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How do feminists deal with the "mean girl" experience?

(25 Posts)
nerofiend Tue 11-Jun-13 16:15:27

I am not a troll and I would really like to have honest answers about this topic.

Let’s face it, many women are suffering as much at the hands of other women than at the hands of men.

I’ve been a feminist from the start, always being aware of gender injustices and inequalities of power, and even though I didn’t know it was called feminism at the time, I knew something was wrong with the way women are treated and viewed in society from the moment they are born.

However, the more I think about it, the more I realise that true psychological torment has been inflicted to me by many of the women I came across in my life than the men, which is an absolute irony, given the fact that I was perceived men as the enemy.

My first female tormentor was my grandmother, who at the age of five, after I cut my own hair in a very silly way in front of the mirror, slapped me with a shoe, threw me several times on the bed and pulled my hair really hard, shouting; “What have you done? You’ve killed yourself”. My grandmother has Italian ancestry so she was very dramatic in her domestic performances. But the psychological power she had on her family and the abuse she dished out had no end, and it’s affecting many members of my family to this day, even though she’s now resting in peace.

My biggest and second biggest torment came when I was 29 and I was badly bullied at work as I started a new job as a translator. These bunch of ladies decided for some reason completely unknown to me, even when I asked what the problem was, that they didn’t like me. I was new and needed a lot of support. They did exactly the opposite. They undermined my confidence so much, by gaslighting me, manipulating situations and people, hiding important information about the job, making me stay for hours after to finish work that will never be good enough, that I ended up with severe anxiety and depression and had a nervous breakdown. Of course, I left the job after four months and never fully recovered from such a traumatic experience. Feeling that people hate you or dislike you is obviously not a reason to be upset but not knowing why and therefore not being able to do anything about it could be a reason to feel extremely depressed.

Then, of course, came the my friends from uni, who I always thought were a lovely bunch and my lifeline to everything that was beautiful and right about female friendship. All very good until I noticed that one of them was slagging off the other friends badly while accepting money and paid trips abroad from one of them. Obviously, who was the odd one out when the moment of truth came? You guessed, moi.

My last and most recent disappointment came a few years ago at the hands of the “mummy group”. I met a bunch of lovely ladies through a local baby group and was extremely delighted to open a new, fresh phase in my already rocky history of female relationships. I invited them to my house, to parties, went for coffee, bought presents for their children, was always up for meeting up, all full of hope and optimism for a kind of bond that was solid, and honest, and relatively easy to maintain

I shared my experiences of becoming a mum, the difficulties and joys of motherhood and marriage, until I started to notice that I was being gradually phased out. My texts and messages were not answered, invitations came further apart and only to group events, never one to ones. Again, I was never sure what happened, never the chance to correct whatever unforgivable fault I committed. All I know is that I was the odd one out once again. It made me feel terrible, though I didn’t sink into depression this time. Only that I felt bitter and disillusioned. And now I’m rearranging my mental landscape so as not to become one of those sour middle aged women, whose mouth lines are always drooping and forgot how to laugh, and look at the stars.

I still have three good friends, who I met quite recently. I don’t know if they will be forever, all I hope that whenever the time comes for the friendship to finish, they will be honest, and wholesome enough to tell me why.

Now my question is, how do feminists deal with this sort of experience?

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Tue 11-Jun-13 16:19:46

That's really sad.

I don't find it's my experience many women do suffer as much from women as men, though. Statistically, violence is gendered. That's no comfort to an individual though!

I didn't have the greatest experiences with my mum when I was growing up, though she has mellowed a lot recently. I don't find it a problem as a feminist. But partly this is because it's very obvious in her case how much her own problems were caused by things that, as a feminist, I hate too.

I think maybe I deal with it because to me it's so obvious they are separate issues - the personal experience, which is important to me and which shaped me, but which isn't statistically all that significant, and the experiences of women across the world, which show me a bigger picture.

Tweet2tweet Tue 11-Jun-13 19:32:02

Yep, I recognise some of those situations. Hard to know why other women are like that but I think sometimes they feel threatened by a woman who has her own opinions that don't always go with the 'group think'. I am astounded at how many people become sheep like when they are in groups- lots of mum groups I've been to are like that.
The other thing I've noticed is that if you don't like to gossip and put others down behind their back you're considered weird and/or not trustworthy. I've been phased out before for saying I don't want to spend evening criticising other women...

Blistory Tue 11-Jun-13 19:51:43

Your family were equally victims of social conditioning and expectations. You need to judge them in context. That's not to say that your grandmother wasn't cruel, but her views were conditioned by a society where male/female roles were firmly entrenched. Her only power came from being the matriarch in her own home. Doesn't excuse her behaviour but might help you understand that it wasn't you.

