August 3, 2017

"Why Do Women Bully Each Other at Work?"

By Olga Khazan in The Atlantic. Excerpt:
"One psychologist, Joyce Benenson, thinks women are evolutionarily predestined not to collaborate with women they are not related to. Her research suggests that women and girls are less willing than men and boys to cooperate with lower-status individuals of the same gender; more likely to dissolve same-gender friendships; and more willing to socially exclude one another. She points to a similar pattern in apes. Male chimpanzees groom one another more than females do, and frequently work together to hunt or patrol borders. Female chimps are much less likely to form coalitions, and have even been spotted forcing themselves between a female rival and her mate in the throes of copulation.

Benenson believes that women undermine one another because they have always had to compete for mates and for resources for their offspring. Helping another woman might give that woman an edge in the hot-Neanderthal dating market, or might give her children an advantage over your own, so you frostily snub her. Women “can gather around smiling and laughing, exchanging polite, intimate, and even warm conversation, while simultaneously destroying one another’s careers,” Benenson told me. “The contrast is jarring.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Benenson’s theory is controversial—so much so that she says she feels sidelined and “very isolated” in academia....

74 comments:

rehajm said...

Bless their hearts!

rhhardin said...

She's isolated by the other women.

Ralph L said...

Anyone heard of a wingwoman?

Thirty years ago, I worked with a bunch of women. They successfully hid any bullying, but there was plenty of gossiping.

BDNYC said...

"Benenson believes that women undermine one another because they have always had to compete for mates and for resources for their offspring."

Men don't feel those same evolutionary pressures? Another explanation is needed.

Tommy Duncan said...

I see this in the church basement. For large events women are generally assigned individual tasks, while the men do the cooperative tasks.

Virgil Hilts said...

Have worked in law firm since law school, and always surprised by large % of female attorneys (and nice ones too) who couldn't seem to get along w/ and ran through female secretaries (once they got a male secretary, everything would be fine). It was worse 25 yrs ago than now, but definitely something in that type of structural relationship that seems to cause friction between women.

Ralph L said...

"You proved my thesis! Nyatt!"

traditionalguy said...

Notice that the strong women still operate around The Patriarch in the system. They need a fixed authority figure that approves of their personal efforts. And two competitive women in that organization creates a house divided that will not long endure.

It is like gravity. The women who serve another women well usually serve a Bull-Dike woman.

dustbunny said...

For some reason leftist women did not feel the need to knit hats and march together in sisterhood when The Big Dog went prowling after the low status pussys of women like Paula Jones.

Oso Negro said...

So, women, generally speaking, are a bunch of back-stabbing bitches in perpetual competition with each other? It seems to me that this violates an Althouse tenet that any research on differences between men and women must redound to the credit of women. I predict the author of the work will soon deliver an apologia of some sort.

rhhardin said...

It's not a failure unless the goal is for women to think like men.

exhelodrvr1 said...

Berenson better get her butt back on the reservation!!

tcrosse said...

Mean Girls never grow out of it.

MayBee said...

Has anyone else noticed the ad- I think it's from Dannon yogurt- with secret cameras showing how moms help each other?
It is the stupidest thing ever. Like a kindergarten teacher decided we all need to get along and be nice.

London Girl said...

I would greatly recommend Benson's book "Warriors and Worriers". I found it extremely depressing as her portrayal of women is not exactly flattering, but as I read her descriptions of both male and female behaviour my mind was constantly flooded with examples from my own life which illustrated her points. Then I'd walk downstairs and observe my husband and sons demonstrating the precise behaviours I'd been reading about!

Needless to say the presentation of her theory in the Atlantic article lacks nuance.

Angel-Dyne said...

BDNYC: Men don't feel those same evolutionary pressures? Another explanation is needed.

Not really. Group co-operation gives males greater access to resources (hence mates) than they could get as individuals. Females get resources through males. It's not like females would get a better provider by hunting down males together.

Ralph L said...

Would civilization have progressed at all if men could have successfully hunted alone from the get-go?

Ann Althouse said...

Maybe girls are supposed to be mean and it's misogynistic to criticize us for being who we really are. Why should we be in the closet all our lives? Maybe being in the closet is who we really are and it's misogynistic to suggest that we be out-and-proud mean. We are mean and we are secretive about it.

