Mean Girls: Why Women Bully

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Manal can recall every detail of the day she resigned from her dream job as a marketing researcher in Cairo. She worked happily there for two years and until a new boss, Faten, arrived. Manal struggles to remember one day over the next year when Faten wasn’t unpleasant in some way. Twelve months later Manal was so ground down she felt the only way to rescue herself was to resign.

“Faten used to place so many demands on me, I was working 10 hours a day, six days a week, and still she was never happy. She would tell me that I am useless, and would be rude to other female colleagues. She seemed to get on a lot better with male colleagues, to the point where she flirted with them.”

“But it wasn’t easy to leaver the most loved job because of one person. The thought of not having a job was daunting and depressing after I’d worked my way up the career ladder. But it was preferable to having to endure this daily office bullying”, Manal adds.

“When I left, I finally had the distance I needed to understand why Faten had picked on me in particular. It was because I was good at my job and the only way she could cope with that was to undermine me. If I ever find myself in that situation again, I won’t allow myself to get so wound up – the bully is the loser in the end.”

People abusing their power is, unfortunately part of life, and stories about male bosses who rant and rave or make inappropriate advances toward female staff are common. But according to recent research there are as many women bullies out there who go out of their way to make the lives of female colleagues a misery.

But the shocking news is that bullies aren’t just your bosses – they are your colleagues, your boyfriend’s sisters, even women you had once counted as friends. Stories of being gossiped about, of bullies taking credit for – or sabotaging work, of attempts to steal boyfriends, all revealed the confusion and isolation that bullies leave, causing some of you to consider suicide!


So why do people bully others?

The motive behind bullying is to assert control. If women could express their displeasure more openly and effectively it might not lead to such cruelty. Parents tend to punish girls emotionally and boys physically. With boys, we tell them if you do that again I will spank you, but with girls we are likely to say “I don’t like you when you do things like that.”

Instead of raising our voices in a way that a man might, women tend to use gossip as their weapon. It’s the sort of behavior that men brush off, but because women have a greater need for relationships and a group identity, they are more susceptible for manipulation of this kind. Women don’t want to endanger possible friendships and go along with it. Information is one of the most important things that women gather to. Women use it and exclude others.

Female bullying usually involves excluding someone from the group- if they don’t fit in, they are not welcomed in the group. It’s especially terrible for women because we rely on other women to confide in. Society puts pressure on a woman to look good, and when they are left out of the group, they tend to blame themselves for not being hip enough.


Refuse to blame yourself!

Wondering what you may have done to deserve the treatment is a classic symptom of bullying – bullies are clever at making you feel that you’re the one with the problem, when in most cases it’s them. Researchers found much similarity among bullies – women undermine others are usually jealous and insecure with low self esteem. They attack others to make themselves feel better. Many of them come from disruptive backgrounds where they battled to gain some sort of power within their families – so they know how to fight.

The similarities among victims of bullies are surprising. It is very common the target is a fairly confident woman with lots of friends. Sometimes they pick on a woman who is less popular. They’d take her under their wing, but then gradually that woman turns the group against her. Some would sow seeds of doubt in the other women’s minds, making them things that this woman is ‘getting above her station’ and ‘showing off’ about her fantastic love life or fabulous holidays, and looking down on them. Another neutral woman would think ‘maybe she is not so nice after all’.

Women also tend to make their attacks more personal, while men tend to be more open and physically aggressive. Women bullying is very cruel and more emotional, taking the form of gossip, name- calling, or isolating someone. In adulthood, that feeling of being left out goes right back to fears we had as children when someone said, “you are not coming to my party.”

The emotional and physical consequences can be disturbing. Loss of confidence, depression, allergies and digestive disorders are just some of the effects. Female style bullying can, in some cases, be more destructive than the typical male.


Walking Away…

Removing yourself from the situation isn’t the coward’s way out. People shouldn’t see themselves as a failure because they’ve decided “I’m going to walk away and find myself another job, and as a parting shot, I might write a letter to my boss telling her why I am leaving.”


How to combat bullying:

  1. Practice emotional self defense: prepare a response like “if you’re having a bad day, please don’t take it out on me!” Or try laughing it off to throw the bully off.
  2. Keep a diary: Record details of what took place, when and where. If it’s a workplace issue, it can serve as evidence.
  3. Talk to someone you can trust: Being bullied can be stressful and lonely. It can help to get an objective opinion.
  4. Confront the bully: get them on their own to let them know, using specific examples how their actions of attitude are affecting you. You might feel more comfortable writing a letter or an email in which case keep a copy. The person may be unaware of the effect they are having.
  5. Use a mediator: get a friend, member of the family, or colleague, if the problem is in the workplace, to be there when you approach the bully on your behalf.
  6. Inform personnel: in large companies, some companies have official channels to make a complaint.


Bullies think they’re being strong and assertive, but, in the cold light day, it’s bullying.

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