What's going on in female power dynamics?
September 27, 2006 4:42 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by the question about male power dynamics on the sidewalk, what similar interactions happen between women that men would be totally unaware of?

I've been in a roomful of men with one other woman who made a passive-aggressive comment that sounded, to all the men in the room, innocuous or even complimentary, when she and I knew full well that she was attempting to knock me down a peg.

What's going on in Occhiblu's comment? What other things are happening around me that I, as a male, simply don't pick up on?

I'm particularly interested in women in groups and the compliments they pay one another- sometimes it seems complimentary, sometimes it seems like a barbed comment even though the words were innocent enough.

Like the men on the sidewalk, I know that a lot of this is sub-conscious, but I'd love to find out more about it.
posted by twirlypen to Human Relations (48 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not a woman, but one thing I finally worked out about my girlfriend and her interaction with other women is that so much of the implication of a statement is in the tone of voice. Whereas men tend to use words or direct insults to relay scorn, women seem to use very subtle (to us men) looks and tones.

Since hanging around women more, I swear I've heard "Your shoes are nice" said in several differing ways, varying from the truly complimentary to the downright nasty.
posted by wackybrit at 5:06 PM on September 27, 2006


I concur with wackybrit. Much complicated interaction seems to occur in the form of "compliments".
posted by phrontist at 5:13 PM on September 27, 2006


Women ask each other questions about marriage, pregnancy (the whole range - when will you be pregnant, how far along are you, how was your pregnancy) child rearing, clothing and work life that range from friendly concern or innocent curiosity to barbed bitchiness, all using the same words.

We answer questions among women with the same tactics.

This can lead to trouble for socially inept women as well as those for whom English is not a native language.

Tone of voice can lighten or leaden a comment. As can body language, especially facial expression and hand gesture.
posted by bilabial at 5:17 PM on September 27, 2006


I've seen skinny/lean women say "I'm so fat!" to normal-weight or heavier women, which is either entirely egocentric or a total put-down.
posted by xo at 5:24 PM on September 27, 2006


As a female, I've never gotten the whole "say one thing and mean another" stuff that goes on in female interactions, if I had a problem with someone I'd either say something directly or keep my mouth shut. I think that's due to the advent of internet communication and the freedom anonymity gives us plus tone being easily miscommunicated through text.

There's a misconstured notion that women aren't as competitive as men. This is wrong. They are equally, if not more, competitive as men. They just use different tactics.

From what I’ve witnessed in my years at an all-girls school, is that it is very subtle. It’s a way to fly under the radar of teachers/men but still get your point across. Compliments play a big part in this; it’s usually not the words themselves but the underlying tone that has the impact. The thing is, there are times when completely innocent remarks can be taken out of context and have the wrong implication. I know there have been times when I’ve said “Wow, you look so different today!” and offended the receiver of my compliment (which was seen as different = bad).

Basically, I think it comes down to the idea that while men are allowed to be angry and aggressive, women must shield these types of negative feelings with some sort of flowery language. Guys, being brought up to think in a different way, usually don’t pick up on this at all which is why the men in occhiblu’s anecdote had no idea what was really going on.
posted by liquorice at 5:36 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Coded insults, yeah. If you're in a mixed group, here's a good way to tell if you've just witnessed one: see if there's exclusionary eye contact. A woman makes a seemingly innocuous comment, then exchanges very quick glances with the other women in the room. She's checking to see that the other women both heard and approved of her insult.

(If you'd like to see a cartoon version of the classic passive aggressive female diss, see "I mean, your feet are kinda big" circa 1:43 in Shoes. That's why what follows it is so damn funny. The awesome defensive power of the typical female subtle disser, of course, is that it's awfully difficult for the dissee to justify leaping at her face while screaming FUCK YOU in reply. All I can say is that if I sat on the jury, I'd never be able to bring myself to convict.)
posted by melissa may at 5:49 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think there's a very real additional component, at least partly attributable to what might be called the "women's magazine/cosmetics/media complex," where a given woman might just be predisposed to thinking the worst in otherwise positive situations, like being given a compliment. I knew of several women who've said that when they're told they look really good today that they wonder if that means they look horrible the rest of the time. That is, some of 'female power dynamics' is self-sabotage.
posted by kimota at 5:51 PM on September 27, 2006


