What a great question.
I’ve always contended that girls can be more vicious than boys in many ways, especially when they are in middle school and high school. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much the same when they leave the nest – but, there’s one interesting twist: women target women most of the time and it’s not considered discrimination. It’s considered ‘same gender harassment’.
If you have a daughter in middle school or high school, or if you can remember back that far (!), think about how girls go after girls. They yell and scream, call their targets names, tease, make fun of and spread rumours. Girls can be vicious – and when they trot off to college and eventually find themselves in the trenches of life, the female bullying behaviour isn’t much different than it was in seventh or eighth grade.
Meet Claire. Claire is a client of mine and she’s enmeshed in a bully situation at work. At least two or three times a week, she’s ‘dressed down’ by her supervisor and in front of other employees.
”It’s as if we’re back in high school,” she recently told me, as she recounted an incident she remembered from ninth grade.
”We were excused from Science about a minute late, so I had to rush to my locker to get my English book. There was a group of about five or six girls who had decided I was their favourite target and they were waiting for me.”
”Susan was the ringleader. She made sure she always had her ‘posse’ with her and she never went anywhere without at least two of them.” My client’s eyes narrowed and I recognized the look of revulsion as she continued her story.
”Susan stepped up to me so her face was right in front of mine. ‘I heard you were talking to Jack at lunch,’ she spat, her face filled with rage. I told her that he asked me a question about the Science assignment, but she didn’t want to hear it. She shoved me into my locker and pinned my shoulders against its door.” My client grew quiet for a minute as she relived that spring day in ninth grade.
”She shoved me so hard that my shoulder slammed against the locker door at a weird angle. It dislocated and I felt the searing pain as she continued to rant about my talking to her boyfriend. The only reason she stopped was because a teacher was walking toward us in the hall.”
The torment she endures at work is just the same as the torment she endured in high school. Sadly, victims of women bullies take a while (or choose not) to report the behaviour to company superiors because they believe it will make matters worse or they will lose their jobs. At work, they live in fear on all fronts, and the element of ‘sabotage’ seems ever present.
So, why do women bully other women? Well, one of the reasons is because they enjoy feeling powerful and they like it when their targets don’t stand up for themselves. Another reason is women are less confrontational when they’re attacked – they tend to turn their backs on unacceptable behaviour.
It is unfortunate that many women in business feel threatened by the success of others, and they want to stop you dead in your tracks before you have the opportunity to eclipse their success with your own. I suppose this may be a big reason for that high statistic same-gender harassment.
Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.