Why are women so mean to each other?

Some mean girls never grow up

Posted Aug 13, 2010

If you've wondered about this question, read Female Bullying, an article by Rachel Giese in the September 2010 issue of Flare Magazine. The piece covers the perennial, but disturbing, topic of adult women who have honed the art of what therapists term relational aggression. These mean girls may not fight with their fists but they can inflict terrible emotional pain on their targets.

Some of us have experienced firsthand the devastating hurt of being excluded from the lunch table at middle school. Others admit with some embarrassment that they've been at the other end of the stick---as one of the "cool kids" in middle or high school who has excluded some other poor soul because she looks, acts, or speaks differently. The scars of being bullied as a kid are often long-lasting and slow to heal.

Unfortunately, some mean girls never grow up, continuing similar behaviors as adults. So the insidious practice of woman-on-woman bullying---often used to dominate and control subordinates or colleagues---is common in the workplace. Similarly, stay-at-home moms are still victimized by frenemies and neighbors. They and their kids become the subject of gossip, and are systematically excluded from play dates, playgroups and birthday parties. This is a particularly pernicious form of bullying because it attacks not only a grown woman but also her child.

Rachel's article (for which she interviewed me and others) tries to explain the dynamics behind female bullying. You can read a long excerpt online. If you're interested in reading more about this topic, you may be interested in these previous posts on The Friendship Blog:

Middle School Frenemies: Why are girls so mean?

Reader Q & A: Mean girls

Reader Q & A: Escaping from a toxic triangle

An excellent overview of bullying by Hara Estroff Marano was previously published in Psychology Today.

Have you had any experiences with adult bullies? How did you handle them?

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About the Author

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D.

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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