Have you ever noticed? Women just aren’t nice to other women. Let me qualify this by saying that I believe there are instances where women are nice to other women. Like when you’re unloading your twelve screaming cherubs from your van, and they extend a sympathetic smile. Or when your kid and theirs are both misbehaving in public. Or when you pass a nun in the grocery store. But that’s pretty much where it ends.

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of sympathetic smiling when one woman in the crowd is wearing extra high heels, or too much makeup, or is showcasing a strategically placed tattoo. That, my friends, is when the assault begins. You can see the women around her doing the covert ‘up-and-down’, carefully inspecting every hair on her head, her purse, her shoes, and studying the target’s posture and facial expressions. Some even openly scoff or shoot dirty looks.

It isn’t until the woman leaves that the others converge, like jackals around a fresh carcass.

“Did you see those shoes? Huh! Maybe when I was eighteen!” 

That’s….cute.” Snicker.

“Oh my God! Does she have a mirror?” 

You know, women are the first people to create networks for other women, start support groups, and reach out a helping hand. And they are also the first to slap that hand and make incredulous remarks when the others turn their backs.

When SuperLady arrives at the bake sale with some Martha Stewart-looking business in her Tupperware, with nails neatly trimmed and manicured, and not a wrinkle in her clothes, does that go unnoticed? Or when Suzy shows up at the staff meeting showing a little too much cleavage, do the women let that go?

I am beginning to think this is all written into our DNA, just like men racing each other at red lights is seemingly written into theirs. It is either inherent (Do we really want that trollop propagating the species over us?) or it’s cultivated culturally. All I know is hating other women is a billion-dollar business, and pretty unavoidable from my standpoint.

Ever see Mean Girls? Watch Dynasty? How about the whole Real Housewives series? What do these women do? They scratch and claw and hiss like feral cats. It, frankly, makes us look bad. We’ve even created a word for it…frenemy.

I’ve seen women run into each other with shopping carts at stores, “accidentally” bump into other girls holding drinks at bars, cut other women in line, and torture each other in gym locker rooms. They’re brutal. Ever see those wedding dress sales?

And it doesn’t stop with strangers, either.

I had a friend in college whose own sister stole her boyfriend and had him move in with her right upstairs from where my friend was living. No conversation, no permission, no apologies. Which I guess begs the question, is this all over men? Over sex? Over shoes? What is it?

It also, and possibly, most importantly, leaves me wondering…

Is this what I want to teach my daughter? And will I have a choice? Or will school, dance class, and boys do that for her?

Is it in women’s nature to consistently ostracize and banish one individual from the group? And if so, why? How do we stop it? Do we stop it? Do we even WANT TO stop it? Of course, I say this, but I am also of the x-chromosome, and I can’t say I’ve never been guilty of it, or never will be again. And I personally can’t guarantee that my daughter will never see a woman shooting another a cross look or hear a smart remark, or that she might learn that Suzy, with the cleavage, is going to get Tom’s attention and favor more readily than she might.

In my nine years in human services, I’ve seen a lot, some of which some people would not be able to handle, and some of which people might find annoying, scary, or just plain disgusting. I’ve dealt with every stereotype you can imagine, without sneering and without judgment. I’ve also, in my personal life, dealt with much the same, with the sneering and with the judgment.

Which, I suppose, brings me back to my original question. How do I shield my child from this unnecessary heartache? Is this possible? I am thinking, though, sadly, she may have to learn this on her own.

Perhaps, if I’m lucky, she will learn that the woman in the high heels is simply confident. And us, in the corner, jeering? We’re not.

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18 Comments »

  1. My daughter is a total nerd, like me. She’s awkward in social situations, is often a little (or a lot) too exuberant, and is already skilled at asking the right question at exactly the wrong time. At the playground this summer, I’ve watched older girls intentionally exclude her in the meanest possible way. I’ve watched them include her for the sake of laughing at her, though she does still think they’re laughing with her. I want to smack each and every one of them, pick up my daughter and take her home.

    But she has to learn this stuff, doesn’t she? I don’t want her ever to be like them, but she will have to learn to deal with them. I can’t do that for her. My fondest hope is that if she sees my confidence, if she sees my positivity, and if I can protect her from witnessing my own snarky remarks about other women, she’ll survive the junior high gauntlet with her sense of self intact. What else can I do?

  2. I was a PhD student in sociology, so I had a lot invested in the idea that people are largely socialized to be the way they are–in other words that sex differences don’t amount to that much but that gender differences–how we’re socialized to BE a boy or a girl–matters more. A boat load more. So–easy peasey–just don’t model this stuff for your daughter, and she won’t do it.

    Wrong. When I actually HAD kids, much of what I was intellectually very invested in went out the window. I’ve seen small, small girls in group and out group–exclude little girls and form “packs” or “clubs”–like it was the most natural thing in the world to do. Nobody modeled this for them. They were tiny. Meanwhile, little boys of the same age played together happily (but somewhat chaotically) in one big group–excluding no one.

