Women, and girls, have a reputation for being cruel to one another. It starts in the playground and spreads from there – to offices, social circles, play dates. It’s usually a very subtle torment: We judge, ignore, criticize, gossip, whisper, snicker, exclude.
Author Kelly Valen explores the phenomenon in a new book titled Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships, for which she surveyed 3,000 women.
“Let’s start with the good news,” Ms. Valen tells Time magazine. “Ninety percent of those women said that they did have a solid girlfriend in their life. That’s wonderful news. But 84% of those same women said they had suffered real genuine wounding at the hand of other women. That shocked me. More than that, 88% said that there was an undercurrent of meanness and negativity plaguing the gender.”
Even though we bemoan the cruelty of our gender, Ms. Valen, herself a mom-of-four, says that we’re guilty of passing the same bad behavior onto our daughters.
“We’re the ones that are setting the moral compass…. If you are sitting there with your girlfriends gossiping, judging other women and being two-faced and your daughter sees that day in, day out, it really teaches her to follow your way. It’s a powerful message about how the world works when you see your mother bonding with other women over that.”
So are we destined to raise the next generation of mean-ish girls, or is there still hope for us? The author says the solution is “so basic it’s silly.”
“It’s being more inclusive and reaching out to other people. Not just writing other women off or dismissing them because they are different or not a part of your regular day or safe friend group that you already know. It’s putting yourself out there and knowing that a lot of women feel the same way you do. Maybe they’re sitting at home too, just waiting for another woman to give them a chance.”
In my own experience, if the school yard is the breeding ground for mean girls, motherhood is the big league. I’ve never felt so judged and criticized as I have among other moms – but on the other hand, I’ve found amazing support and understanding, too.
What do you think? Have you felt “wounded” by other women? Do you think it’s true that we tend to be particularly harsh on one another? Why?
5 thoughts on “Why are Women so mean to each other?”
Michelle, I was thinking the same thing. Are we really all that mean to one another or are we just overly sensitive? Do we just take everything to heart in a way that, say, men, don’t?
Hugs4Jack – Everything seems to get more personal when it comes to our kids and being a mom. Maybe because we’re all trying so hard to do what’s best for our kids. Knowing that, I can’t understand why we criticize each other over little things like breastfeeding and co-sleeping and the like.
I once knew a woman who could be pretty critical, but it never bothered me all that much. Then I had my first daughter, who has always been a sensitive little girl. One day I ran into this woman and she looked at my then 1-year-old, who was crying as she used to do around strangers, and said, “Ugh, is she always like that? I’m glad I have happy kids!” I’d heard her say far worse things in the past, but this time it was about my kid! I haven’t talked to her since.
I experienced some friends’ meanness several times after I put on some extra weight a few months after I gave birth to my son. They asked whether I’m pregnant again. I said no. They gave me a near disgusted look, and commented that it’s not normal to be like the way I am. I know how mothers look when they still have babies or toddlers, especially when they are still breastfeeding like I am. Some are quite sexy, some – like me – are not. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I just feel pity for those women who are so narrow-minded.
While I totally get what you are saying, I think we need to toughen up our skin. There will ALWAYS be haters. We have to learn to gloss right over them.
I have a special needs child and the stares alone from some people is enough to make me snap but then I remind myself that they are ignorant and my life is still fabulous.
oops I meant politically.
Yes Carolyn I do, especially since a poster (momesq) just posted that 99% of only children are weird??? I would really like to understand what drives some women to say such things. I was just thinking about this topic this morning. My neighbor who lives across the street from me is a stay at home mom who exclusively breast fed her children and is poitically conservative, basically the polar opposite from me and I cannot think of someone who is a better mother or person. We made totally different choices (and some similar) in raising our children and yet we’ve never had an argument over it or felt the need to judge one another. She made the best choice for her family and I made the best choice for mine, end of discussion. Maybe it’s the anonymity of the online world that makes women post things that they would never have the nerve to say but I do find that we are far too cruel.