Matthew Sablan said...

So is she saying that women don't have tend/befriend coping mechanisms?

I want to read more, but I can't devote too much time to it. I'll try and come back and provide something more substantial.

Rocketeer said...

Maybe being in the closet is who we really are and it's misogynistic to suggest that we be out-and-proud mean. We are mean and we are secretive about it.

Maybe criticizing such behavior in women is inherent to "maleness," and criticizing it as misogynistic is misandristic.

TosaGuy said...

Within the military, it is not uncommon for wives to "take on the rank" of their husbands and use that to form the pecking order with the other spouses.

jwl said...

Rudyard Kipling - Female Of The Species

But the Woman that God gave him, every fibre of her frame
Proves her launched for one sole issue, armed and engined for the same;
And to serve that single issue, lest the generations fail,
The female of the species must be deadlier than the male.

She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast
May not deal in doubt or pity—must not swerve for fact or jest.

Fernandinande said...

It'd be fun to patrol borders with a male chimp because they can really kick ass.

"And indeed, it is hard to believe that women would hold a fierce bias against members of their own gender."

"Bias" and "gender" are both used incorrectly in that sentence - will those girl writers ever learn how to talk good English?

Todd said...

New study suggests men get along better with other men than women get along with other women: women and children hardest hit.

or

New study suggests evolution is misogynistic by impairing women's ability to work together; women and children hardest hit.

Michael K said...

My wife used to say "A party is to a woman as a battlefield is to a man."

I tell men and boys thinking about nursing as a career to get a BSN and they will rapidly go into management. Female nurses much prefer to work for a man in management.

CJinPA said...

Feminists hate the "competing for the best mate" explanation. It's similar to the "men are wired to sleep around while women are wired to create a stable family environment" explanation. Both attribute women's behavior to their desire for a mate and children.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Women! They're the worst.

Didn't I hear that there's a special place in Hell for women who don't help each other? Ol' Beelzebub gonna have his hands full.

brylun said...

Isn't this just another version of the Queen Bee syndrome?

brylun said...

Queen Bee Syndrome

Crazy Jane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fernandinande said...

brylun said...
Queen Bee Syndrome


A so-called "queen bee" is actually a sex slave.

Nature is cool, huh?

Crimso said...

'so much so that she says she feels sidelined and “very isolated” in academia'

To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Her research suggests that women and girls are...more likely to dissolve same-gender friendships; and more willing to socially exclude one another.

Thank goodness we have a dedicated scientist to uncover a deep truth like that--I'm sure most of us just walking around could never have come to the same conclusion from our own "lived experiences."

Ann Althouse said...
Maybe girls are supposed to be mean and it's misogynistic to criticize us for being who we really are.


Wait, can we do that now?! I mean racism/sexism/homophobia/bigotry seem to be relatively "hard wired" insofar as what's labeled as those things today appears to be a feature of almost every society at almost every point in recorded history. If we're saying what's "natural" is the standard by which we should evaluate behavior (in moral and ethical terms) then a hell of a lot of people owe a hell of a lot of apologies! You can't really criticize "ugly" expressions if they're natural, under that standard.
[I recognize there's some tongue-in-cheek-ery here, but it's also true that if it's not a fallacy to conclude that what is natural is right/just w/r/t women's behavior it must also not be a fallacy to conclude the same w/r/t all sorts of other behavior and beliefs.]

Larry J said...

It seems some women never outgrow the bitchy middle school teenager phase where girls tear down each other. My wife is a retired nurse. Nursing is a heavily female-dominated profession. She told me many times that she preferred working with men because of the unnecessary drama and back stabbing.

TosaGuy said...
Within the military, it is not uncommon for wives to "take on the rank" of their husbands and use that to form the pecking order with the other spouses.


An old story that likely isn't true. A base commanding officer is invited to speak that the Officers' Wives Club. He asks them to arrange their seating by rank. They do. He then says, "Ladies, you have no rank."

I've seen my share of "Mrs. Colonel" types before. One of them tried to cut in line in front of my sister at the commissary many years ago. She said, "My husband is Major so and so." My sister refused to budge. "My husband is an airman. He works for a living."

lgv said...

