No one ever talks about male cattiness. There are hardly any articles written about men being rude to other men for the sake of their gender. Why, then, is it different with women? Why are countless articles written about how women are just plain mean?
It’s not because women are just nastier than men, it’s because people are competitive for power. Whether a person’s focus for power stems from career, relationship, or creative competition, it’s a biological human desire to do better than those around them; it’s simply natural selection. Female aggression just looks different from the male version, but it is for the same reasons: to get ahead.
Historically, women’s roles typically occurred in the home due to child-rearing and homemaking being their primary tasks. It is only natural that women began to rely on emotional tactics as a way to dominate other women, as they were not accustomed to physical labor, thus would not be inclined to fight conflict with their bodies, but their minds.
Social inclusion and gossiping are not necessarily specialized techniques used by women, but women are especially hurt by passive aggressive comments as they may feel particularly isolated from a “sisterhood.” In the past, women would rely on other women for child-rearing and companionship when their male partners were unavailable, thus making any social exclusion more damaging.
While women’s roles have changed significantly within the last sixty years, the way women handle conflict has not. In this sense, an intrinsic sisterhood has not fully formed, which contributes to the sense that women are “naturally catty” and cannot be trusted as confidantes. Women want only what men want, and that’s power. Who doesn’t want to feel like they are respected in their jobs, by their friends, their partners?
Women have been routinely denied power, thus respect, which makes it harder to attain. Women are conditioned to be people-pleasers, to be submissive, to appear easy-going all the time.
In this way, women have not learned how to express their anger properly, nor how to healthily fight competitively. Instead, women break down other women to be more distinctive when it comes to jobs and partners. How else have women learned to set themselves apart when they have learned no other way?
Men often feel more comfortable asking for a higher salary, stating their opinion without worrying, because they assume a level of respect that women historically never had.
Why does bullying happen? People who bully tend to have low self-esteem, thus are at higher risk for depression and anxiety. When you have a group of people who have been routinely denied respect, as women have, that is a group ripe for self-esteem issues. Bullies tend to pick on others in order to feel better about themselves, which contributes to the stereotype that women are more catty. They aren’t, they are just trying to survive.
There is a misconception that women are simply passive aggressive to other women when it comes to finding a spouse, but that diminishes a woman’s ability. It implies that women are only interested in getting married and making babies, when in reality, that simply is not the truth. I don’t need to tell you that women are just as ambitious with their careers as men, that most couples (homosexual or heterosexual alike) cannot even financially afford to subsist on one partner’s salary anymore. However, to say that female competition occurs for sex is false and a gross oversimplification.
When I hear someone say that feminism is dead, or failed, I hear defeat. I hear someone in denial. I hear someone who is being lazy. The fight for women to have equality was never going to be easy; Rome was not built in a day. Feminism needs to start at home, with each other as women who love each other and have each other’s backs.
Feminism includes men, women, and children of any background. It needs to be taught to be fully learned. I think we can do better. Real feminism is what women deserve and what we need right now.
Joanna C. Valente currently lives in Brooklyn, where she is a part-time mermaid. She received her MFA in poetry writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Some of her words can be found in decomP, Thrush Poetry Journal, La Fovea, The 22 Magazine, and other places. In 2010, she founded Yes, Poetry. Her ghost resides here. @joannasaid