Monday, February 22, 2010

Own Worst Enemy

Sometimes I wonder, as a person who has very few "girlfriends" and who tends to gravitate more toward men for friendship, how I ended up in a profession where I am constantly surrounded by women. (Maybe it is because men are whiny babies when they are sick, and I have little tolerance for it. That, or prostate exams. *shudder*) I think I tend to want to avoid the drama that inevitably comes along with close female friendships. I've been burned one too many times, I guess. I've been mortally wounded time and again by women who were supposed to be my closest friends, often for nebulous reasons. We've touched many times along the same topic since the inception of this blog, yet I see the theme being returned time and again, *women* keep women down.

I see this every day in my profession (and, more recently, the blogosphere), where women judge other women's birth choices, from the kind of pain relief they choose to the kind of provider that attends them. Female physicians still don't command the same respect as male physicians, primarily from the predominantly female staff. Stay-at-home moms are aghast at working moms for "abandoning" their children; working mothers "look down" on stay-at-home mothers for not pursuing their own career. Breast-feeders sneer smugly at the bottle-feeders. Women judge other women based on their clothes, their handbags, their hairstyles, weight, and personal grooming (can you *believe* she doesn't *wax*??) It is so pervasive that we automatically apologize for not being precisely groomed. (I can't tell you how many women have apologized to *me* for not shaving their legs prior to an appointment! As an aside, I neither notice nor do I care.) As a happily married woman, I find myself angsting over letting my highlights grow out too long, or running to the hospital with no make-up on. My husband does not care about make-up, and he doesn't have a clue about highlights. I'm not looking to hook-up at the hospital, so why do I care? Because, inevitably, I will get the standard, "Oh, you look so *tired.* Are you sick?" or the snide, "Growing out your highlights, hmmm?" These comments do not come from men.

This extends to the political arena, where any woman that ascends to a position of prominence is viciously and ruthlessly attacked, scrutinized, and her family life nitpicked and torn apart (the phenomenon is bi-partisan, see Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin). The worst perpetrators of this are not the male commentators. It is the female commentators who render the harshest blows with a glint of evil satisfaction in their eye. Even so-called "feminists" are just as inflexible and intolerant of any woman that does not share their point of view as any conservative male evangelist. I've had women, who (prior to a certain post that tweaked a nerve) proclaimed to *love* my blog, flounce noisily with a searing comment from my blog for simply expressing an opinion that differs from their own (totally within their prerogative, but baffling nonetheless). I'm not saying that I'm not just as guilty of this behavior as anyone else. I am woman, hear me snark. If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit next to me, ad infinitum. I have sinned as well.

My question is: Why?

Why do we do our best, intentionally or unintentionally, to tear other women down? Historically we are supposed to be the collaborative gender, working together for the greater good of our families, villages, etc. So why, now that we have more opportunities than ever, are we snapping at one another's heels? What exactly has feminism done for women from a sociological point of view? Are we jealous? Insecure? Afraid there isn't enough to go around or that it will be suddenly snatched away? More importantly, what can we do to change it? What do *you* think?


  1. My husband and I were watching "North Country" a few weeks ago, which is about a landmark sexual harassment lawsuit that happened in the 1990s. There's a scene in which, after the protagonist complains to management about the fact that some guy decided to ejaculate in her work locker, the other women give her the cold shoulder and tell her what a bitch she's being. It was at that point that my husband said, "And THAT is the reason women don't rule the world."

    I don't think all women are like that, but I do think you have to pick and choose your friends carefully.

    On the plus side, at least as women we don't have to engage in the "my penis is larger than yours is" masculinity battle that men have to partake in to advance in this world. We can be thankful for something at least. :-)

  2. Good points Dr. Who. We don't have to agree with each other all the time, but taking other women down only hurts ourselves in the end.

    I do find it lucky though that we get to wear makeup and have our hair done. Men don't get to cover up blemishes or look nice after a long day. I think we should count our blessings.