This is wrong thinking and must be punished. She should shunned by all academic institutions until she recants her false research.

She needs to do new unbiased research. The new research will clearly show that women bully each other because of how men treat them in the work place. That is the conclusion. All she has to do is put together research and regression model to support the correct conclusion. Her future in academia will then brighten. She may even be on dozens of TV shows.

mockturtle said...

Thank you, jwl! Kipling had it right, of course.

David said...

"Maybe girls are supposed to be mean and it's misogynistic to criticize us for being who we really are. Why should we be in the closet all our lives? Maybe being in the closet is who we really are and it's misogynistic to suggest that we be out-and-proud mean. We are mean and we are secretive about it."

Maybe. Men could follow this lead as well, reverting to their most primitive instincts in dealing with women. It would eliminate all this rape discussion if primitive instincts had a better reputation.

mockturtle said...

TosaGuy reports: Within the military, it is not uncommon for wives to "take on the rank" of their husbands and use that to form the pecking order with the other spouses.

A similar situation exists in the Junior League and other women's clubs, rank being the relative power/importance of their husbands. At least that used to be the case.

David said...

We are immersed in snark. It's an interesting theory. But the traits the theory tries to explain are well known, at least outside of academia. Study the traits, honestly and carefully, and the cause may emerge more easily.

Do not engage in this study professionally if you are a man. You will not like the consequences.

Big Mike said...

Maybe girls are supposed to be mean and it's misogynistic to criticize us for being who we really are.

@Althouse, fair enough, but the obvious corollary to what you wrote is that women have a very limited ability to work in a modern business setting. People are expected to work in teams and to function well with one another so that the team succeeds. There's no room for "mean girls" in that environment, none.

Benenson's observations do explain something that happened a few years ago when the US women's soccer team refused to to take the field unless Hope Solo was removed as goalie. This was not because Solo wasn't in top form -- at that time she was arguably the best female goalie in the world. They were just pissed off at her. I thought that they should have been forced to turn in their jerseys and forfeit the game, if they don't care enough about winning for their country.

Male athletes in team sports know better. A tackle doesn't have to like the quarterback to block for him. A point guard who doesn't pass the ball to an open forward because he doesn't like him gets benched.

Bruce Hayden said...

"Within the military, it is not uncommon for wives to "take on the rank" of their husbands and use that to form the pecking order with the other spouses."

Probably the best part of my grandmother's married life. My grandfather, a colonel during WW II, spent the war opening up camps for the army. He would build them, then turn them over, and go on to do the next one. He wanted glory (and stars, of course), but was considered too old for combat. So he spent the war frustrated. Eventually got to Europe in late 1945 to sit on a war crimes tribunal. But my grandmother was the happiest she ever was, because her husband was CO. The wives of the other field grade officers couldn't have a party without inviting her first, because their husbands reported to my grandfather.

My mother found this environment almost surreal. She would spend much of the year in college, where there were few men (and those still around lower status because they weren't serving). Then go spend the summer with her parents, where the younger officers would line up to take her out on dates.

Fernandinande said...

jwl said...
KIpling: The female of the species must be deadlier than the male.


That is false for almost all species except, perhaps, the social insects and maybe hyenas.

Another stupid cutesy little poem, but it rhymes, which is important for some stupid cutesy reason.

Henry said...

Brain studies point to the idea that men (in very broad terms) are more alert to status relationships while women are more alert to kinship relationships. So there's that. But brain studies also find that these kind of outcomes are also determined by culture.

Reading that whole article is depressing. Well actually I bailed halfway through. There's only so much rationalization I can stomach. And I'm also unconvinced by the research that there's anything there to explain. Do women bully other women more than men bully other men? Surveys of law office politics seem like one of the worst ways to come to broad conclusions.

Soft science gets all the words. But one thing not pointed out is that Joyce Benenson's research (and the research of neurologists, which isn't entered into the record) is that her ideas are not incompatible with the sociologists. Both could be true.

Personally, I can say that the worst boss I've had was a woman. But the best boss I had was a woman as well. The worst behavior I've seen in the workplace was by a man. The most difficult colleagues I've had were men (usually with status issues). The best colleagues are also evenly split. So anecdotally, I've got nothing.

