Confronting the catfight

It is unfortunate that women have to look outside our own gender to learn a more proper way to act.

by Abby Bar-Lev

Women could learn a thing or two from the opposite sex about how to treat one another.

I don’t believe I am creating any new stereotypes when I say that girls are thought of as catty toward each other. Most women I’ve known have been fun, kind, supportive and open. But we all know that one girl; the one who talks loudly into her cell phone on public transportation, who starts a fight over little to nothing and who seems to live for gossip.

It started as early as middle school. In middle school, being a girl meant you were almost invariably either talking about another girl behind her back or were being talked about. This was a brutal ritual that just about every girl had to survive. It was a coming of age, a rite of passage. In middle school, girls learn language, social studies, math, science and survival skills. They learn that the way to achieve popularity is often through stepping on the shoes of others, while other girls learn how to either take it or confront it.

So perhaps it is no surprise that while many of us have matured through those experiences and have made amends and accepted apologies, there are still those who took the middle school game and made it a way of life.

Growing up with three older brothers who are generally similar to me in many ways, I often still wonder why my experience growing up as a girl was so different from theirs. There is far less pettiness with men, far less passive-aggressive competition. If a guy is angry with another guy for something, he does not spend months talking about him behind his back, nor does he plan his days around how he can subtly prove his superiority. Instead, there is a confrontation, maybe even a punch in the stomach, and then, often, the fight is behind them. Although I am not an advocate of violence in any way, what women do to one another rarely manifests in physical confrontation, but often leaves painful bruises and scars that take longer to heal than any physical injury. Guys hit one another, and the fight is behind them. Women talk about each other and constantly judge one another, and the fight never ends.

Women could learn something from men. We could learn to be more direct in our anger, less catty and less judgmental of each other.

Singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco writes, “God help you if you are an ugly girl, ‘course too pretty is also your doom because everyone harbors a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room,” in her song “32 Flavors.” Women judge one another constantly, whether it is silently, whispered into another person’s ear or overtly. In fact, it is much more likely for a woman to be sizing up competition in a room by looking at other women than for them to be looking at men. Many women will admit, myself included, that they find themselves getting dressed up for a girls’ night out, whereas a sweat shirt and jeans will do perfectly fine for a night with the guys. Women tend to dress to impress one another, and do not necessarily feel the same need when hanging out with guy friends.

Extremes vary of course, and where a night of getting dressed up with girl friends may just be fun to one group of girls, it may be brutal – but silent – competition to another. Here is where we find our middle school bullies that never matured. Here is where we are likely to find that girl forever attached to her jewel-studded cell phone, making drama out of everything. Here is where we are likely to find that girl who talked about everyone in middle school, and whose friends were the ones who learned to just take it.

Why do so many women just take it? Just as men typically grow up learning that it is feminine and bad to cry, women typically grow up learning that it is masculine and bad to act angry and that confrontation is frowned upon. So instead, a lot of the anger that women may feel between friends is turned inward, or is passed through a more indirect vent, like talking about a person to someone else. Just as it is unfortunate that men grow up in a society that teaches them to suppress many of their emotions, women grow up in a society that teaches them that passive aggressiveness is preferred to confrontation.

It is unfortunate that women have to look outside our own gender to learn a more proper way to act. But if we begin to take a cue from the guys in how to treat our fellow women, we’d be all the better for it.

Abby Bar-Lev welcomes comments at [email protected].