Secondly, you seem to have more negative experiences of women because you don't seem to have as much contact with groups of men. We tend to judge women more harshly in situations than we do men. A group of men can be equally bitchy and cruel to each other but we don't see this because we don't tend to have groups of men as friends. We also expect female/female friendships to be a relationship of harmony and deep bonding in a way that we don't expect of male/female friendships and this expectation sets you up for a fall from the outset.

So you begin to think that the problem lies with women and how they treat you and don't stop to think that you might have exactly the same problem with men.

Your final paragraph about recent friends is quite telling. Friendships meander and drift sometimes, and other times they become tiring and draining, sometimes you move on, sometimes they do. Very few people end a friendship and yet you want friends who are honest and wholesome enought to do just that ? It's an unusual way to enter a friendship by wondering how good it will be, how long will it last, will it end nicely.

I bet there's nothing wrong with you and it's simply a matter of your expectations being too much, both of yourself and the women in your life. If someone doesn't like you, that's their issue, you need to stop giving them power over you and you do that by not judging yourself or them so harshly. It's the old cliche that you'll get what you want when you stop looking or trying so hard.

nerofiend Wed 12-Jun-13 12:19:25

Thanks you all for your replies. I just needed to write about this experience somewhere, as I am interested to find out if feminism has addressed the negative side of women relations, and how it can affect your mental health over time if you come across similar situations again and again.

I do agree that if you're your own person, with your own ideas and very independent in your way of thinking, that this makes it harder to fit into group dynamics.

It's a very personal experience and it's only lately that I've been able to articulate its irony and how much frustration it has caused me over time.

My feminist ideals haven't changed, though I have to say they've been shaken at times.

I still think that we, both men and women, operate within cultural and social structures that condition and determine in many ways our behaviours and attitudes. Maybe the way women relate to other women in some circumstances is also the result of that and we have to see it in bigger context.

ThinkAboutItTomorrow Fri 14-Jun-13 09:38:46

I think gender perception is part of it though. Not sure, this isn't well thought out but I wonder if where this is a feminist challenge is the very fact that people see themselves in gender groups. The fact that we identify strongly with women sets expectations that they will be like us. Then if they don't 'conform' we struggle and sometimes behave badly.

When I say 'we' btw, I've never done this knowingly and have often also ended up as the odd one out when I saw it happening (but I've done this in male, female relationships too).

I think guys go after or react against other guys in a similar, but different, way. Men expect other men to conform to their way of thinking and can be horrible and excluding just as badly as women. Think of the guy at school who was seen as (or actually was) 'gay'. At my school at any rate the bullying and exclusion was awful.

TheDoctrineOfAllan Fri 14-Jun-13 12:44:17

Good post ThinkAboutIt.

nerofiend Mon 17-Jun-13 13:38:24

Thanks again for your posts. I agree that gender expectation has a lot to do with it too.

Women expect quite a lot from female friendship, and get disappointed if it's not delivered. My main issue is not so much with what's expected of me, but more with the fact that I'd like to be told in my face how or why I didn't deliver. The thing that hurts the most is when you perceive there's something not quite right, but can't put your finger on what it is because you haven't been told.

Men, on the contrary, expect less, less is expected of them. They can laugh and tease each other to their own faces without a big fuss. Therefore, it's easier to sustain friendships over a long period of time when no grudges are held because you said or did the wrong thing. They are either friends or they're not, and the lines seem always quite clear.

samandi Thu 20-Jun-13 12:27:56

I don't know how I'd deal with it, I haven't had that kind of experience ...

I've encountered incidences of unpleasantness at work (nowhere near the kind of level you describe) and I've had friends I've drifted apart from ... I've dealt with the former by limiting contact with individuals and the latter by getting new friends.

Life is too short for all this drama and naval gazing. Just enjoy the friendships you have while they last. If you're fun and pleasant to be around, then on the whole people will enjoy your company.

Bonsoir Thu 20-Jun-13 12:32:53

I also find groups of females petty and inclined to rabid loyalty (group think) that flies in the face of reason.

Blistory Thu 20-Jun-13 20:34:22

Rabid ? Petty ? Sweeping generalisations about women ?

What a truly horrible post.

rosabud Thu 20-Jun-13 21:20:52

Oh and the ultimate insult, "flies in the face of reason" - because, of course, we are all silly, illogical ariheads.

OP, sorry for your sad experiences. I know that many people who experieinced trauma in childhood can find adult friendships/relationships difficult so maybe some conselling would help?

I am very wary of posts about "mean girls" (often code for "women are nasty gossips at best, horrid bitches at worst") because it is stereotypical and wrong. Many women experience life long friendships and, culturally, strong female bonds are often an important part of family and community life.

