A few weeks ago, as my students poured into my classroom, one of the girls came up to me and informed me that one of the other female students would be late because she received an unpleasant note in her locker and was upset. I knew instinctively that the note was from another female student and not a male, despite the fact that males far outnumber females in this school. How did I know? Because that is just the sort of things girls do to each other. I’m not saying guys are paragons of virtue in school, but vindictive and spiteful behaviour seem to be much more common among girls, and more specifically, directed at other girls.
I have had a lot of experience with this. I myself experienced some unpleasantness from another girl when I was in an all girls’ school. Since I’ve started teaching in a mixed sex school, I’ve seen this at its worst. In that same classroom, one girl asked to be moved because she didn’t want to sit beside another girl and what erupted between them was an argument so vicious I had to get the school authorities involved.
So why do some girls view other females as the enemy? Surely there should be some sense of solidarity that exists between us after centuries of oppression and discrimination? I love my female friends, but even I have to admit that the most petty arguments I’ve had have been with girls. So my question is, why?
As I mentioned already, I went to an all girls’ school. Based on what I have said about girl-on-girl hate, you would think that all we did was use each other as scratching posts. The thing is, it wasn’t like that at all. I enjoyed it. There was a great camaraderie between us and I’m still friends with many of those girls to this day. I learned quickly that the problem arises when boys are introduced to the equation and I have witnessed this so many times I could write I freakin thesis on it (I actually have a Master’s Thesis that is far less interesting).
Girls competing with other girls breeds so much negativity. And when girls are teenagers, competition transcends all aspects of their lives: clothes, grades, friends and of course, boys. Some of you females reading this will know that friend that instantly changes when there’s a man in the room. She goes from being your buddy to suddenly acting completely different. It’s unsettling. I had a friend like this and it almost ruined our friendship entirely.
She fell madly in love with my best male friend when we were teenagers. I was raised around lots of boys. She, on the other hand, was shy and uncomfortable around the opposite sex. When she met Brian*, she became obsessed. Whenever we hung out with him, she transformed. She was all sweetness and light to him, but I was suddenly her sworn enemy, despite there being absolutely nothing between me and Brian. When it was just me and her, she was totally fine. When we were with him though, she was rude to me, she insulted me constantly and our friendship started to fall apart. Eventually, we had a huge fight and didn’t speak for a long time. Years later, we’re friends again and she’s in a happy relationship with someone else. Recently, I asked her about why she had treated me so badly when we were around Brian. She was very honest in her answer:
“I was just crazily and hopelessly in love with him. It made me insane. And whenever you were there, I just had all this anger towards you. I don’t know why, but you felt like competition.” What she said next is really important: “it was almost like an instinct.” And that’s my opinion on the matter: that women are instinctively competitive with each other and it causes us to distrust each other.
I’m no anthropologist, but I’m guessing it comes from prehistoric times where a woman’s primary objective was to find a mate, so fending off the competition was imperative. Are we hard-wired to mistrust each other?
I’m even guilty of this. When I meet a group of girls for the first time, I’ll say things to Jack like ‘I don’t think she likes me…’ ‘One of them was a bit rude…’ ‘She was a bit bitchy…’ ‘Did you not notice when she said?…’ (I swear I’m nice, my point is that we are so often paranoid about each other.) When Jack meets other guys, his reaction usually is: ‘they seem nice.’ And that’s it. He doesn’t suspect ulterior motives or seem to notice trivial, inconsequential things.
As I’ve grown older and, ahem, wiser, I’ve come to trust my fellow lady more. I have a lot of female friends whom I love dearly. I also teach girls whom I have become protective over. When I see them fight (and it almost always involves a guy), I try to get them to see that we as females need to stop seeing each other as enemies. I often allude to the very sad case of Phoebe Prince, the Irish girl who moved to Massachusetts and took her own life because of bullies. This bullying had begun because of her relationship with a boy and the main instigators were other girls. I try to teach my girls that working together is so much more productive than working against each other.
And finally, I want to say that I’m not blaming men. While some guys do encourage this behaviour, the majority of guys I know hate it. I also know that I can’t generalise; not all girls behave like this and of course not all girls are attracted to men. My point is simple: I just want girls to be nicer to each other. I once witnessed a girl getting badly beaten by another group of girls on Halloween because of the way she was dressed. It profoundly disturbed me. I would love to see girls work together to tackle the wider issues: a massive lack of women in politics and management. Remember, united we stand, divided we fall.