  3. Most of my clients are women. This was not always the case; when I worked on the racetrack regularly, most of my clients were men. I've had clients of both genders become angry. The difference seems to be that angry men are "done" at some point: the conflict helped resolve a problem, it's over, and everyone goes back to work. Not so with angry women, who seem to view conflict as the potential start of a long-standing catty, snarky grudge.

    I'm guessing some of this behavior is hard-wired, which does not excuse women acting like spiteful, mean little girls.

    I have both male and female friends but often prefer the company of non-humans...

  4. I love this post because it is SO true. For a long time, I didn't have female friends because I'd been burned badly so many times. Now I do again, and I've realized that I could never be as close to my male friends as I am to my female friends. And the same is true at work... we should be each other's biggest allies, but instead we jump on each other. It's awful. I think it might be about being competitive and the fact that we're simply too much alike.

    I've also noticed that I am much less receptive to being bossed around by a woman than by a man.

  5. I can't seem to hold a grudge - not because I don't want to, but because I forget why I was upset within a few hours, days or weeks. On the other hand, my sisters and my mom can stay angry for years. I think i am a happier person than them. Sometime, I wish I could hold a grudge so that I don't make the same mistake of trusting my sister with a secret again after she told everyone last time - but instead I just learn by repetition without the emotion. Anyway, I think women should cut out their hippocampi and be unable to form memories. I think we would all live in a happier place.

  6. I think feminism has made us more supportive of women's various choices and roles in life. I think women who work outside the home, go to medical school, get divorced, use birth control, have babies when unmarried, wear pants, etc. are judged a lot less now than they were a few decades ago, due to feminism.

    I have been hurt by men and women alike. I think sexism and hurt in general isn't doled out by a single gender.

    Yes, women (and men) are very judgmental of women's choices. Women definitely play along with the patriarchy and tear other women apart. "Female Chauvinist Pigs" by Ariel Levy is a really good book on the subject.

    That's why feminism has a lot more to do.

    I am sorry I flounced away from your blog with a seething comment. I am just not a fan of Glenn Beck's. You linked to a long letter of his I had serious problems with.

    I think Glenn Beck is a destructive force in our country, one of those same fringe elements you seem to criticize in this post - like overly judgmental breastfeeders (most of us weren't or aren't) or stay at home moms who judge moms who work (most I know don't). And he isn't even a woman.

    I hope it is less baffling to you now.

    What do *I* think we should do?

    I think we should be introspective and supportive. I think we shouldn't give support to hostile fringe elements - whether it be med school friends who talk about someone's eyebrows needing to be waxed or political pundits who stoke hatred.

    I think we should support each other as best we can.

  7. I echo Mom TFH above. We need to all support each other, as best we can.

    One of the incidents that made some of your points really hit home to me was when one of my partners, I had only been in my group for about a year, was getting married. Our entire lab - transcriptionists, histotechs, lab support - especially the women - turned her invitation list to each shower, the wedding, and the party afterwards - into high drama. Of the not so kind variety. I became so fed up - she is an amazing woman who was just trying to include her work family in the most generous and cost effective way possible - that I called one of the main support staff women into my office.

    "Has a doctor EVER had a wedding here before?"

    "Well, yes, Dr. So and So years ago."

    "Were there any work people on his invitation list?"

    "No, it was a friends and family only, small private wedding."

    "Did anyone at work get mad about that?"


    "So she (my friend) has no precedent to work from. And she is trying to include work at her special events. Can't everyone see that and quit being so mean to her?"

    Luckily the drama died down when the event was over. But I do see women hold women up to higher standards than men. Sometimes I wonder if it is a sort of projection of our own standards for ourselves onto our female counterparts. "Be fair. Look perfect. Strive for perfectionism, in work. Don't take breaks."

    I don't really have much cattiness or snark in me, sometimes to my detriment, I think. I'd much rather put myself down, and make everyone laugh. Support is how we bring out the best in each other - male and female.

    I don't know what I'd do without my girlfriends. They provide so much insight into myself as mother and professional, because I'm not so objective, when it comes to me.

