finally found a mate, wow! How long would that one last?” This impressively profound stream of consciousness is an excerpt from a rather mundane Facebook chatter – a bunch of girls who are “Facebook friends” discussing a photo of another woman renowned in Moscow high life (the image was, of course, dug out from a celebrity gossip website.) And one comes across a legion of such virtual exchanges on a daily basis.
Psychologists call this the fastest-growing social disease. Facebook and other social media provide a very welcoming arena for this kind of indirect female bullying – compulsive gossiping often mounting to verbal aggression of frightening levels. While teenage “mean girls” bitch about peers behind their backs, grown up females do so behind computer and iPhone screens. The virtual world provides unlimited and retaliation-free space for mocking and shunning and attacking reputations, and women seem to champion in this sport on a grand scale. They are more avid social media fans in the first place – recent studies show that females use Facebook and other networks at least 10% more than males.
So have girls really become meaner lately or is obnoxiousness our innate quality that’s coming out so strongly these days thanks to the opportunities the Digital Age provides? (My partner strongly believes in the latter.) Experts studying gender behavior suggest the answer lies in the different ways girls and boys are brought up. While it’s okay for guys to fight with each other – verbally and physically – girls are raised, as the old song goes, to be “made of sugar and spice and everything nice.” Not encouraged to engage in confrontations and openly express anger, women unconsciously learn to manifest their resentments indirectly, through various acts of what psychologists call “social” or “relational” aggression.
Besides, girls compete with each other a good deal, too. We might not be quick to admit it, but we really do – perhaps even more fiercely than men. But since the society doesn’t approve of this either, females compete with each other in veiled ways. Minding the perfectionist strain many modern women possess fueled by the celebrity culture, we are so prone to comparing each others’ looks, outfits, men, children, careers, paychecks and what not. Constant comparison sometimes leads to social aggression or plain bitchery and sometimes, before we become aware of it, to envy. Some of us camouflage our insecurities in the form of all that gossiping, attacking other women’s flaws and other immature behaviors.
Some say that for a woman, it’s harder to find a true female buddy than it is to find a mate. This is not far from true, I believe, and where do I begin to stress the importance of female interactions (we literally get a high from girl-talk and emotional bonding with other women – I did a column about that last year – . But I also realize that I’ve managed to maintain long and trusting friendships with girls only having convinced myself early on to switch off comparison and competition with them. Same goes for dealing with girls at work.
And as far as the modern-day female bullying is concerned, I’d simply ask for… mercy – towards ourselves first, and then to others. All of us have insecurities, and life is challenging enough without loading it with useless verbal garbage.