No time for the bitchiness backlash

In this 1980’s teen classic, mean girls play for high stakes --and one of them pays ultimate price. Recently a gorgeous young friend asked me if there was a beauty backlash going on. She had been subjected to nasty, unsolicited comments about her hair and weight by other women. I wasn’t surprised. Nasty comments couched in seemingly helpful or self-righteous tones are common ways some women try to cut others down to size and establish dominance. When I was younger it used to happen to me – and surprisingly it still does.
 
No matter how often it happens, it always takes me by surprise.
 
I have always had a lovely group of friends growing up. We never behaved that way. We dressed for Friday nights with none of the nasty competitiveness you read about. I encountered a mean girl or two, but they were easy to avoid and ignore.
 
Bullies want attention and status
I was lucky, and now I understand why. My group was popular, cohesive, and non-confrontational. The wannabe mean girls knew this and had to restrain their behavior. They couldn’t really be that mean or they would have become pariahs — and they knew it.
 
A recent study by the University of California Davis says a teen’s popularity dictates  how much bullying they will do. The research says the most popular kids don’t need to bully or torment others; they already have social status.
 
In a similar study done in the Netherlands and quoted on WebMD, researcher Rene Veenstra said"bullies aren’t looking to be loved, but they are looking to be noticed.”
The Dutch study included almost 500 grade-school children between the ages of nine and 12. It stated that “children who bullied were often motivated by a desire to increase their popularity, and that they chose generally unpopular victims to avoid losing social status. Boys who bullied tended to seek the approval of other boys; girls who bullied sought the approval of other girls.”
 
Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence contends that cute girls are mean because they can be.
 
My mean girl tried and failed
I am not sure if there is universal motivation, but I do agree most bullies are looking for attention at some else’s expense.
 
Mean girls use social sabotage
Most of us have encountered a mean girl. A girl in our group in high school was a mean girl to me. I didn’t know, and I didn’t care what her problem with me was. I was never anything but nice to her, but she was as mean as she could be to me — without getting caught out by our other friends. She still goes out of her way to be unpleasant whenever I see her, even after all these years.
 
She once tried to cause trouble for me by repeating something I told her in confidence. At the time I confided in her, I was unaware of her venom. I was a little shaken that a teacher had attempted to touch me inappropriately. It was a minor incident as these things go, but unsettling nevertheless. I swiftly exited the room and resolved never to be near that person again. That was the end of it, or so I thought. She was the first person I ran into as I left the room, and I confided in her after swearing her to secrecy. I also had told her that nothing had happened. I had fled unharmed and annoyed. I warned her to avoid the guy.
 
This mean girl promptly reported that I was “spreading rumors.” Luckily for me, she blabbed to someone in authority who knew us both well. When this person asked me what had happened. I told him exactly what had happened and I wanted the matter dropped with no drama. And so that was the end of it.
 
I have never spoken of it since — until now. She simply wanted to cause trouble for me. Mud sticks, even if nothing had happened — as she well knew. I did not want that type of gossip attached to me. Thanks to an intelligent administrator, she failed to drag me though the mud, but I know that was her intention.
 
They are social snipers
Women like her are snipers; they lie low and take shots from the cover of friendship or innocence. They mask their intentions. They define the words catty and bitchy.
 
Studies show women are reflexively competitive with other women
My friend who feels judged by other women is not imagining it. In a recent widely-reported study, women admitted to passing judgment on other women within 20 seconds of meeting them. Women look at how fat another woman is, whether she wears too much makeup, and whether she had her roots done. The study included responses from 200 women aged from 18 to 45. So if you think mean girls grow up to be nice, think again darlings, many of them stay mean.
 
My friend is 25 and she was harassed by women her own age. One of her so-called friends told her that she should not try to be the same weight that she was at 20. Please! She is only 25. She is working toward her fitness goal through exercise and healthful eating.
 
On another occasion, a woman whom she had just met at a party felt compelled to
comment that “colouring hair is not natural or good." She directed this to my friend who had been receiving compliments on her pretty blond highlights. This might sound minor, but she attacked my friend in a conversation at a party, and it felt hostile. She didn’t want to defend her grooming choices, or even discuss them at social event.
 