Birkel said...

If ever a thread cried out for a Ponytail Girl explanation this is one of those threads.

Can we all get grants to pretend to prove things that every middle school child knows?

mockturtle said...

Fernandinande, would you rather encounter a male grizzly or a female grizzly with cubs?

Rick said...

Shouldn't we start off by asking do women bully each other at work?

Many women told me that men had undermined them as well, but it somehow felt different—worse—when it happened at the hands of a woman, a supposed ally.

Way to undermine your thesis. So maybe women bosses aren't doing something different than male bosses but that shrinking violets expect them to.

Drop those sexist expectations and buck up sparky.

etbass said...

"Female nurses much prefer to work for a man in management."

It's true, of course. They can get away with a lot more and they get more sympathy for their issues.

When I was still in business managing people, I always assigned a female to manage other women because, they could spot the things women were doing that were counterproductive and had little sympathy for their workers. A male manager could be too easily bamboozled by women employees.

tcrosse said...

What qualities must a person, man or woman, have to rise to management ? Are those qualities sentimentally ascribed to women - nurturing, compassion, empathy - part of them ?

Bruce Hayden said...

I have spent most of the last 30 years or so with women who really don't like women. And that inevitably is a result of being bullied as a girl by other girls. They were different, and, thus didn't have the allies that other girls did. Mother of my kid's father was college educated management, and her classmates were union, in a company town. My partner of the last almost 20 years was very likely the best looking girl in the entire school, got straight As, had every guy after her (but luckily, her brother was one of the biggest guys there), but didn't date. Her few friends were equally odd and outcast. Then she raised a couple of daughters, and watched the one become a master (or should I say "mistress") of all the techniques that were used against her. Much of bullying in girl world involves making and breaking of friendships and confidences. I first saw this sort of bullying practiced in 3rd grade, and it clearly extends at least into college. One of the reasons that the "Mean Girls" movie worked, is that it hit close to home. I esp loved the scene where the dumping of the junior class girl's secrets on the school blew up all their cliques, from the softball team, through the asians, and even the ruling "plastics". So much of girl world seems a zero sum game, which means that one girl doesn't advance without hurting another one.

The zero sum game would seem to tie into the theory that much of it is in response to competition for scarce resources - traditionally alpha males. Marry the right guy, and a woman could have a lot of children, and then grandchildren, grow to maturity and have kids of their own. Get the wrong guy, and a woman could expect starvation, disease and accidents killing a lot of their kids, and a lot of hard work. Maybe not that stark for most (since their choices were often not that broad), but significant enough that it could very well be evolutionarily significant. And that may also be part of why this author found that women in fields where few of them advance were esp vicious towards each other, and willing to sabotage other women to get ahead.

I have found the survivor type reality shows interesting, because much of the drama is so female - all the hidden alliances being made and broken. Guys do that some, but they don't practice it, like many girls do. Instead, males tend to make long term alliances. Long term friends. When my partner was raising kids, they would let each of them to bring one or two up to the MT ranch for a couple weeks every summer. The boys always brought the same boys, year after year. Rarely the case for the girls, and her stories about the epic fights are still great entertainment, more than 20 years later. 2x2 = 4 girls means a lot of combinations, and all were experienced at some point (the girls, but not the boys, were limited to one friend, because odd numbers of girls proved explosive).

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Bruce Hayden said...I have found the survivor type reality shows interesting, because much of the drama is so female - all the hidden alliances being made and broken. Guys do that some, but they don't practice it, like many girls do. Instead, males tend to make long term alliances.

Google "Dutch Survivor" and "men vs women" for a fun one.
Here's a quick synopsis from Reddit, but it's actually a great story.

A girl I used to date loved Survivor and the best betrayals/#Blindsides seemed to be from women--the one where Pavarti and Amanda (I think) suckered a dude being a classic example.

Richard Dolan said...

"Perhaps not surprisingly, Benenson’s theory is controversial"

Better: it's fake science, and is more hokum than controversial.

Hunter said...

So:

Women in professional environments have a strong tendency to undermine and backstab, rather than cooperating.

In professional environments cooperation usually makes one go further than stepping on people, in the long run. Winning friends and influencing people. Favors get returned.

