Ladies, we have to talk about a difficult subject today. We need to talk about mean girls. That’s right, we need to talk about when women turn against other women. How many of us have experienced this? The gossip, the campaigns turning people against you, the exclusion, the cold shoulder ice out, the competition, the cut you down to your core negativity and insults, the constant criticism of appearance, the victim blaming. I have spoken to countless women over the years who have not only been hurt by men, but are incredibly suspicious and hesitant around other women. As women, we often talk about the need to stick together. Then we turn around and stab one another in the back or call one another out in mean, shaming ways in public spaces. What gives?
Before I go further I want to reiterate my ongoing stance that people who hurt other people often do so unintentionally or from a place of hurt themselves. When people bully it usually comes from a lack of self acceptance and an abundance of shame. When people do jerky things it is a behavioral message that they are struggling with empathy. These folks often have a deep feeling of not belonging, and not feeling like they have meaning or purpose in their lives. They tend to have a poverty mentality that drives toward control and power. Bullies generally cannot see any of this. They focus on what others are or are not doing rather than look in the mirror.
This understanding for bullies does not condone hurtful behavior. It does serve us to get curious instead of instantly reacting. Curiosity is how we grow. I can humbly see myself in some of the internalized oppression and coping I name in this post. Mostly mine comes out in how I treat and talk to myself. I can also see how this gives me bias toward others that comes out unintentionally. These are edges I need to work on so I can be a healthier and happier human. To be honest, this has been the hardest blog I have written so far. I have gone through draft after draft. It can be more cut and dry to talk about how men behave badly. It is more subtle and difficult to talk about women, and in some ways more painful. I think it is hard because as a woman I have deep compassion for why women bully. We get so much shit from so many angles. We are always either too this or too that, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It is not hard to see why we sometimes intentionally or unintentionally act like jerks toward ourselves or others. We have all had to fight and get creative in a million ways to cope in a culture who constantly tries to cut us down and limit us.
I wrote about toxic masculintiy in my last post of the enlightened mans series. Women also have toxic gender roles that we internalize over time. The main cultural messaging here is that our role is to be submissive, serve, be pretty, be nice, don’t be needy, don’t be too emotional, be perfect at everything, don’t be loud, opinionated, too much, be young and hot, be a whore and a madonna, be pleasing, be good at domestic stuff, be good at your job, look up to men, defer to men, adapt to please, accommodate, blame yourself when things go wrong, and do not compete with men. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. I have already talked briefly about the self-doubt, self-criticism and double standards this sets up for women internally. Another film, Miss Representation addresses some of this. Rates of assault, addiction, anxiety, eating disorders, domestic violence and depression are sad among women in the states.
When resources are scarce due to systemic oppression, we can internalize the oppressive messages of the people in power and it comes out in wonky ways. This is where women can take on aspects of toxic masculinity and sexism. Women often either take the blame onto themselves or blame one another. This results in tearing ourselves or others apart. We do this out of mis-guided survival instincts. We do this instead of looking at the real culprit of the people and systems in power, which we feel helpless to change. We do this for a sense of control rather than placing blame on a culture that is not set up to support us. Privilege and power depend on this disempowerment and misplaced blame, sexism depends on it. It is another limitation of our full expression in our humanity.
Women tend to bully in more subtle ways than men. It’s a more relational and passive aggressive tactic we are taught culturally in our youth. It involves a lot of judgment, criticism and isolation. We do this externally to one another or internally toward ourselves. They are socially acceptable templates and narratives we are given through sexist norms. I am going to break this down with examples. I wrote them as if said externally, but you can also read them as internal self-talk. I have seen all of these time and again when a woman in sailing is assaulted or bullied on a boat or a difficult situation happens. Rather than giving empathy and support right away with firm recognition that the predator, assailant, or bully is fully responsible you hear or see any of the following responses.
1. “Woulda, coulda, shoulda.” This is the critical review of what you did or didn’t do to make it stop or caused it to happen. Essentially the message is, you got on the boat, you are a woman, you know sexism and assault happen, you should know better or do better. People have opinions on what you wore, what you said, what you did or didn’t do. They attribute your pain to your actions somehow instead of the people doing the bullying or assaulting. This is victim blaming.
