Women Bullies

Many of us are familiar with teen bullying. If you didn’t see Mean Girls with Lindsay Lohan, you probably heard about it. Girls being mean to girls – backstabbing, back-talking and sabotaging. Pretty depressing, but pretty true. Where does this come from and does it go away as we get older or actually get worse?

I had my own experience of girl bullying in the 6th grade. I had recently broken up with a boy in my class who I had “gone out with” for a few weeks. One day an 8th grade girl who wore lots of dark eye-make up and was a lot bigger, older, and tougher than I came up to me in the school hallway with a very nasty look and said, “I call you out.” For those unfamiliar with the term it means, “Let’s fight.” I was stunned. Why me? She snarled, “You broke up with my best friend’s little brother. He’s like a little brother to me. You just don’t do that.”

Since then I’ve encountered off and on the wrath of other female bullies. Most recently, in a place I would have never imagined…on the phone with a wedding dress designer! I envisioned that looking for a wedding dress was going to be an experience of delight and feminine ooohhing and ahhhing. Instead, when I told the designer what I wanted, I got a surprisingly hostile response: “Strapless dresses are for girls. Why don’t you grow up and be a woman! Do you want to be pulling up your dress the whole night? Do you want to be all cinched up like a girl?!” While she may have had a couple of valid points, her delivery was aggressive and extremely unprofessional. I felt totally bullied!

So what was going on here? Why would one woman treat another woman like this?

My husband once did a documentary on girl bullies called “Mean Girls: mind games.” Working on this project he learned that there are certain patterns of behavior adopted by girl bullies. They learn what works to hold power over other girls and they typically stick with that behavior throughout their lives.

womenbulliesSome believe that the root cause is that women are taught to fight one another for attention at an early age. “We are competing with our sisters for dad’s attention, or for our brother’s attention,” says Michelle Cirocco, of Televerde, a company based in Phoenix that employs female prison inmates. In her position, she has seen a lot of bullies! “And then we go on in school and we’re competing for our teachers’ attention. We’re competing to be on the sports team or the cheer squad,” she says.

And then what happens after high school?

Let’s look at the workplace…

“Women feel they have to be aggressive to be promoted,” says Laura Steck, president of the Growth and Leadership Center in Sunnyvale, CA. That makes sense when you look at stats that show women make up 51% of our nation’s population, but only 3% of corporate CEOs are women.

Couple this with the recent research that shows women must work twice as hard as men in the workplace to achieve the same level of recognition and prove that they can lead. It’s no wonder that instead of showcasing each other’s work and abilities, women are competing in a do-or-die way.

So how can we can we break this seemingly endless bully cycle?

I know that whenever I find myself bad-mouthing another woman (or even just thinking it), I realize that in some way I am also bad-mouthing myself. I am stepping into the vicious cycle of sabotaging not only this other woman, but ALL women.

This is not to say that when a woman is hostile toward me I still don’t have my knee-jerk reaction of, “What a bitch.” However, I find that if I step back and take a moment to get some clarity on why that woman might be acting in that particular way, this usually helps me muster up some compassion and instead of biting back, I step outside of the game. Instead of meeting hostility with hostility, I actually open my heart to them. I start to see that their pain is some of my own pain.

This isn’t exactly what happened in the 6th grade, but had that older girl and I both understood our connection with one another, perhaps it could have.


Tabby Biddle is a writer and editor specializing in helping women entrepreneurs and emerging authors get their message out. Additionally she is the founder of Lotus Blossom Style, a yoga lifestyle company created to support women in their personal transformation. She lives in Santa Monica, CA.


8 thoughts on “Women Bullies

  1. There’s a good book out – Women’s Inhumanity to Women that explains this more too. I certainly experienced it, but not in grade school. Interestingly growing up in New Orleans, I didn’t run into mean spirited women like I did in California – in the Goddess community. I ran into jealous, petty, back-stabbing, competitive women with issues of fear and scarcity. I had to work hard to surround myself with kind, supportive, nurturing, positive women – and I did and what a difference it made to my and my development and spirit. We really must work to be in healthy rather than toxic relationships whether these relationships be at home, work or church.

    • Hi Karen.