Does this not go some ways toward explaining the horrible sexist gender wage gap?

Howard said...

We are all of us Cro Magnon born into the modern world alien to our innate constitutions. Technological evolution is seriously outpacing physiological and sociological evolution. We are still catching up to the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago and haven't begun adapting to the industrial revolution. Women are just starting to be in positions of power in the male world without testosterone, so it is not surprising that female behavior may be initially inappropriate. But I get it, the reactionary beta cucks who worship their tiny handed master must laugh and critique women struggling to find their way as strangers in a strange land. Do not despair my brothers, you too can be excused for fearing the female overlords because natural selection.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Isn't "because they can" the obvious answer?

I wonder, would it help in fighting bullying to portray it as a feminine trait?

"Real men don't bully."

"What are you, a mean girl?"

It does fit my theory that the Republican Party has become a bunch of whiny women, perhaps I modify that to say whiny mean girls.

But Althouse wants to own meanness. That's not going to help the cause.

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

"Thirty years ago, I worked with a bunch of women. They successfully hid any bullying, but there was plenty of gossiping."

Gossiping is 80% of how women bully. But not just women. I've seen bored men fall into this same behavior in an office enviroment. I suspect it's more about circumstances than gender.

Unknown said...

"...arguably the best female goalie in the world." Be careful not to say this to npr, Big Mike.

mockturtle said...

I think in general men seem to exhibit more loyalty to other guys--or guys in general--than women do to their own gender.

readering said...

i don't see women bullying each other at my work. Do they do it behind closed doors?

jwl said...

Women should punch each other in nose more often, there would be fewer mean girls if there were more consequences to their behaviour.

Fernandinande - the millions of babies that die annually in abortions illustrates how violent women can be.

My pleasure, mockturtle! I glad you enjoyed.

exiledonmainstreet said...

mockturtle said...
I think in general men seem to exhibit more loyalty to other guys--or guys in general--than women do to their own gender."

I think so too.

I much prefer working with men, not only because the backbiting and gossip is tiresome but because it’s women who push things like opening meetings with things like Hallmark card cliche “reflections” and having “cupcake days.”

mockturtle said...

I much prefer working with men, not only because the backbiting and gossip is tiresome but because it’s women who push things like opening meetings with things like Hallmark card cliche “reflections” and having “cupcake days.”

LOL! Right. That and collecting for gifts.

Having worked in two different environments, one male dominated and the other female dominated--I can say without equivocation that working in a male environment is easier and less stressful. But there are exceptions: In my second career as a home health case manager, I had one exemplary female manager who really knew how to handle people and she set the stage for a cooperative and gossip-free workplace [mostly women and a few men]. But this is rare. In general, an estrogen-rich workplace is an unhappy workplace.

Nate Winchester said...

That is false for almost all species except, perhaps, the social insects and maybe hyenas.

How are you measuring? For example, it's not male mosquitoes who drink blood, but females. Meaning they're the ones that carry the diseases that take so many human lives.

tcrosse said...

A favorite game in female-rich workplaces is Pass-The-Baby, when a new mother comes to visit from Maternity Leave. Men are not permitted to participate.

Feste said...

~
" ... 'very isolated' in academia...'”

Cheer up. Academics vanity-write. Then they vanity-read what they vanity-wrote. Then vanity-write more. It was only water that they poured on E.O. Wilson in 1978. Water lubricates the transition into accusations of sexism, racism, biologism. Nature doesn’t care.

SukieTawdry said...

Lots of women don't like working for other women. I never had a female boss, so I don't know. On the other hand, I've been a female boss and none of the women who reported to me seemed to have had a problem with it (or me). But I've been told I'm not a typical female (whatever she is). Of course, it's been men who have told me that.

I've always been amused by people who will assert or reference inherent differences between male and female (often using the examples of behavior observed among the lower animals to bolster their theses) when it suits their purpose and then completely ignore or discount those differences when it doesn't suit. Feminists are particularly prone to this.

Mark said...

Women today have been taught to see others in adversarial terms and as perpetual victims of injustice by others.

Beth Donovan said...

