Why Women Attack Each Other & What to Do About It

By author Stephanie Carroll

From Boston Public Library via Flickr cc
At the turn of the century (1900), female friendships were a significant aspect of women's experience and survival - 
they were allies.

Today is different. 

There is a general level of aggression between women in our modern society. It is common to hear women say they don't like other women, and it is even more common for them to attack each other both passively and actively - they make reality television shows about it!

But why? Why are women at each other's throats instead of coming together like their Victorian ancestors? 

Here's Why & 
What You Can Do About It.

Changing Women's Roles.
Women's roles have changed over time, which has altered our sociological perspectives, competition, and survival. 

The separation of men women at the turn of the century is known by historians as Separate Spheres. The separation of men and women was so extreme, aspects of the male and female experience were unknown to each other. Without female relationships, women would be without direction or guidance and very much alone during major life experiences, such as puberty, sexual and marital expectations, birth, illness, death, and just life in general.

US Mission Geneva via Flickr cc
One hundred years ago, we relied upon one another but now we are no longer separate and in the information age, we do not have to rely on women anyone.

Because we don't have to rely on other women, other forces have been able to create a schism between us.

Male Competition.
It was actually at the turn of the century that women began to enter the workforce in droves, and the very first women fought their way into male dominated fields.

Elizabeth L. Gardner, 
WASP, circ.
1942-1945 via
 Wikimedia Commons, cc.
Despite these early successes followed by the major success of suffrage, women continued to have to fight for acceptance and respect in a male dominated world for the next hundred years (and in many ways still are). They constantly had to prove that they were above the expectations of their sex. Even after proving their capabilities for the war effort in the 1940s - when the men returned, society once again treated women as less than equal in the workforce.

As women infiltrated the world of men, they were placed in direct competition with a gender considered to be more capable and competent. They had to make every effort to set themselves above the idea that women were incapable. 

It has become commonplace now for women (especially young women) to actually disassociate themselves with the female gender as a whole. You will often hear women (or maybe even yourself) express this by claiming, "I don't like women," or "Women are crazy. I'm not like that." 
Francis Clailin Clayton disguised herself as a
Union Soldier in order to fight in the US Civil War. 

This puts down and dissociates an individual woman from qualities that men and society have deemed as weak or as signs of a female mental instability.

Actually, women have conducted similar dissociation tactics throughout history by disguising themselves as men or by dressing like men and not hiding the fact that they are women, i.e. Ameilia Jenks Bloomer, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton's advocating for women's pants in the nineteenth century as a means to dissolve gender roles.

The Need To Establish Control and Quell Anxiety.
Bullying is a direct result of low self esteem, fear, and anxiety.

by Beboehmer via Flickr cc.
According to When Women Bully Women on Psychology Today: 
"In a world that feels as if others could turn on you at any time, taking a judgmental stance toward other women is a way to feel a modicum of control. The cost of this tactic is high because harsh judgment and cruelty toward other women is inherently linked to relentless self-scrutiny and panic should one's own flaws be attacked."

It all starts in the schoolyard, when we learn our best friends can be our worst enemies. By putting others down, judging, attacking, gossiping, and fighting, women feel more in control and stable in their current situation.

Fear of Infidelity or Marital Instability.
According to a New York Times article called The Cold War Fought on Women, scientists conducted an experiment where they recorded the conversations of different groups of women after they were exposed to a woman who would enter the room and then leave. For some groups this woman dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and for other groups she dressed in a shorter skirt and low-cut blouse, a somewhat "provocative" although not over the top outfit. (They have pictures of this in the article.)

by Nathan Rupert via Flickr cc.
They discovered that the women's reactions to this woman were directly related to her outfit and the suggestion of sexual activity. They didn't even notice her when she wore jeans, but when she wore the skirt . . . Their comments about her after she left were also mostly related to sex, hostile judgments about her motives, suggesting she had ill intentions and was promiscuous. Most of the aggression occurred after she left in the form of gossip and lewd suggestions, but some was direct while she was still in the room.

This lead researchers to conclude sexual competition can lead to female aggression.

Almost all women fear their significant others are going to cheat. They have to face the realities of the weakening of the marital bond in modern society and the higher than ever rate of public infidelity. Not to mention the fifty percent divorce rate!

Adolescent Sociology and Psychology. 
The forces described above: professional competition with men and sexual competition with women are not only a reality of adulthood, but are also passed down to children who grow up emulating those who came before.

Girls and boys are taught from an early age that they are different, even in our modern society. Some of this is a must, biology-wise, but then there is also the differences in toys, clothing, television shows, and activities.

Young girls see older girls and women trying to prove themselves among boys and they are offended when faced with the suggestion that boys or men can do more than they can.

Likewise boys become aware of this too, but more importantly that this bothers girls and since boys like to tease, they use this as ammo. There are things society says boys shouldn't or can't do as well, but young boys don't see older boys or men offended. This is when girls begin to learn they have to compete with and prove themselves to the opposite sex.

by Laura Smith via Flickr cc.
Sexual and biological urges not only develop in adolescence, they become slave drivers in the teen and early adulthood years, and not surprisingly, this is the time in which women become their most aggressive. This is also a time when young women learn and form important values regarding relationships with both boys and girls.