      The book that you reference looks like a good one. I just checked it out on Amazon. I had no idea how many books are actually out there on girl bullying/women bullying. I am looking forward to doing some reading in this area and seeing if I can understand more of the root of how we ended up here. That is interesting that in your life in New Orleans you didn’t run into this type of attitude very much, but when you came out here you found yourself surrounded by women in the Goddess Community who were as you describe – jealous, petty, back-stabbing, competitive women with issues of fear and scarcity. I sometimes wonder if those drawn into the community have a lot of these characteristics going on because what they crave most is reconnection to their authentic feminine self and the wounds that they incurred along the way that disconnected them from their feminine — are the things that are making them act like that. That’s a long sentence I know, but did it make sense?

      I hear ya about surrounding yourself with kind, supportive, nurturing, positive women. Very important.

      Thanks always for sharing Karen.


  2. Tabby,
    You write well and you write from the heart. It is always good to read your blogs. I agree with Karen about bullying and being bullied. I remember a quote that said abused people let others abuse them or something like that. I have been bullied all my life that I can’t remember an exmple but I always felt miserable and have yet to fight back.
    Last week, you wrote about Indian kids been exploited, I didn’t have much to share but that night after reading your blog, I had a terrible nightmare and felt helpless as I relived my childhood when my parents used my polio condition to get ahead of any line and get discounts on groceries and favors from others by just pointing to me and my funny way of walking and no I didn’t have to go to India or see the movie to expericence that first hand. I felt worthless and now that I am older or wiser, I don’t let anyone put me down to get ahead.

    • Hi Bita.

      Yes, I am familiar with that saying that abused people let other people abuse them. It can be a vicious cycle, but one that I think – with awareness and courage – can be changed. It’s like anything — if you keep in the same pattern internally — the same pattern will exist externally and vice versa. It’s hard though I know to change a pattern — and that’s the challenge for many of us.

      Thank you for sharing so deeply your story about your childhood. I hear how horrible that must have been for you. I like that now as you are older and wiser as you say, you don’t let others put you down. That is key. You have broken the pattern. Just b/c something was one way when you were a child does not mean it needs to be the way it is as you live now. You have the choice. Thank you for sharing Bita. It admire your honesty and courage.


  3. Hi Tabby…
    I like this: “…instead of biting back, I step outside of the game.”

    Recently I was HORRIBLY attached verbally by my brother (via 2 voice mails)…I bit back after receiving the first call and calling him “a f*#$&ing B^$*RD and hung up the phone.
    I was in extreme pain and was really hurt.

    After I got the next message the next day. “I stepped out of the game”, as you wrote. And now about 4 weeks later…I feel so much happier. Of course still sad that this has effected our whole family, and things will never be the same again, but feel lighter about who I am in all this. I KNOW I am NOT the names he called me…I realized all the things that I AM! I am not giving my energy to fueling his anger anymore.

    Thanks again for the posting, and also sharing your blog with me.
    Have a great weekend with NO MEAN GIRLS (((or brothers))) crossing our paths!.

    • Thank you for sharing Greg. This was potent — “I am not giving my energy to fueling his anger anymore.”

      I love that you were able to step outside of the back and forth battle and that although sad and bearing the changes this made within your family, you yourself recognized you are not those names that your brother called you and are claiming who you actually are. With this you have found yourself feeling lighter and happier. That is cool! So sweet Greg.

      Have a beautiful weekend,

  4. I don’t know if this makes any sense, but I wonder if the women in New Orleans were less
    complex? They were more authentic and true? As I’m writing this, that doesn’t seem
    exactly what I mean. But there didn’t seem to be that angst, anger, bitterness and
    disappointment. Maybe they were more niave. Maybe they were less aware of “their place
    in society” and “their repression” – like ignorance is bliss?

  5. Yes, I encountered bullying by a woman on FaceBook last year….When I sent her a request that we talk on the phone to clear up a misunderstanding, it absolutely floored me when she raged at me on the phone. She is a “soul coach”, but did not seem to have any sense of professional protocol, “diagnosing” my “problems” and calling me names, interrupting and telling so that I couldn’t talk. I thought I left this kind of behavior behind in grade school, but I guess some folks have not grown up!

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