My advice was to avoid women like this. Who needs the bad attitude? I reminded her that the women at our fitness club (we worked out together in Toronto) were lovely and supportive. So are the beautiful and talented young women she grew up with – so why put up with nastiness.
 
The best way to deal with this bitchy backlash is to learn to shut it out and not let it get to you. Surround yourself with women who share and support your values. The last thing a woman needs as she struggles to stay on track with a healthy lifestyle is a negative friend. I am sure a lot of my own confidence comes from growing up surrounded by beautiful and supportive women who were quick to reject catty behaviour.
 
Often mean girls grow up to be mean women
Sadly many mean girls don’t outgrow being mean. Recently, on a popular reality show I saw a group of women attacking another woman. They were criticizing her for working hard to stay young and fit. The woman they were discussing looks fabulous. The venom the other women directed at her was astounding. I was amazed when they brought up her age and questioned whether she was menopausal. The woman leading the attack is only five years younger than the object of her scorn — and has had all of the same cosmetic procedures. It’s not unusual, I know few women who have not had to deal with the occasional mean girl.
 
Cultivate friends who reject the cookie-cutter coven mentality
I adore my women friends. We all have our own style. We are far from the
cookie-cutter coven some women seem to want to belong to. Even at my age I am still surprised when an attack comes from some random woman who takes a shot at me about my looks or life style. Now, it doesn’t get to me. I just have no time for the bitchiness backlash.
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The dreaded schadenbitch

Envy seems to be at the heart of most schadenbitchesAre you inspired by your friend’s success? Do you like to surround yourself with brilliant successful women? I do. Or, my darlings, are you affected by the current wave of schadenbitch? I’ve seen this new disturbing term recently and it struck a chord. I have always been a fan of the word schadenfruden. It so adeptly describes a behaviour I deplore – relishing the misfortune of others. I find it despicable and tiresome. I live by the adage that if I serve someone up as dinner conversation, she will serve me up for dessert when I am not around. If you believe otherwise, you are dangerously naïve.

 
Some women boast they are “a man’s woman” or “one of boys” – and by that they don’t mean tomboys or sports-lovers. These wannabe queen bees eschew the company of women for men. They are often dismissive and nasty to those of their own sex. Ironically, they are often not any more popular with most men than they are they are with women. Men don’t trust their hostility towards their own. Unless they infiltrate a group of men attached to their brothers or use some other camouflage, they are most likely not welcome.
 
What perplexes me are women who are threatened by their friends’s accomplishments. A woman I was close to for a while, another writer, became upset when anyone she knew got a book contract or won an award. She had published her own book and done well with it. I never understood why she was this way. She could never be happy for the other person or inspired to work harder. This envy permeated her life in other areas too. She envied attractive people and those she perceived to have successful relationships. It is hard to think of much she didn’t envy.
 
Another woman I know runs through friends quickly. She too is afflicted by the green-eye monster. She has a laundry list of complaints against others, and how they have slighted her. She imagines others have stolen her ideas or insulted her. No matter what job, assignment, or luck comes her way, the plums always go to others.  
 
Women like this may attain some professional success. The two women I mentioned are bright and talented, but will never attain the success and fulfillment they would if they didn’t have such toxic habits.
 
Another friend is a young woman already making a splash in a glamorous profession. She works 24/7 and still has a way to go before she makes the big bucks, but she has made a great start in a tough business. She has noticed some her friends are not thrilled with her success. It hurts.
 
I understand how she feels and have encouraged her to wait it out. But in the end she will need to find friends who enjoy her success. I have had similar experiences. I will never forget one older friend who had always told me to “do more” professionally. When I returned from Russia after being part of the launch team of Russian Vogue, she was quite mean about the new direction my career had taken. She made cutting remarks. I was shocked. Eventually, we both moved on. Now, I think I understand how she felt, but I think she made a mistake in how she reacted. She had married a very successful older man, raised four children, and did lot of charity work. That was how we met. She is bright and ambitious. She had planned to do many exciting things when he retired. That did not happen. She tried a career cooking, something she is good at it, but she didn’t get far with it. I suspect her husband had different plans and wanted a quieter life. She could have opted to get some support for her dreams from her friends. I would have given it, unquestioningly. That is my style. It is how my friends operate.
 
