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Irene S. Levine, Ph.D.

Irene S Levine Ph.D.

Why Are Women So Mean to Each Other?

Some mean girls never grow up.

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.

Female bullying continues into adulthood

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