According to When Women Bully Women:
"Early in puberty, girls may begin to look at one another in an acutely competitive and judgmental manner...Many girls see one another as scary, untrustworthy, ruthless and cruel."

Even if aggression dies down as women get older and move passed the hormonal stages of life, these lessons learned regarding other women will linger for years to come.

Group Mentality
by ThatGuyGil via Flickr cc.
There is a general perspective now a days that girls don't get along, that they are "crazy," will eventually have some type of emotional breakdown, explosion, and or a "girl fight." When people grow up with preconceived notions, sometimes they just follow along, playing out the roles and stories society tells them is normal for their age, gender, race, body-type, etc.  

According to When Women Bully Women: 
"By judging, fearing and by turning on their own sex, women effectively self-sabotage their opportunity for strong female relationships and greater empowerment. A self-fulfilling prophecy manifests whereby a woman may begin to believe that most other women are untrustworthy. These women tend to catalogue this phenomena as more evidence to the nature of women and fail to consider the impact of their own actions."

How You Can Help End the Aggression!

Do Not Feed Into It!!!
by Bahari Adoyo via Flickr cc.
I've seen plenty of people, both men and women post hostile comments in Facebook Groups and on Twitter. These comments would have just disappeared into the inter-space, but others started commenting and responding with equal and greater hostility. This only fueled the hate and drove others to comment and perpetuate it as well. This goes for general gossip and really any type of aggression, passive or otherwise.

Some may say these women love drama, but really biological and cultural forces are at work within them without them even realizing it. With every hateful comment, they feel the slight relief of being a little more in control of their world, but really their not. They are alone and afraid and in need of support and encouragement.

Become an Ally
by Leo Hidalgo vai Flickr cc.
Become allies with other women. Reach out and offer to be helpful, supportive, and encouraging.

Even when you meet women who are hostile, be kind to them. Let them lean on you. They are hostile because they are afraid and feel like the world is about to fall out from beneath their feet. Help them, be there for them. Show them that women can be trusted, respected, and considered allies in this difficult and frightening world.

Create Change Through Action Not Argumentation
Sometimes awareness makes you want to run out and tell everyone even if that means forcing them to change their views, but keep in mind it's not your responsibility, and it might not be helpful.

If you try to convince hostile women that they don't need to act that way, or if you tell them how it is, argue, or attempt to persuade them, you may unintentionally cross the line from rising above to participating in the self-sabotaging cycle.

You can still show other women that not women are evil-doers through your behavior and actions, but it's not your responsibility to judge, fix, or correct others. Focus on fixing yourself - they will see it.

Foster Real and Close Friendships.
by Bondinrikard Froberg via Flickr cc
A part of the problem is that women aren't friends anymore, but this is a terrible loss because female friendships create strength, camaraderie, solidarity, and joy.

Don't let time, the potential to move, or too much to do get in the way. Don't even let aggression stop you. Don't get me wrong, if you know someone is going to bring you down, don't force a friendship, but if a woman seems on guard, don't rule out the possibility that she is just scared and truly in need of a friend.

Friendships are initiated by reaching out to people, talking and listening to them, and of course spending time with them. Friendships are created when you trust someone enough to reveal your vulnerability to them, and when you show them you are trustworthy enough so that they can show their vulnerabilities to you. When they do, respect them, encourage them, and be kind to them.

Rise Above and Stop the Cycle!
How?
by Jaume Escofet via Flickr cc.
Show unrelenting kindness.

Become an ally.

Be aware of your actions and behaviors towards others.

Avoid gossip, judgement, and criticism of others.

Lift others up, even aggressive women, by showing encouragement and support

Refrain from negating or putting others down when expressing yourself.

Ignore hostility.

Foster close and real friendships.

Open your heart to the needs and goodness in others.

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    Check Out Stephanie's Book

    Cover Design by Jenny Q
    In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction, and many of the themes in my work are inspired by my Navy Wife experiences although I don't write about the military.

    My first novel A White Room debuted in July 2013 and it is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions to marry a man she hardly knows. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness. Her only comfort comes from secretly nursing to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.  

    Purchase A White Room on Amazon USAmazon UK or Amazon Canada. Find my author page @CarrollBooks on Twitter Facebook, and on Pinterest too!

    About Stephanie 
    Photo by Randy Enriquez
    I married my husband who was already in the US Navy when I was 19. We did the courthouse wedding followed by a ceremony three years later. Even though we married after only six months of dating, I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy and deployment survival, and I didn't know what to ask. At that time blogs were unheard of and the internet was not the playground it is today. Navy Wife help online was unheard of.

    It took years to learn the ropes by trial and error and after ten years of marriage in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered Navy Wives & Navy Girlfriends. I wanted to spread my knowledge and help other Navy Girlfriends and Navy Wives who are new to this world and reveal to them what it took years for me to learn: the moments when you feel the weakest and craziest are actually the moments that reveal how strong you really are.   
     
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