2. “You weren’t tough enough.” Another form of victim blaming is the belief that you are solely responsible for making it stop, no excuses. Not even fear or trauma response is an excuse, discernment for safety is no excuse, you should have said no. You should have fought, if you fought you should have won, you should have stood up for yourself. You are responsible for stopping and changing other people’s bad behavior. You are not strong enough, prepared enough or informed enough if you don’t. We do this instead of admitting that our world is not safe enough. We do this instead of blaming the assholes who hurt people. We do this from a false ideal that these things can’t happen to us because we are prepared or different, when in reality it can happen to anyone at any time. This is about a need for control.
3. “You don’t know what you are doing.” They point out your incompetence or lack of experience. I have even seen the age card played with, “you are young and you will learn someday.” Learn what? To put up, shut up or leave? Women on boats can get possessive of their place and the hard work it took to get there and impose that their way of coping has been the best way. This tactic is not friendly to newcomers. They test one another to show who knows more or is more competent. They point out any mistakes. They explain in ways that are condescending or overpowering. It’s a poverty mentality instead of feeling generous, supportive and inclusive. There is suspicion and mistrust instead of invitation. They offer resumes and unsolicited advice rather than getting curious. They feel insecure so they grapple for power. In the worst of scenarios they find all kinds of ways to put you down, including critisizing your appearance. This is about a need for power.
4. “You aren’t good enough.” Women decide that the best tactic is to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and out perform men in order to belong. They then project this onto other women and say, you shouldn’t complain, you should just work yourself to the bone trying to prove yourself to be accepted or respected. You need to become one of the boys to beat the boys. If you can’t do that you are not good enough and you should leave. A common phrase with this is, “You have to beat them at their own game.” A common complaint I hear from women who do this is that women should not have special treatment. Meaning that men should not adapt at all for a woman on board. Meaning that men can be as sexist or demeaning as they want and women should just learn to handle it, laugh it off, join in, ignore, adapt. With this stance, there should be no platform or invitation for you as a woman to be there. You should fight your way in and keep fighting the whole ride until they eventually respect you. You need to pay your dues the hard way like I did. This is about internalized shame.
5. “You are a bitch.” Do not complain and if you do it makes you bitchy and weak and means you are man-bashing. Any complaints of men are you showing that you can’t handle it. Boys will be boys after all and if you don’t want to deal with those antics you should go home. If calling out sexist or bully behavior makes me a bitch then I gladly take that name on. I am a mega bitch!! However, calling shit out does not make anyone a bitch. It means they are healthy and assertive. If saying that some men behave badly and it’s not okay is male-bashing then we all need to get our priorities straightened out. Just to make sure we all understand the difference I have illustrated it for the official record below:
Here is an example of man bashing: Men are stupid weak assholes. (Insert more generalized name calling here.)
Here is an example of not man bashing: The rates of women being assaulted is 1 in 5. Most of those assaults are by men. Men should stop assaulting. Men should encourage one another not to assault. Some men are indeed assholes.
Here is an example of being a bitch: Men are too busy installing their dick in their hands to notice me installing my solar panels on my own. Men are single-minded dum-dums and can fuck off.
Here is an example of not being a bitch: I am annoyed that many men assume another man installed my solar panels when I did it myself. I wish people didn’t make assumptions. Men who are bias can either grow and learn or fuck off.
This brings me to an important point. Can women be sexist toward men? Doing a lot of diversity workshops in my day I go with the definitions and philosophy that people of oppressed groups cannot be sexist or racist because sexism and racism are about systemic oppression and privilege. You can google the shit out of these topics if you are curious, but I like this short blog and definitions. Women can certainly be man-haters, there can be man-bashing, but no, women cannot be sexist toward men because sexism is about the systems in place that oppress. Men are not systemically oppressed in the same ways as women. Women can internalize sexism though and hold bias against themselves or other women, and that is most definitely what this entire post is about.