I have found it difficult to work with a lot of women through the years. I was most successful when I was in predominantly male jobs. And I'm pretty sure it was because I did not have to worry about whether or not my choice of clothing was acceptable to my co-workers and because I felt free to by myself around the guys I worked with.

When I worked in a predominantly female job, I was outcast because the other women did not like my clothes, they did not like my work ethic, and they did not like that I did not engage in idle small talk.

One woman said I should get fired because I made her feel bad about herself because I was able to complete so many more tasks so much more quickly than she did.

I'm happiest now - working for and by myself, raising angora goats.

Freeman Hunt said...

The women I've worked with and for and managed have all been fine. This is a teenage, not adult, problem.

Freeman Hunt said...

That women are bigger gossips than men is one of the biggest myths going.

Bill Hensley said...

TosaGuy reports: Within the military, it is not uncommon for wives to "take on the rank" of their husbands and use that to form the pecking order with the other spouses.

mockturtle replies: A similar situation exists in the Junior League and other women's clubs, rank being the relative power/importance of their husbands. At least that used to be the case.


In the Old South slaves from large, wealthy plantations would look down on other slaves with poorer masters. Perhaps that's just how people in low-status positions bolster their self-esteem. Your examples may say more about the social position of women in earlier generations than about female psychology per se.

openidname said...

Welcome to Overgeneralization Central!

GRW3 said...

I work with a woman who is highly competent in the technical area in which we work. She has a significant technical degree but not the one specified for direct entry to a staff position but plenty of experience to prove she is suitable for the job. Still, she remains a technician.

Is it her male colleagues keeping her from moving up? No, we unanimously recommended it.
Her male boss? No
His male bosses up to the div VP? Nope

It's the corporate HR staff, run by WOMEN. They basically say they already gave us one pass to put a woman on staff without just the right degree and they can't let us do it again right now.

Bollocks... I really depend on her technical prowess in the things she does for me. I trained her and I rely on her judgment as much as if I had done the work myself. If she moves on to a company that appreciates her more, I'll be really pissed.


Caligula said...


Well, yes, we understand that if men dislike female bosses then the men are the problem, but if women also dislike female bosses, umm, well, it's awkward to blame these "historically disadvantaged" bad female bosses but it's not as easy to blame their female subordinates for disliking them either, so what's a feminist to do with this awkward fact?

So the author proceeds to spend much of the article offering an assortment of excuses to explain away this awkward reality without ever considering that perhaps it would just be in everyone's interest to select the best bosses they can get, even if this doesn't result in proportional representation?

And so we end up with, "I began to have stomachaches and cold sweats when I walked into work. Still, I couldn’t quite hate the woman. She was obviously miserable in her job ..." But presumably you'd have no difficulty hating a male boss who caused you equivalent stress?

So, isn't this really the root of the problem, that too many female bosses personalize (or sometimes politicize) everything instead of maintaining emotional distance and objectivity? As in the difference between criticizing someone's work as opposed to criticizing the person who did the work? Yet the author seems unable (unwilling?) to deal with this presumably awful boss objectively, without personalizing the relationship.


Perhaps if organizations did not tolerate bad bosses (by making political or personal excuses for their bad behavior) there would be fewer of them, and everyone would be better off?

Bad bosses are very costly to an organization: they often drive the best employees out the door, and impair the productivity of those who remain. Considering the costs, does it really make sense to make excuses for bad bosses of either sex (as this author does, over and over again)? Does a time not come when one just says, "We don't care why you're a bad boss, but you are and we just can't afford that here?"

Micha Elyi said...

An old story that likely isn't true. A base commanding officer is invited to speak that the Officers' Wives Club. He asks them to arrange their seating by rank. They do. He then says, "Ladies, you have no rank."
--Larry J

It's pretty much true, a wife who related such a story to me as her first-hand experience told me that it occurred at some kind of orientation event for wives whose husbands were new transferees to the base. Gotta love the story's punchline.

I've seen my share of "Mrs. Colonel" types before. One of them tried to cut in line in front of my sister at the commissary many years ago. She said, "My husband is Major so and so." My sister refused to budge. "My husband is an airman. He works for a living."

Great punchline there too. Air Force has the smartest enlisted guys. Unlike the enlisteds of the other services, they send their officers to do the fighting.