Women bullying women

Mean Girls

Women bullying woman. Mean girls

Women bullying woman. Mean girls


Body hatred and women verbally bullying one another are tied together. Culture stigmatizes women who do not meet traditional standards of beauty and, too often, women use this unforgiving reality to harshly judge one another as a means to gain leverage and power. As a result of being treated as if something essential is missing from their nature, many operate with the belief that other women must also be deficient.

Friendships between girls and between adult women are a great source of emotional strength. Yet the very importance of these relationships means the pain is all the more intense when friendship is denied. Boys and girls bully, but research shows girls are much more likely than boys to use indirect or relational aggression. In my work with young women, there are two relationally aggressive dynamics that are the most depleting to a girl’s sense of self and well-being. The first is when a social group suddenly turns against one member by refusing to speak to the victim and by excluding her from the group’s activities. The second is when one member of a clique becomes the subject of gossip. Rather than speaking to the girl in question, members talk about her to others and may spread rumors to those outside of the clique. Typically, the subject of the gossip has to do either with the victimized girl’s attractiveness to the opposite sex (weight, general appearance and demeanor) or it has to do with the girl’s real or imagined sexual history.

I see these kinds of incidents play out consistently with the adolescent girls I treat in my practice. On a broader canvas, we see these dynamics between adult women and increasingly it seems to me this bulling is more directly aggressive.

For example, during recent NBA playoffs, Claire Crawford (a pen name for a CBS blogger) called out an NBA cheerleader as being too “chunky” to fit the bill of an Oklahoma City Thunder cheerleader. She also asked her readers to complete a poll and rate whether the cheerleader had “the perfect look to be an NBA cheerleader,”... “could use some tightening up in her midsection,” or “has no business wearing that outfit in front of people.” Similarly, former Green Bay Packers cheerleader Kaitlyn Collins was described as “ugly” on a Chicago Bears fan page last February. Both of these women have spoken openly about the hurt and embarrassment such widely disseminated scorn and criticism triggered.

Also recently, a University of Maryland Delta Gamma sorority girl’s acid-pen email went viral. Using a blizzard of expletives, she calls out her sisters for not being good enough hosts to sustain fraternity attention. Reading this email is a memorable experience, even momentarily disorienting to hear a stereotypical image of a sorority girl—social, nice, fun, full of sisterly love—debunked with such passion as the writer systematically bludgeons her sisters for their behavior. But, as is unfortunately true for women in our culture today, for some the only truly satisfying way to debunk is by going to the extreme and adopting the same language some men have been known to use to keep women feeling powerless and insecure.

The young author employs these words to crack the whip and force Delta Gamma to be better representatives at social functions with the local Sigma Nu fraternity. On one hand, this is a tempest in a teacup; on the other, it is a stark example of a kind of bold female bullying that is common but usually takes place out of public sight.

Body hatred and women verbally bullying one another are tied together. Culture stigmatizes women who do not meet traditional standards of beauty and, too often, women use this unforgiving reality to harshly judge one another as a means to gain leverage and power. As a result of being treated as if something essential is missing from their nature, many operate with the belief that other women must also be deficient.

It is not unusual for girls early in puberty to see their contemporaries in a sharply competitive way and to express negative opinions about these perceived competitors. For them, it is better to be on offense making aggressively negative judgments about others in order to give themselves a sense of control. The price of this behavior can be crippling when, as often happens, the girl is acutely aware that the tables may be turned on her, and that notion promotes a relentless self-scrutiny and panic at the prospect of having her own shortcomings attacked. Many see other girls as intimidating, deceitful and emotionally vicious.

When the feeling develops that others are being critical of behaviors or appearance, it is not unusual for the subject of this attack to fall into a cycle of self-reproach. Never mind if this self-critical monologue has any relationship with reality; once it starts playing, it can be hard to turn off. The 2010 Massachusetts case involving the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince was related to a three-month campaign of emotional and physical bullying on the part of nine of her peers, seven of whom were girls. It is believed this ongoing torture was inflicted on Phoebe because of upset over her dating relationships with popular male peers. In a more recent example, Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-yearold Canadian high school student, committed suicide after enduring a year of public ridicule and bullying after making an accusation that she was raped. Photos of the incident were circulated by her alleged attackers through social media. As Rehtaeh’s best friend, Jenna Campbell, told the Daily Beast on April 27th, “Everyone assumed she was being a slut. That she wanted it. She was telling people ‘I got raped,’ and they said she was a slut and decided not to believe her.”

