Having two daughters, I am reminded periodically of the cattiness of girls. Sly comments, underhanded insults, a cruelness that will stun even a hardened ex-network news producer. And recently I was transported back to the immaturity of it all at a gathering of women in my community. I’ll spare details to protect the innocent, but in a nutshell – at this party of women who didn’t all necessarily know each other before the evening – a comment was made very publically in front of others about someone who she didn’t think should be there. What ensued was a night of whispers behind each other’s backs, snubbing of others seated at the same table, and an abrupt departure of a few women who felt the most uncomfortable because of what transpired, including myself.
But this isn’t an isolated incident. Throughout my life, personally and professionally, I have realized that women are hard on each other. At work, I have to say that some of my harshest and unfair supervisors have been women. I had one boss who “punished” women when they stood up for work life balance by criticizing their work performance or penalizing them immediately after the returned from maternity leave. It was almost like we reminded her of what she should have done as a mother, since we knew her children struggled in school and life.
I have to be honest that I have been a guilty of party of this as well. There have been women I’ve known professionally that I am critical of, perhaps more harshly than my male colleagues. There are female acquaintances that get under my skin more deeply than they should. My husband notes the behavior by our gender quite a bit. He’s seen it in his own work life. Women can have deeper conflicts with each other, than a man and women or two men.
As a capital “F” feminist, I hate to even type these words. We should be beyond this. We are better than this. But we fall back into old habits we need to challenge ourselves to get out of. A quick Google search online, revealed I’m not the first person to write about this issue. There are many blogs and hypothesis about why this is the case. Many pointed to reasons like at work, women don’t want to be accused of being lenient on their gender, they want to be a part of the “boy’s club”, and companies don’t value women empowering other women.
While I agree all of these factors can play a role, I’d like to add one other thought. I think we’re harsher on each other because we measure the behavior of a decisions of our fellow women against how we would handle it ourselves. If I figure out a way to have a clean kitchen with two young children, then she should too. If I work full time have children, then she can too. The list goes on and on.
So what’s the answer? Resist these inclinations. We all need to work from the assumption, that we’re trying to do the best job we possibly can. And if one of us isn’t, there’s probably a very good reason why. We need to have each other’s backs, personally and professionally. Our culture presents enough roadblocks to our success (lack of maternity leave, childcare support, unequal pay) – we don’t need to add to the hurdles. The next time you find yourself grumbling about another woman, take a step back and analyze. Change your natural response. If you’ve been guilty of distancing yourself from that woman, or talking about her to others – reach out to her. See how you can help her. Try to find some empathy. At work, figure out how you can work with your female colleagues to lift everyone up. Because, a rising tide lifts all boats, and it’s hard enough in our sea of humanity.