    I don’t know what to make of it, or what to do (I have two daughters). But it seems obvious to me that girls are MUCH more prone to the notion of who’s in and who’s out–who makes the cut, and who doesn’t. Drawing these somewhat arbitrary but rigidly policed lines between who is “like us” and who is not (e.g., the girl with the too high heels). And the meanness grows from there.

    Yick.

  3. I too ponder this dilemma. My 9 year old recently came home and said that an older sister of her friends said that in junior high, if you go to school wearing the same shirt as someone else, you will get beat up. How do I explain that? Girls are MEAN! I can teach my daughter not to be mean but how to explain the ones who have not been taught?

  4. Uggh, this makes me feel sick about what lies ahead for my daughter. It was tough being a teenager and yes, I think that the in-group out-group mentality makes it harder. BUT it’s something that many women grow out of. I haven’t experienced meanness like that in a long, long time. As adults, we can choose who we hang out with (except colleagues, but then you can choose to gracefully ignore them). There are so many wonderful women who don’t indulge in cattiness. It is up to us to decide who we want to be and who we want to be with. Meanness needn’t follow us into adulthood.

  5. My first reaction is to ask where in the world you live–but that wouldn’t be honest. There are mean girls here, too. There are probably mean women, as well, but I just don’t know them any more. Who has time for mean?

    There are (sounding like Carl Sagan) Billions and Billions of people on this planet. Take up with the ones you like. The others will have to do without you. You know who else can do without you? EVERYBODY on television.

    Last thought: if you con’t like a comment, such as this one, delete it without a twinge. You have the right to edit your own environment. Sigh. So do the idiot Mean Girls. Luckiest day (in the long run) your daughters can have is the day they are excluded from that club. Awareness is the uncomfortable beginning of true, mindful individuality.

  6. I believe that some parents do model the “in” and “out” mentality and teach it to their kids. When parents place a high value on dressing up their girls in the prettiest, most fashionable outfits, they are sending out a clear message that what you see on the outside is how you judge a girl – an easy way to determine if she is “in” or “out.”

    With both of my girls, it started at age 2 when suddenly “pink” held a higher value than other colors. At home, I had not promoted pink as a special color but in preschool, there was a clear message – a girl wearing pink or the girl who got the pink balloon, etc., was luckier/better/more “in.” By age 4, girls in preschool were judging each other on their hairstyles, little winter boots, dresses, jewelry or whatever it was that the parents had decided was really “important” for their little girl to have.

    I refuse to buy into this shallow, competitive mentality and I hope my children are learning important life skills from the fact that at home we don’t glorify material goods. Although I will buy nice clothes for my kids, I don’t run after kids’ fashion and I don’t make a fuss about what they wear.

    My experience with boys (my son is 7) is that boys spend less time considering who is “in” or “out” because they find less apparent ways to judge each other. Instead of fussing over clothes, they judge each other on who goes to Judo, soccer or another sport. Again, it probably comes from what their parents have decided is “important.”

  7. If I may reply to my own comment . . . I forgot to include that my hope for my kids is that after an inevitably lengthy exposure to this “in” and “out” disease, they will have a super strong immune system and go on to become adults that dance their own dance and follow their own dreams!

  8. Ugh. Women can be mean, mean creatures, and we sharpen our claws as girls. Have you read Tripping the Prom Queen by Susan Shapiro Barash (I think that’s the correct spelling)? An excellent look at female competition. I saw myself, sibling, mother and friends in many of the examples she gave, it was an eye-opener.

  9. Personally, I don’t want to ostracize cleavage woman, I want to politely say “Excuse me but, do you think you could tuck those things away just a bit. I find it a rather distracting and all that cleavage makes me think about putting on a sweater”. :~)

  10. Hmmmm…I’m not sure I concur. I work in engineering, primarily a male dominated field. I want to say the vast majority of women are working to support each other, not slit each others throats for personal sport.

  11. My high school days were all about dodging the mean girls. Knowing who they are now as adults makes me realize they were all very insecure, and eager to put everyone else down or into categories in order to feel better about themselves.
    My mom instilled a strong sense of individuality in me (though I was embarrassed about it as a teenager) and it survived in me. Now I feel good about myself, and if anyone were mean to me, I don’t think I would care. What *they* think simply does not affect who * I * am.
    Women who are mean to other women are still stuck as the bullies and queen bees from high school. Grow up! We have to help each other out, not snicker and sneer.

  12. ’tis true. Knowing that children model what they see, I am also grateful that my daughters and their girlfriends see us ‘older’ girls coming together regularly to support each other. To have a laugh, a socialise, a bitch about life in general and not about the usual topic de jour – other women.

    My daughters, in later life, may indeed be one of the ones frowned upon as I have taught them to hold their heads up high and to never look for themselves in other’s approval, since that is uncertain and fickle ground.

    Extremely well written post that resonated. Thank you. HMSx

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