Some men I have known who tend to think of women in this sterotypical way, have often proved to be quite insecure and controlling types which has led me to wonder if some men think of female friendships as threatening.

namechangeguy Fri 21-Jun-13 12:19:28

Does oppression of women also suppress their violent tendencies? If the genders were equal, would men be less violent, or would women rise up to be as violent as men? Or would they meet somewhere in the middle?

namechangeguy Fri 21-Jun-13 12:20:02

sorry, wrong thread!!

Theala Fri 21-Jun-13 12:35:31

"Women expect quite a lot from female friendship, and get disappointed if it's not delivered. My main issue is not so much with what's expected of me, but more with the fact that I'd like to be told in my face how or why I didn't deliver. The thing that hurts the most is when you perceive there's something not quite right, but can't put your finger on what it is because you haven't been told.

Men, on the contrary, expect less, less is expected of them. They can laugh and tease each other to their own faces without a big fuss. Therefore, it's easier to sustain friendships over a long period of time when no grudges are held because you said or did the wrong thing. They are either friends or they're not, and the lines seem always quite clear."

That's not been my experience, I have to say. I have both male and female friends and I can't say that I've been able to categorize them as having "female expectations" or "male expectations" of our friendship.

Nearly all my male and female friends have done something that's upset up or disappointed me at some stage, and I'm sure I have done the same to them. You either get over it and move on with the friendship or you decide it's not worth the hassle.

And also some groups of people you just don't click with for whatever reason.

I too think you could benefit from some counselling, OP.

drwitch Fri 21-Jun-13 12:46:37

I think that opression of women is reinforced by/causes women to attempt to control each other. Women, divested of any power to influence real things in their life focus on maintaining their rank amongst other women. This perpetuates the oppression. Read anything by atwood and you will see the same message again and again.

Mugofteaforme Fri 21-Jun-13 14:33:31

"I think that opression of women is reinforced by/causes women to attempt to control each other"

What utter BS.

Can't you just for once except the fact that a bitch is sometimes just a bitch? You know sometimes Women can be just plain evil without any patriachal influences. Sometimes Women have to look within themselves for the answer, but there again it's always easier to blame an external force then to self question.

Mugofteaforme Fri 21-Jun-13 14:56:10


"or would women rise up to be as violent as men?"

Not as, but walk down any major town at pub turning out time and you're a fair indication of the possability.

namechangeguy Fri 21-Jun-13 15:46:09

Cheers, Mug. I didn't mean to post that comment in this thread, but thanks for the reply.

drwitch Fri 21-Jun-13 20:45:09

mug I can accept that women like anyone can be rude and unkind, in fact you have illustrated this point very well! I feel however that certain instances of bullying ARE a result of oppression of women

samandi Fri 21-Jun-13 21:01:58

"I think that opression of women is reinforced by/causes women to attempt to control each other"

Of course that happens. It certainly doesn't account for all cases of women being bitches, but it's naive to think that oppressed people don't take it out on other even more oppressed people.

Quangle Fri 21-Jun-13 21:16:54

nero I'm sorry for your awful experiences. Your grandmother sounds mentally ill.

I've never had the experiences you have had. I've had awful experiences at work but they've been because of working for some awful people who happened to be men.

I actually think men and women are very similar and the mean girls thing is yet another theme that undermines women. Of course men can be very violent and bullying to each other and to women but that's seen as par for the course and actually part of the fabric of the universe whereas when women do it it's somehow a separate, special crime.

I do agree that one of the few powers available to some women is to be superior to other women - and that is a sign of oppression. Like the fashion for skin-lightening in Asian cultures - it's taking on the values of the society around you - even if they are distorted - and internalising them and making sure that you win on those distorted criteria.

Feminism is not about saying women have superpowers and are all loving and giving. Or that they are superior to men. It is about saying they are equal and that they are still very far from being treated as equal.

SplitHeadGirl Sat 22-Jun-13 18:51:36

I had the misfortune to meet two rotten mean girls...but previous to that I worked with three men who made my life a living hell!!! So it didn't interfere at all with my feminist beliefs. Women have a capacity for shit behaviour just like men...but I guess I understand the 'whys' of women's behaviour far better than I do that of the privileged male, so can get over it better.

DamnDeDoubtance Sun 23-Jun-13 18:45:42

I have had similar experiences with women that you have had. I also found the bitchiest work colleagues I ever had we're a group of middle aged men.

I have two exceptionally good friends who are family to me. Then I have a Lot of people who I get on well with.

Some people just do not have kind hearts, they are motivated by petty political jostling for perceived advantage in their social group. Some people are very passive aggressive and feed of inflicting small hurts on others.

scottishmummy Mon 24-Jun-13 20:54:37

frankly,you meet women who are meet some men who are horrid
I don't attribute characteristics or traits by gender.i don't subscribe to women Venus,men mars
gender stereotype are way of keeping women in their so called places.influencing jobs,social choice

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