I don’t understand women who don’t cherish their close women friends. My friends have always been a great source of support, love, and pure enjoyment. I relish their company and can’t imagine life without them. 
 
I love the sound of their voices, their laughter, and even their quirks. I have always taken great pride in their accomplishments.  I think of them as a string of highly-polished jewels –each one precious, rare, and treasured.
 
We can get on get on each other nerves at times. But the wonderful thing about maintaining friendships over the years is the way the edges get smoothed away.
Some friendships have not stood the test of time, but that too is often for the best.
 
The friends I have made and kept over the years have shared this same excitement at meeting a new talented friend. We delight in the process of discovery and celebrate accomplishment!
 
Darlings, look to other women as source of inspiration! Glory in their accomplishments. Your friends will sustain you over the years. And whatever you do, avoid the dreaded schadenbitches and their toxic behaviour.
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Grown-up mean girls

Mean girls not  just in high schoolWatch almost any episode of the Real Housewives on Bravo (Slice) and you can see a level of nastiness that is truly shocking – and these women are privileged by any standard. While their small-screen antics can be amusing, they are far from it in real life. I have a brilliant young friend who is currently working for a bully. It is tough economy, so she is stuck there for now. Her boss drains the life out of the whole office with biting personal comments, undeserved professional putdowns, and non-stop abuse. Another friend, a PR maven, remembers one hideous female boss who screamed at her and even hit her. The tyrant knew she desperately needed the job at that time.  
 
Meanness is not reserved for the work place. A sweet friend who had been out of work, in spite of her best efforts, attended a friend’s baby shower. While there she was questioned about her job prospects and love life. It was all quite civilized until the dragon-like mother of an acquaintance cornered her. The gorgon began an inquisition about her personal life in the most condescending tones. She even had the nerve to ask: “Well are you going to work or can you afford to become a of woman of leisure?” My friend was disconcerted by her rudeness and her implications. This woman was well aware that my friend is a well-educated woman who has held very good positions and would again. She was simply being a *itch because she sensed that a beautiful, younger woman was temporarily vulnerable. She was an old mean girl.
 
According to a story in The New York Times in May 2009, based on research from The Workplace Bullying Institute, at least 40 percent of work place bullies are women. They usually bully other women. This is not shocking to anyone who went to high school. We have all seen how mean girls can be. Women are reluctant to report other women because of false notions of sisterhood or not wanting to be perceived as whiners. I was surprised by the reaction surrounding Elizabeth Lambert, the violent soccer player. As bad as this behaviour is, this type of viciousness is easy to spot and stop.
 
It is harder to stop put-downs, verbal abuse, backstabbing, and sabotage. We are trained to ignore it, take the blame for it, or feel bad for the needy and insecure offender. Darlings, if you are subject to bullying at work, get out as fast as you can. Keep records if it is really bad; you have rights and legal recourse.
 
If you are bothered by a bully in a social situation, get away from the bad person. Don’t think twice. If the mean girl is in your circle and you can’t avoid her totally, speak up. Don’t lose your cool. Practice, if you are easily rattled. Confide in a friend for advice. Find a non-hostile way to say: “back off Suzy Q”.
 
If a good friend is temporarily acting up because she is feeling bad about her life, find a way to give her some space. Try to be understanding, but never be anyone’s punching bag. If the bad or abusive behaviour persists, find a gentle no-nonsense way to tell her you know she is going through at tough time, but she needs to cool it.
 
If you see another woman getting bullied, step in and deflect it. In the work place it can be trickier to control grown-up mean girls. Be aware of your rights. If you are the boss watch out for bullies below you. We can complain about men all we want, but we need to clean up our own act. Don’t stand by and let unkindness become the norm.
 
Darlings, kindness is underrated. People like people who like them. You reduce your stress and that of others by being kind and joyful. Compliments, cheerfulness, and pleasantries make life nicer. One of the keys to happiness might just be finding time to be nicer and more supportive of each other, and putting a stop to the culture of grownup mean girls.
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