Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Women Bullying Women

Everyone is against bullying. It’s become a great national cause.

Naturally, we associate bullying with male behavior. Bulls are male. Female bovines are not called bulls.

Everyone is perfectly comfortable casting opprobrium at bullies because it fits the dominant cultural narrative: the ill that men and boys do.

Being against bullying is being against aggressive, confrontational and violent behavior. The campaign allows women to assert their adherence to the feminist cause by denouncing stereotypical male behavior. It allows men to show off their kinder, gentler sides.

But, what happens when we see women bullying other women?

We ignore it.

We are inured to see the world through the lens of the dominant cultural narrative, so when we find behaviors that are not explained by the narrative, we assume that they are not real.

Sisterhood notwithstanding, one of the principle obstacles to women’s career advancement is other women. More often than not, this is ignored.

The woman who draws attention to the fact that she is being bullied will not be taken seriously, even by other women. She will be seen as a whiner and a complainer.

I am confident that there is a semi-rational feminist explanation for this phenomenon. It will end up blaming men. But, it will fail to address the problem of female bullying, because after all, if women are the more conciliatory gender how could they be bullying each other? And how do they become worse bullies once they enter the workplace?

Rushica Tulshyan calls it the worst form of bullying.

I am not so sure that it is the worst—how can you tell?—but it is especially bad because it is unacknowledged.

Since no one thinks that it's a problem, the woman who is being victimized by the bully will start thinking that she is to blame. As bad as it is to be bullied, adding self-insult and self-criticism to the injuries inflicted by the bully makes it much worse. 

Tulshyan explains that we are all very aware of racial discrimination and sexual harassment. As long as they appear to show patriarchal white males as oppressors, they fit the narrative and are dealt with efficiently and effectively.

When women bully women they are more subtle. Their actions are more difficult to visualize. How can you effectively visualize or dramatize psychological and emotional damage?

A boy beats up another boy… we understand how bad it is. A group of women suddenly stops talking to another woman or starts gossiping about her… how well do we understand how bad that is.

Women bully women by gossiping, by attacking reputation, by criticizing appearance and behavior, by lying, by ostracizing, and by betraying intimate secrets.

Women are taught to think critically, Tulshyan writes, and they naturally tend to use this  bad habit when relating to other women in the workplace.

Susan Tardanico offers an example:

The day after her promotion at a midsize technology company, Kathleen walked into the office and felt a distinct chill.  Her female colleagues stood in clusters, whispering and glancing in her direction. 

In the weeks to follow, she became the subject of office rumors. She was left out of group lunches and was suddenly out of the loop of critical information. She was decidedly alone, emotionally abandoned by the women she had considered friends; a victim caught unaware.  

Were Kathleen to complain, she would sound like a whiner. She would look weak, incapable of dealing with her own problems.

A woman executive will go to great lengths not to look weak. She does not want to run to a parent surrogate to solve her problems.

Women bullying women know this; they take full advantage of it.

When women bully women they employ quiet, discreet, and subtle means.

Tardanico explains:

Women, on the other hand, typically are more comfortable dealing with issues under the table – instead of being direct and “confrontational,” they’re more comfortable working their issues covertly and through other people. Sometimes this indirect form of communication can be effective when done carefully and with positive intent. The truth, however, is that it is more likely to be damaging and counterproductive as  women use it to further their agenda or take revenge – predominantly against other women – by launching undercover smear campaigns, spreading malicious rumors, gossiping or icing someone out. Meanwhile, other women who may disapprove of the situation stand quietly to the side, fearful of becoming targets themselves.

When she asks what is holding women back in the workplace, she is forced to conclude that other women are a primary obstacle.  Apparently, all the talk about sisterhood is just that… all talk.

In Tardanico’s words:

With all the well-documented evidence that women have a tougher time achieving career success than men do, one would think they’d be ever more supportive of one another, banding together in a shared goal of better understanding how to navigate the complex corporate ladder.  If only.

As it turns out, women are often the first to criticize and sabotage one another. Scores of studies show that women are tougher on women than men are; that women treat female leaders with less respect and support than they do male leaders; that women tend to reject work submitted by other women twice as many times than the same work submitted by men. And the list goes on.


Dennis said...

I am not sure why anyone whose been paying the slightest bit of attention to how women grow up is surprised. Even more so for those of us who have raised daughters and granddaughters. This kind of bullying starts when they first get together in any grouping.
I would suggest that is why large numbers of girls and women suffer from insecurity about almost every thing.
Women like to blame men, but boys and men are usually involved in other things like sports, taking things apart, inventing this and building that, et al.
One of the things a father learns is that there is not a thing you can do about it without becoming the enemy. It is like the person who tries to stop a fight and winds up being attack by both of the combatants. I can remember trying to explain that their mother only wanted the best for them to no avail. Now they are the greatest of friends.
There is no meaner, or nicer caring, creature on this planet. It is who they are.

Dennis said...

I would suggest that the amount of physical power we possess has a lot to do with how we deal with each other. Boys and men quickly realize that they can do significant damage to each other. That is why when you watch a fight in its beginning stages there is want I call the "dance of saving face." That "dance" will go on until it provides an escape mechanism or the fight happens. The fight, in the vast majority of cases, ends when the other opponent can no longer "answer the bell."
Women are far more clandestine and when they reach a certain stage they go all out to inflict the most damage possible in whatever means possible.
Here I am speaking in general. We are both capable of exceeding our boundaries of humanity.

CatherineM said...

I have seen it an the executive level - women who don't want subordinates to take maternity leave (and tell them it's a mistake if they do) because when she was coming up in the ranks in the 1970s and 1980s, she couldn't risk it and was back at work a week after giving birth. I thought that's what feminists fought for, no? Then pretty much most people resent the time women have "off" for maternity.

Then myself, I never had issues with the bullying until 15 years into working. Then I went into to Beehives. One place had the A people who were invited into long lunches with the managers and the B people are left behind to know they are not the cool kids and have to keep an eye on things while the cool kids are gone. It was so unprofessional.

At my current job when I began 5 years ago, I had an office manager who was jealous and paranoid (I worked for the top people and they trusted my word on things) and she poisoned the other women against me and threatened them. The person who replaced her continued this and there is no way to fight back. And the things they would say were cruel. It's only been the last 2 years with all the bad press gone I was told "how much nicer I am now" when someone was drunk at a party. I haven't changed, I just don't have the rumor mongers and lies being told about me. Suddenly, I am super nice! The fact that they were wrong and their fears were being fed by a jerk never occurs to them.

Anonymous said...

When I read this I thought of my female boss whom I worry a little bit about. I've been monitoring her for the last few years and her problem is she is afraid to stand up for herself. She's admitted to being afraid of her sister because she's bigger than her and does bully her. We've often seen her being spoken down to by girls with stronger personalities in the department. Once a supervisor who was younger than her but bigger called her a good girl. It came across as being very condescending and putting my manager on a lower level to her. She always goes the extra mile to help people but I've noticed some don't give her the same level back. I've noticed and some of my colleagues occasions she's looked very weak and powerless. Recently a lady from another team had an issue with our team. This lady came across and shouted down members of my team as well as my boss. This isn't the first time she's done this to my boss. Again, my boss just took it. She reported it to my department manager, when perhaps she should have told the lady in question that she didn't appreciate her attitude and then speak to her manager. The danger here is that this lady will continue to not recognise her authority. I think she thinks we don't notice how weak she appears at times, however we have, I also suspect her management colleagues have also and won't help her work on it, as it keeps her in their pocket.