Mercifully, the result of abusive behavior by others usually does not result in suicide, but the many who suffer its consequences feel intense emotional pain. Why do girls do this to one another? Too often girls, and many women, are taught and come to believe that they must conform to a rigid mold of femininity generally adopted by their circle. Break the mold and they may face exclusion.

Judging, fearing, and turning on their own sex, women effectively sabotage their opportunity for durable female relationships and greater empowerment. A self-fulfilling prophecy develops whereby a woman may begin to believe that most other women are untrustworthy. These women tend to see this consequence as more evidence to the nature of women and, too often, they fail to consider the impact of their own behavior.

Girls and women place high value on their relationships. They become painfully self-critical when they feel unwanted by others. For many girls, their self-esteem rests on their ability to stay connected with others. When they feel unwanted and are given no direct reason as to why, girls and women often feel rejected and worthless. Girls become emotionally overwhelmed by bullying and are

The more girls and women can stay connected with their actual experiences and less with the rigid expectations of others, the greater their empathy and compassion for other women who may be bound by these same rigid expectations.

so caught up in self-blame that they have trouble organizing or making sense of their reactions. Feeling emotionally overwhelmed often becomes misinterpreted as “drama,” a highly judgmental label that further renders young girls and adult women fearful of expressing their more negative emotions or experiences.

Without the protective element of close female friendship, they feel abandoned and look for what they can control. As I explore in my book, Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships, girls who are fearful of one another and have fewer intimate female relationships are more likely to turn to sextimacy as an avenue for acceptance. Sextimacy is when girls and women use sex to find emotional intimacy with men.

Most girls are born with well-tuned emotional radar and a compassionate desire to support and nurture others. They also experience emotional ups and downs, disappointments and heartbreaks. The contradiction between what girls and women really are versus what many are trained to believe they should be creates emotional turmoil and a depleted self. The more girls and women can stay connected with their actual experiences and less with the rigid expectations of others, the greater their empathy and compassion for other women who may be bound by these same rigid expectations. Research suggests there is one clearly protective element in female development: the power of strong female relationships. Girls who are fearful of one another have fewer intimate female relationships—the very thing that can help them the most. If you are a parent of a girl, avoid giving her extreme, either-or messages; every time she expresses disappointment with a peer, refrain from telling her it is “no big deal” or that she is too “dramatic” and should think about things from her friend’s perspective. And it is also important to avoid the alternate extreme—suggesting to her that her friends are out to get her, encouraging peer manipulation and going behind her friends’ backs to get what she needs. Become aware of how you communicate about your own female friends and if you either directly or indirectly insinuate that girls are untrustworthy and that she needs to be vigilant. Instead, model for her how to directly assess and assert your needs to the others you are close to. When a daughter expresses disappointment, anger and other negative emotions, simply encourage her to tell you more about it and ask questions so she may more thoroughly consider her own feelings and needs, and eventually how best to handle the situation.

The more girls hold their upset inside and unexpressed, the more they tend to ruminate and then become agonizingly self-critical which, in some cases, leads to depression. Try not to control how a daughter reacts but list.” Also, talk about how to take such feedback from others while maintaining her self-esteem. For example, tell her that feedback is not a statement about her character, merely information about how she may impact others. It is okay to hear another’s feedback and not become defensive. Simply hear the person out and see if there is anything in what they are saying that you can take responsibility for that does not feel false to you.

Mean-spirited attacks—direct or indirect—can hurt, but talking about it with a caregiver who will listen and not tell a daughter how she is supposed to feel, but rather acknowledge how she actually feels, can make a big difference in a girl’s life.

Dr. Jill Weber, a licensed clinical psychologist, practices in the Washington, DC area. Dr. Weber offers expertise in psychotherapy for adults, teenagers, and couples, tailoring her treatment to individual history and problem areas. Dr. Weber writes a blog for Psychology Today and is the author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy-- Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships. Follow her on twitter @DrJillWeber

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