Back-stabbing; conniving; manipulative; bitch: We all know the stereotypes of strong and successful women in the workplace. However, what if these so-called “ill-founded” images weren’t really that off-point? As young girls in Girl Scouts and then as members of sororities in college, women are taught the importance of sisterhood, solidarity and friendship. Yet, many women in the workplace have been known to put aside these vital lessons in hopes of a pay raise or promotion. It is unfortunate that in the workplace, many women are known to sabotage rather than help fellow female co-workers get ahead.
While men are not discriminating back-stabbers, women on the other hand are more likely to target other women in their pursuit of job-based success. In fact, studies conducted in 2007 by the Workplace Bullying Institute and Zogby International found that women target each other in cases of office conflict 71 percent of the time.
There are many theories circulating as to why women choose to undermine one another. First, there is the scarcity theory, a belief that the positions at the top of the career food-chain are extremely rare for women. Thus, women in senior-level jobs are not only unwilling to help female co-workers, but in fact often actively undermine them out of fear that these younger counterparts will soon be replacing them.
In a recent New York Times article, Peggy Klaus identifies another theory for “Mean Girls”-style tactics that women utilize, known as the “D.I.Y. Bootstrap Theory.” Many women think that because they had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps in order to get ahead without assistance from anyone, they don’t need to help others. Still, one can contend that the bullying is unintentional and that it instead comes from a desire to dispel accusations of showing favoritism toward other women. Despite the implications of labeling women as hyperemotional, it could in fact be the case that many women mistreat each other because of their tendency to take everything too personally. Even when given constructive criticism or suggestions, some women feel assaulted and attacked whenever they hear negative feedback of any kind. A woman scorned is indeed dangerous to deal with, especially if you have to see that woman at work every day.
Many women who have gone through these experiences feel compelled to remain silent in order to preserve an image of unity, such as the one presented in the women’s movements of the ’60s and ’70s. Acknowledging these kinds of misbehaviors might confirm many negative gender stereotypes that are often associated with women. You know the stereotypes about jealous and vindictive females and how they can never be trusted? Yeah, those are the ones. Despite being called to the female cause in this aspect, women continue to mistreat one another.
However, simply ignoring the behavior will only perpetuate the cycle. It is up to each and every woman to catch herself and own up to these mistakes. In some cases, it is not even necessary to treat each other with undue kindness. Klaus suggests that women “start treating one another not worse or better, but simply as well as we treat the guys — or better yet, the way we want our nieces, daughters, granddaughters and sisters to be treated.”
It is not only in the workplace that women treat each other badly. Unfortunately, it is often a daily occurrence whenever you pass on a bit of gossip, call a peer a “slut” or a “whore” or give a woman a judgmental once-over on the street. In many aspects, women often have fears of being seen as inadequate in beauty, intelligence or career-based success next to other women, causing this kind of intra-gender maliciousness. And despite these misguided beliefs, it is not necessary to crush another woman in order to get ahead in this world.
It is important for women to remember that whether dealing with one another in work or in life, the best way to prove you are better for a position or job than another woman isn’t by feeding her Kalteen bars or giving her peppermint foot cream to use as face lotion. Instead, women should completely throw these kinds of tactics out the window and show each other mutual respect (not necessarily kindness), thus enabling women to truly succeed in the end.
Lila Kooklan is a fourth-year political science major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.