A short essay on why females bring other females down…
When I was head of year in a secondary school, about 90% of my time was spent sorting out bitchiness between girls.
Now that my little girl is in school, sadly it is evident this sort of crap is still going on.
Let me explain…
My six-year-old has had a bit of a rocky time so far with friends in school. Maybe because she’s a bit different from the other girls? She has an old head on her shoulders. She’s never been into Disney princesses. Instead, she has a mild obsession with Pokemon.
However, at the end of last year, she came home telling me that she finally had a ‘best friend.’ Let’s call her Megan. Things were great for a while, but then a few weeks ago a new girl joined the class. Lets call her Nancy. Now my kid and Megan made a pact the day Nancy started, that they would be the first to ask her to play. I thought this was extremely kind and I was very proud.
Cut to this week…
… And three has definitely become a crowd. My little girl’s equilibrium has been shattered. Her ‘best friend’ is now playing more with the new girl than with her. I can see this has made her jealous. She comes home telling me eye-rolley tales about Nancy. There has been some – ‘telling on her’ for this and that. Nancy is the competition. She is a threat. Is my kid subconsciously trying to bring her down? No. Surely not. My daughter is a nice girl.
But, this sort of thing has gone on since we were in school, right? And since our mothers, grandmothers and even great grandmothers were there. It goes on between females in the workplace. There are textbook matriarcal power struggles within families (erm, hello mother-in-law), and now naturally, this school playground mentality is in full swing between women online.
I suppose it would be good to try and understand why?
I did some research. I read some articles by psychologists, and from what I can gather…
- Women who try to bring other women down are projecting their own negative feelings onto others. These feeling include – fear, envy, jealousy, anxiety, rage, suspicion, lack of self esteem and lack of confidence.
- Some women enjoy it. They do it for fun or because they are bored. (scary thought)
- Some women do it because they do not possess the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills to recognise or alter their behaviour. (uh-huh)
- Some women cannot tolerate difference.
- Some women feel the need for control. They want to protect their bubble. Metaphorically speaking – once they are locked away in their castle, that drawbridge comes up and they will not be lowering it to let any strangers in. Ever.
- Some women see it as a way of heading off potential challenge.
(See article by Meredith Fuller, psychologist and author of Working with Bitches, Identify the Eight Types of Office Mean Girls and Rise Above Workplace Nastiness)
Some of the above, does explain how my little girl is feeling. Right? But what about grown women?
University professor, Tracy Vaillancourt undertook a scientific study back in 2011 which proved that – women were evolutionarily programmed to act aggressively towards women who were perceived as ‘sexier.’
Not my words peeps – It’s science.
This got me thinking. Is it then – something instilled in us since caveman… sorry… cavewomen days?
Let’s think of it in basic animalistic terms. Like we are lionesses living amongst a pack of lions. When a more attractive or desirable female enters the pride, are women just instinctively growling and showing their teeth to ward off the competition? Alpha females locking horns in the same way alpha males do?
Do women who put down other women see everything and everyone as a threat? Do they see other women who are more successful, more aesthetically pleasing, seemingly happier than them, and try to subconsciously scare them off? And are victorious, heads-above-the-parapet women considered fair game in this unforgiving, dog eat dog… er sorry… bitch eat bitch, world? Because they are the biggest threat?
I’m just asking.
Studies have demonstrated that girls are more likely to use gossip, social alliances and social exclusion to police other women’s behaviour. And it is proven, that indirect aggression (bitchiness) among females is used as a socially acceptable way to compete.
Of course this is an arguably damaging, non-feminist, sexist view that all women are nasty or bitchy. We all remember Trump labelling Hillary Clinton a – ‘nasty woman’ during the presidential debate back in 2016, and how misogynistic and archaic that was. Right? (link to Guardian article here)
When challenged on her scientific study (not opinion but FACT remember), Professor Tracy Vaillancourt defended it by saying – ‘You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.’ She suggests that maybe by drawing attention to this ‘bitch eat bitch’ attitude we are better equipped to overcome it?
According to Dr Pat Frankish, a consultant clinical psychologist, the compulsion to bring other women down originates from childhood.
“Something happens that triggers a relatively infantile response, belonging to the pre-socialisation stage of development. Not all women attack others, so the implication is that those who do are insecure in their attachments and are triggered by what they see as someone being better than them, or getting more attention than them.”
So how can we ensure we don’t raise these kinds of bitches? How can I make sure my six-year-old doesn’t try to bring this new girl down? And how can I make sure she doesn’t grow up to be a mean girl?
Here’s some food for thought…
- Encourage conversations with your kids about the complex relationships between girls and why they exist. Talk about and share your own experiences.
- Raise secure, confident girls who have high self esteem by giving them all the attention they need. Praise them, build them up, tell them you are proud. Provide them with love and a safe home.
- Teach them intrapersonal and interpersonal skills. Teach them about the consequences of their words and actions and how things they say or do, can make others feel sad or bad.
- Empathy – tell them to always put themselves in the other girl’s shoes and imagine how they are feeling.
- Talk about envy and jealousy. The first step is to recognise and acknowledge these negative feelings. What are they jealous of? Encourage them to focus on themselves and what they have. List the things they have that they are grateful for. Tell them to think about or write down the things they have in common with the person they are jealous of. Encourage them not to act upon jealous thoughts. Again build up self esteem, if jealousy stems from say – a fear their bestfriend will go off with someone else, maybe say – ‘Well, you’re amazing and so much fun to play with, and you’re such a good friend.’ Tell them – if that does happen then maybe it wasn’t meant to be?
- Don’t always try to be the best, but just always try to do your best. Healthy competition is good, but always trying to be better than everyone else will end in disaster.
- Embrace difference and diversity.
- Teach them to lead happy fulfilled lives full of hobbies, friends, family, a career, helping others, being part of a community etc.
- Teach them inclusion not exclusion is the key. New people bring opportunities and learning, so lower that drawbridge and let others in.
- Always really get to know someone before judging or shutting them out.
- Above all try and be nice, kind, tolerant and thoughtful towards others.
- Always carefully consider what you are going to say and how. Think about what effect it will have on others because once it’s out it’s hard to take it back.
So, these are the things I’ve been implementing with my six-year-old this week. She’s a nice girl and I have no doubt things will work out. She’s just learning how to deal with all these instinctive and complicated feelings after all.
But what about us grown ups?
Are you a female who is spending time bringing other females down? Are you wasting time harbouring negative feelings of anger, envy or annoyance towards other women? As we have learnt, the reasons for this are evolutionary, natural and complex.
But we are not animals, cavewomen or lionesses. We are intelligent, advanced, millennial females. We must acknowledge that as females there will be times where our instinct is to compete with other females. To subconsciously warn them off because of fear. To bring them down because of jealousy.
But surely if we recognise this, we can all strive to change it.
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