  8. OldMDGirl~ You are so right, you must choose your friends carefully. The close girlfriends that I do have are great, but as I am in social contact with many, many women, I still witness a lot of female back-biting. As for comparing, ahem, nether regions, I guess we don't do that directly. It's more like who can be the biggest martyr...I don't know. At least when comparing "who's bigger" there is a concrete measure of outcome.

    Anon 10:11~ It's not that I don't like to put make-up on occasionally, it's that I resent feeling like I *have* to do it in order to keep from being judged. Men don't have to cover blemishes or balding, they are judged on other attributes (some of which OMDG mentions above!)

    Outrider~ Ha! on the non-human companions. You are exactly right. Men can be much more straightforward both in anger and in friendship. They aren't generally going to smile to your face and then turn around to the next person that they see and stab you in the back. Not in my experience, any way.

    Fizzy ~ Thank you, it is difficult, isn't it? I do have a handful of close girlfriends, but we do not spend excessive amounts of time together. I agree that we are too much alike and competitive, but why can't we compartmentalize that competitive spirit and separate it from tearing down the whole person? I don't have any answers, either.

    Anon 1:14 ~ Hey, you may be on to something, there! I am more wont to hold a grudge than many that I know, and unfortunately have quite a long memory. We should all get better at forgetting...and forgiving. :)

    MomTFH ~ Supporting one another is easy to give lip-service, but I guess I wish it was just that simple. I hate how "feminism" has become so politicized. Misogyny is perpetuated in many forms, and sometimes I feel like feminists harbor more self-loathing than anything else. I feel like so much of the good is outweighed by the machinations of the very vocal, if small, "fringe" elements.

    No need to apologize about your flounce, you are in good company. I've had others before and since who have become almost borderline thinking I was wonderful, and then evil, just based on a single opinion/story/emotion posted on my own blog. It is common in the blogosphere, as far as I can see. This is what baffles me the most. Why, if my opinion is different than yours, should I be read the riot act? I don't get that.

    At least your comment was publish-able. (I'd rather not devolve into commentary on GB, himself, but that letter, while published on GB's website, was *not* written by him. It was written by a woman.)

  9. Gizabeth~ You are right, women do hold women to higher standards. I always feel like *I* need to do more. In my previous office, which I shared with one other male physician, the front office staff (all women) were the biggest bunch of middle-aged "mean girls" I had ever seen. The double standard to which I was treated was astounding, and I wish I could rationalize that it was because I was the "new doctor" but the majority of the staff started around the same time that I did.

  10. Excellent post.

    I will never understand the need of some women to tear down other women in the workplace. Give me a staff with a ratio of men/women of 3/1 co-workers any day. Any way to keep too many women from dominating the work environment would be best. Why? For all the reasons stated above AND--Less of an opportunity for cliques to form. All it takes is one "victim" minded co-worker with a chip on their shoulder from hell.

    Why ARE we our own worst enemies? I can safely say that I have NEVER engaged in this type of behavior towards my sex. I can not wrap my brain around it. However, I have had it perpetrated against me for being too bright-too smart--too attractive--too blunt, too fill-in-blank. Shame on you if you are self-confident about your talents around some women-they start tripping over themselves to find any kind of mortal flaw.

    My take:

    All the catty and snarky behavior is attributed to low self-worth and feelings of inadequacy. Some of us turn those feelings inward or better, learn to identify with others like ourselves for nurturing and support(similar interests/talents etc) without unleashing on one another --still others, learn to tear one another down-and make it a painful art.

    We as Women, in general, do not value ourselves enough-we do not celebrate ourselves and one another enough-in every arena-whether it be home or career outside of home. Why isn't it ok to "let our light shine" without another woman there trying to dim our light? Obviously, it is societal and I do not begin to think I have the answers or solutions-but it is very clear that unless we start supporting each other we are always going to be pushed into the margins by our own in-fighting.

    Our right to vote and hold office is fairly new terrain for us-even now. Even more, our variety of choices in how we live is even more abundant than ever and we are still grappling with how we feel about all the changes that have occurred since woman's suffrage began. All of this within the last 100 years. We have not yet reached the point of solidarity but I think we will get there.

