Women against Women

Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/@elijahsad

Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/@elijahsad

Remember the movies “Heathers” and “Mean Girls?” Heard of the “Real Housewives” reality series?

Research shows that females more cruelly treat others and do so in a more underhanded way than males. Nicole Hess and Edward Hagen found in a 2006 study that when people heard someone speak negatively about them, males leaned toward directly confronting the speaker or ignoring the situation, while women reported feeling “overwhelmingly compelled to retaliate by attacking the offender’s reputation, mostly through gossip.”

And it seems women particularly target their aggression at other women:

  • Mothers who stay home with children disparage working mothers—and vice versa.

  • Magazines targeted toward a female readership tear down public figures for superficial reasons, from their beach bodies to their faces without makeup.

  • The recent female backlash against Marissa Mayer at Yahoo! and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook—which I mentioned in my previous post and which CNN puzzled over as well—indicates that women have special antipathy for successful women.

I’m sure you can come up with a few examples as well.

Here’s the question: Why?

Last night, I posed the question to a couple friends. Our most compelling hypothesis involved the unachievable female ideal.

The human race has somehow crafted a superhuman female archetype impossible to realize in actuality. She makes motherhood perfection look easy, rocks a powerful career, maintains an immaculate household, effortlessly inhabits a fantastic figure, sits under immaculate hair, has an endlessly even temper, knows what’s needed in every situation and has it to hand, nurtures the perfect marriage—you get the idea. Women know this ideal very well—and suffer endless aggravation that they just can’t quite attain it.

Women vent their female-ideal frustration by railing against the women they think get near to perfection and taking pleasure in watching other females struggle and fail to attain the archetype. Misery loves company, after all.


From whence did this feminine ideal generate? And how can we quash it? How can women turn from tearing each other down to building each other up? What needs to happen in our society to make this change possible?

What do you think?