Yes, I’m charged up about this topic, because I’m tired of hearing about it, and even more exasperated by the fact the now “mean women” are persisting to behave in such an abhorrent manor. Especially towards women. What’s worse is that some men don’t even notice their behavior. Why don’t they? Because these women have mastered the art of behaving entirely differently around men…much nicer, and not that way towards many if not all of the women they interact with. Is this an accusation that is too harsh? Perhaps, but unfortunately in many instances it is a valid one.
I consider myself to be fortunate, as I’ve seen this behavior, but I haven’t had to contend with it regularly. You might wonder is this a generational “thing”? No, it’s not, as I have seen the “mean woman” behavior exhibited across multiple decades. Did I ever imagine this would persist? Well, I had hoped by the time I got to the decade I’m in that it might have either been resolved or been less problematic.
One thing I pride myself in is not being a hypocrite. I have never been a “mean girl”. Just the opposite, and I consider myself to serve as a role model for how to act nicely and well when I’m interacting with other women. A phrase that consistently pops into my mind is one I would routinely hear from my mom. She would say, “if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Another phrase she would regularly say is “think about complimenting someone before you criticize them.” During my life I have leveraged these two phrases consistently, and I have also passed them along to all the women in my life I have led and interacted with.
The question should be asked “why do women treat other women poorly?” Notably in the workforce or on a sports team? There are a variety of answers, and the first one I’ll tell you about why they do is out of a lack of confidence in themselves. They act in a negative way against other women to make themselves feel better, or more confident. Yes, this might seem counterintuitive, and it is. What’s worse is that it’s a temporary feeling, so it becomes a persistent behavior pattern. Self-serving, but not in a way that will solve the core issue relating to them understanding why their confidence level is low.
Another reason some women act in a disgraceful manner towards other women is because they feel threatened by them usurping attention from them. Attention coming mainly from men, but occasionally from other women too. When they are acting this way, they may or may not be aware of the fact other women are seeing through what they are attempting to achieve, and typically at another women’s expense. Meanwhile, most men are unaware of this happening, because they are only noticing the attention from the women being directed at them. Usually positive attention, so the men are not necessarily going to do anything to prevent this from happening. Even if they might slightly be aware this attention is negatively impacting another woman. In fact, the more attention that is lavished, and which results in a favorable outcome for the women, the more they will persist in this type of behavior. Namely because no one is shutting it down, and both parties appear to be getting what they want. However, at what expense?
Some women will act poorly to other women, and act well or favorably towards men because they think this is the way for them to fit in. Perhaps to also gain more control, leverage, or to increase their leadership standing. Again, this could temporarily present why these actions are occurring, but it’s not a long term or successful strategy. Why not? Because at some point, the mean women will have to sort out how to interact well with other women. Especially when they will get to a stage when their prior behavior strategies of playing in the grey areas (e.g., excessive flirting, trying to act like one of the guys) to garner attention won’t work favorably for them anymore.
Do I think that mean girls who graduate to being mean women notice or care about how they are behaving? I have mixed feelings about this. They are mixed because I do know if some of them know exactly how they are behaving, and why they are doing so. There are others who legitimately are doing so because of behavior they have seen modeled that was inappropriate, yet they thought it was the only or best course of action for them to get results. Of course, this is unfortunate, especially because they didn’t have strong women role models to show them how to appropriately interact with others and not at the expense of either gender.
If you are leader or sports coach, and if you know someone who would be classified as a “mean girl” or who has graduated onto being a “mean woman”, I can offer some advice on how to address these women. My advice stems from having turned many of their behaviors around and graduating them onto not being in their previously and unfortunate behavior club.
- One of my favorite questions is asking someone “Why did you say that?” Have the person explain to you why they said what they said and continue to repeat this question until you obtain a satisfactory response. Perhaps even a warranted apology.
- When you can do so privately, ask the person if they are aware of how they are coming across to other women? Tell them you have an example which demonstrated their behavior in a way you found to be curious, and that you didn’t understand why they behaved that way. You might be surprised by their response.
- Ask them who their female role models are.
- Ask them what characteristics they have favorably learned from their female role models.
- Ask them what their opinion of “mean girls/woman” are? Again, you might be surprised to find out they are not aware of the fact they are one of them.
- Ask them if they have ever encountered a “mean girl/woman”, and how did they handle the situation?
- Ask them if they are in favor of helping other women, and modeling behavior which fosters building up the confidence and leadership qualities in other women? If they are open to doing so, be prepared to have a plan in place to act on this.
- Ask them if they feel well supported by other women? In fact, they may not have had many positive interactions with other women, which has negatively contributed towards their negative interaction behavior.
- Determine if the person is willing to be mentored, and whether they are aware that more positive interactions with other women will in fact serve them well as a long-term leadership strategy.
Having now written about this topic, I am hopeful it will serve as a catalyst for constructive conversations, increasing the awareness level for both women and men on this topic, and offer some actionable approaches to alter this type of behavior going forward. If you have other suggestions, please share them with me, as we are all in this conundrum together.
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