Tina Fey’s Mean Girls was (is) perhaps so wildly successful because most women have personally experienced or witnessed woman-on-woman bullying like what is represented in the movie. And for most of us, this experience was probably not a one-time thing. We grow up seeing girls tearing down other girls, even in the smallest of ways. From insincere compliments to outright assault (verbal or physical), we’re familiar with images of women targeting other women.
It was not until a few years ago that this issue really started to get a lot of my attention. When I entered the working world, I saw a whole new level of this bullying happening between women in the workplace. My experiences have shaped the way I interact with women at work and in general. As a result, I want to share what I’ve seen and how I think women need to consider the impact their behavior has on other women as well as themselves.
My Early Experiences with Bullying
I can remember first being bullied in first grade. That year was when I gained a bunch of weight and it’s unbelievable to me how image-conscious my 6-year-old self and my peers were. As I started becoming chubbier, I noticed that my friend group had changing attitudes. Now I’ll be honest, these friends were never really the best fit for me. We had problems even before my weight changed, but I think that that factor definitely accelerated the demise of our friendship.
I felt pretty terrible about myself for the next three years and had trouble making friends after I lost my initial group. And I’m especially ashamed to say that I took this distress out on other girls and became a bit of a bully myself. I think that’s a root of most bullying. We hurt because we’ve been hurt. When you’re a kid especially, it’s hard to know how to deal with how you’ve been treated. So you just decide to pass it along so it doesn’t burden you as much. I regret this mistake often.
This is why talking to young girls, and kids in general, about their feelings and experiences is so important. I definitely had support from my family (especially my mom) through all of this, and that support is what eventually made me stop being mean to others and feeling so hurt. That being said, the damage was already done. I had already been taught that my body could be a reason for someone to dislike me and treat me badly, and that I could attempt to relieve this pain by putting down other girls. That’s hard to unlearn when you’re busy growing up and absorbing the world around you.
My Experiences with Adult Conflict
Let’s fast forward all the way to the start of my professional life. There were plenty of crappy feelings in all those years in between, but honestly, the feelings weren’t all that different than when I was 6.
Soon after I left college, I got familiar with adult bullying for the first time. A female coworker of mine would say the most terrible things about other women who worked with us, always cutting down what others were doing. Not only did she criticize their professional performance, but she would say things about their appearance, their personal life, and pretty much anything she had information on.
I saw the same problem at another workplace. Women would talk about each other behind their backs, always whispering about who was doing what wrong. I’m not here to indict others and put myself on a pedestal. I have definitely participated. But the more I saw this happening around me, the more I found it upsetting and I pulled away from it.
What Happens When Women Bully Women
When women bully other women, everyone loses. Like me when I was younger, the bully feels bad about their own feelings and also carries the weight of having hurt someone else.
In the workplace, this has the added layer of it impacting our professionalism. I don’t need to tell you how women are already held back in the working world. You know about pay discrepancies, glass ceilings, and sexual harassment. The thing is, a lot of those problems originate from male coworkers. But when women target other women in their workplace, they sabotage themselves.
Consider how hard women have to work to be treated equally to their male counterparts, if they are even privileged enough to have that opportunity. WHY would a woman ever put down another woman who is struggling to hold her own in an atmosphere that is challenging for both of them?
Competition. Women may have a myriad of personal reasons for targeting their coworkers, but if it’s a dog-eat-dog world, it’s going to be a woman-bullying-woman world too. But how does that help? It doesn’t. It just doesn’t. Instead of focusing on jealousy or anger when another woman gets promoted in your workplace, think about how her win is a win that impacts you.
I understand that this big picture is very difficult to see. Especially if money is involved. And I’m not saying I’m perfect when it comes to this kind of thing either, but these are things that women should think about. We need to make empowering fellow women a part of our mindset at all times. Because an opportunity for one woman means opportunities for lots of women after her. You are entitled to feeling slighted or envious if you were passed over, but keeping an all-win attitude can help you cope with these feelings as you begin to move on.
I Want to Write for Other Women
Empowering other women quickly became a focus for me in my experience online. I started my blog to invest in myself, but on this platform and on Instagram, I have found so many women who are dedicating their voices to building up the women around them. If I’m going to be sharing words publicly, I want them to serve a purpose that lifts me and my fellow ladies up!
So women, remember that what you say about and how you act around other women can have an impact on the environment for all of you. Men, treat women equal to (or better than) yourself and other men. If we stop working against each other, we all win.