    I am taking great pains with my children to teach them by example!

  11. Wow, very well said, Rose. Spot on. Would you consider running for office?

  12. Rose, I'm not so sure I'd be happy about a ratio of 3:1 male to female. That was the ratio in my residency when I started and it was unpleasant for a number of reasons. Try being the lone pregnant resident in a group of male residents who just wanted to go out drinking on weekends and talk about the hot girls and knuckle-punch each other (even the married ones!). I felt so left out and miserable, like a pariah for being a woman, especially a pregnant woman.

    I've had just as many (or more) issues with male residents I've worked with. I mean, look at the comment that the guy made on this post: women should have their hippocampi cut out. Real nice. That's what they think of us.

    In summary, I really think working with large groups of men can be just as bad as working with women. The difference (to me) is that it seems like as women we *should* stick together, so it's more disappointing when snarkiness occurs, like Dr. Whoo said.

  13. Thank you Gizbeth.
    Oh no, I prefer quietly working behind the scenes and writing letters to the elected:) Being a shoulder for my girlfriends and solving the world's problems over coffee! Oh and reading blog posts from some pretty amazing women-thank you guys for writing all of these wonderful posts! What's that-Do I hear publishers stampeding your way?

    Fizz--I agree completely-ideally we should be soft places to land for each other and pull together. Sadly, I have had friends who are nurses tell me stories about their co-workers being pretty hard on their pregnant co-workers for not "pulling their weight" during their shifts. Where men may just be thoughtless/clueless-women can be cruel and many should know better!

    I am pretty blunt with the men I have worked with any time their topics started to get a little too "boy's club". "Can you guys keep it clean while I am around?" or "Hey, why don't we keep it g-rated." "Female here" was usually enough. They would promptly clean it up when ladies were present and we kept a good working environment.

    I attended law school while pregnant with my first child-and the male law professors were the worst with their comments. Don't get me started on the time one of my fellow classmates brought her 8 month baby to class for just one class(who remained very quiet!)and all the male students had nasty comments. None of the women had any issues. That was when I knew I had to make choices that men would never be faced with.

    Oh there are many women attending law school these days and becoming lawyers-they make up a little more than half these days-but like medicine it is still a boy's club through and through.

    We need more women as college deans, partners in law firms and chiefs of medicine who are willing to hold the door open for other women wanting to be great mothers AND professionals. Right now they are the exception--but they need to be the rule.

    Some day I will help make that happen but right now I have very small children and I decided to go the sequencing route! I am very happy I did.

    All the Best

  14. Oh god, dealing with the nurses and secretaries is the worst. I'm hiring all high school and college boys if it's ever up to me. Especially older nurses. There's one - no matter WHAT I do, there has to be a question and explanation or telling me that I'm wrong. Ordering an ESR on a limping kid - "Why do you need that?" Putting a cast on a fractured radius, "Why did you put a full cast and not a half one?"

    Now where I work, they tend to hire paramedics for nursing type jobs because they don't need advanced nursing skills and are close with a local ambulance company. That means it's about 50-50 male and female "nurses." And it is SO MUCH BETTER. Not just the men, but also the women. Female paramedics also have trained in a "jock" atmosphere and have been toughened up like doctors to some degree, and are also used to the hierarchy system, so there's much less of the catty bullshit.

    I'm anonymous for this one.

  15. Dr.W. - You are still young, more importantly your children are young. The mother-look-down will take a big plunge as your kids hit middle school.

    About the time they get that old they start doing stuff that you, as their parent, are appalled they are doing. You think back to those nights you got up and breast feed, the preschools you scouted out so carefully, the organic meals, all the things you were so careful to provide for your child. And yet your child has been suspended, or has failed a class, or is -god forbid- calling from the police station. Yes, these things happen to the children of doctors too.

    At that point all those playground snubs and judgments that were made will fade. Your child has shown you that they are their own person.

    Throw in menopause, the ten pounds that seems to stick in the face of 1300 calorie diets, and women slow down on chipping away at one another.

    Life experience is a great equalizer.


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