6. “You don’t understand.” This is when women make excuses for men and their bad behavior. Similar to the boys will be boys route, this is when I hear comments like: Most of the time they are joking. I don’t think they intended it that way, have a sense of humor. Have you considered that maybe they didn’t mean it like that? Women can say sexist things too, I’ve heard women say inappropriate stuff. I think you are being too sensitive, too serious, I think you need to give the guy some credit. I think you mis-understood him. I think he was trying to help. Let’s hash out all his motives and try to make it to where he’s a nice guy. This is the internalized messages of women not rocking the boat and doing the emotional labor and adaptation for men. Women can be masters at talking men out of their shitty behavior. It is a maladaptive way of keeping the peace and surviving in a world with lots of shitty behavior. It is important to note that this isn’t just with men, women can even stick up for other women behaving badly in these ways. This is invalidating and excusing.
7. “…………..” Exclusion. Possibly the oldest and best mean girls tactic in the book. This is when you step onto a boat or go to a sailing event and can’t get eye contact. Backs are turned. Side eyes are given. Eye rolling or raised brow head to toe look overs are had. We’ve all seen it. A woman looks at us, then turns her back and starts laughing or talking to others. You never know if it was about you or not, but you certainly were given the message that you were not wanted in on the joke or conversation. There is no hello, no acknowledgement, no engagement. You are visibly invisible and they want you to know it. You are meant to feel unworthy and left out. This kind of shit starts around age 8-9 and unfortunately some women never grow out of it. The worst is when something happens to a woman, say she is publicly insulted or assaulted in some way, and people just keep walking. No one does anything at all. They just let it happen. They know it happened, they just looked on. No acknowledgement, no support. A community knows a woman was hurt and people pretend it didn’t happen. No one wants to take a stance because no one wants to side with the team not in power. This is about weaponizing the need for belonging.
8. “Did you hear about….” The last form of mean girls is the classic. GOSSIP. I detest gossip. The first time I heard the term “Marina Mattress” I almost barfed. The fact that it came from a woman made my head want to explode. I told this person that I didn’t appreciate gossip. I said that who a person fucks and where is their business. I also pointed out that if a man fucks every woman he sails with no one bats an eye. They might even compliment him. If a woman fucks a sailor and walks the dock the next morning they say it’s “the walk of shame.” I might have to rip into this topic on another post it pisses me off so much. Gossip is often about who people fuck, what people wear, what people did. Honestly it is boring unless you feel so bad about yourself that you need to focus on others. Do people have nothing better to do with their time and mental energy? Do they realize all of that gossip says more about them than who they are talking about? If what others do bothers you so very much then just ignore them. If you have something to say, say it to that person directly. If you can’t say it with kindness then perhaps work through your own issues and find out how. Just cut this gossip shit out. No. Bad. Never. This is just cruelty and immaturity.
We need to understand that while we might recognize ourselves or others in this post and bullying behavior, it is an opportunity to reflect. We can disagree with and also have compassion for the ways people act and cope. People cannot change until they recognize where they are struggling. I write these posts so we can all be better and healthier. I write so we can sail in peace, sharing the planet. Lastly, dear sailing sisters, I write this because in a world where we struggle to get a leg up we are shooting ourselves in the foot fighting against ourselves and one another. Let’s get pissed at the real issues, the culture that holds us back and let’s change it together!
Finally, yes…both men and women do these tactics. Yes, everyone can be an asshole. The reason I bring gender and difference into this series is because of the systems in place that hold norms around these behaviors and biases. The research states boys are mostly bullied by other boys, but girls are bullied by both boys and girls. It’s a difficult situation for men, and a no win situation for women. We all need to learn to be kind regardless of gender. Part of that journey is to dig into the areas where we hurt and make us ignorant or unkind so we can change. We have to name it first, and that was the intention of this post. I will dive deeper in future posts on ways to forge a new path forward. A path where women and men come together in this world and in the sport of sailing to create a safer, healthier environment to play and enjoy. May we all sail in peace.