For the sake of cross-referencing, here's the thread twirlypen aluded to in his question.
posted by grumblebee at 5:52 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


I forgot to mention that if you'd like a quick and EZ guide to female power dynamics you might find "Odd Girl Out" by Rachel Simmons useful (inexplicably tiny font interview with the author here).
posted by melissa may at 5:55 PM on September 27, 2006


A perfect example of the barbed comment can be found in Bridget Jones (the book more so than the movie):

From the wikipedia entry:
...she begins to suspect that her boyfriend (Mark Darcy) is falling for a rich 'jellyfish' -- a "friend" of hers named Rebecca whose underhanded compliments sting anyone in the vicinity
posted by catburger at 6:14 PM on September 27, 2006


I have witnessed women voicing their dissproval of other women in groups many times. Too frequently actually, and it's all quite shallow and stupid.

It usually has to do with opinionated views on childrearing/marriage/drinking/housekeeping, etc. There could be a mother in the group that is known to give their three-year old a pacifier or bottle (who fucking cares?), and a woman could voice self-righteously or subtly that her baby was weaned at one year. A man probably wouldn't pick up these intentional digs.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:26 PM on September 27, 2006


Ha! I have discussed this phonomenon with another female friend and we concluded that not only women have the tendency to behave in such a way without the guys noticing but also women speak to men differently then they do to other women. As such women tend to be more sugary sweet in conversations with men (particularly those men they find attractive) and to project a sweet and caring image. They do not put this mask on with females they are competing with. Since men are only exposed to the sweet side, they are unlikely to pick up on the dynamic, while other women are used to receiving/delivering the diss will know immediately when it happens.

Agreed with everyone who said that a lot has to do with the gesticulation, facial expression and the tone of voice. Also, being a foreigner who has lived in the States for the past 5 years, I have to say that this dynamic is MUCH more prevalent among American women. In my sense, American women have amazing reserves of hostility towards one another.
posted by barrakuda at 6:30 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


With the compliments, a big way to cut down is asking where the person got the item being complimented. Not in a friendly tone, like you want to go to the store yourself and buy the item, but in a way that is more pointed. It basically sets the complimenter up as the power player because she knows the complimentee's item is inferior to hers or her lifestyle and she wants the confirmation for herself or the group.

Also, complimenting something by saying it's "interesting" is another one. But like a lot of these coded interactions, that one can go both ways as well.

Slightly unrelated to compliments, but still with the dynamic, there is this major competition to "one-up" with some women. I will say something to like, "I'm sorry I haven't been around, I've been busy with XYZ", and they get ubercompetitive and try to convince me that they are so much busier and important. I've had it happen with talking about: money stuff, boyfriends, work stresses, diet & exercise, you name it. It tends to be the same people over and over though, so most women are attuned to the perpetrators. (on preview: LoriFLA's comment probably falls under this to some degree).
posted by ml98tu at 6:35 PM on September 27, 2006


This is funny, my roommate just mentioned to me last night that whenever she's on the Upper East Side (of Manhattan), women on the sidewalk always give her a once over—they look her up and down from head to toe and back again. She says she feels that they are sizing up her appearance, like, what's she wearing? Does she look better than me? What kind of clothes is she wearing, what does her bag look like? One woman pointedly looked over her shoulder at her and sized her up, and gave her a glare before continuing on her way. (And, in case you're wondering, my roommate is completely normal. She doesn't dress or act in an abnormal way that would warrant such attention.)
posted by hooray at 6:36 PM on September 27, 2006


Ha - didn't mean to indicate that my comment was "better" than Lori's by saying that hers could "fall under [mine]." Should have said they were related. I must be just as bad as those I speak of.
posted by ml98tu at 6:41 PM on September 27, 2006


I have joked about it with her several times, and I have noticed it beween other girls as well, but my girlfriend and her (female) roommates have this laser-eye communication ability. It is a non-vocal exchange that takes place through eye contact.

This non-verbal communication can be used for the roommates to judge a new guy, or to censor (but still transmit) sensitive bits of a conversation.

I liken this practice to them speaking Polish or Swahili in my presence. I know there are words/sentences/thoughts/ideas/insults/compliments being exchanged, but it's a language that is foreign to me and all the more frustrating than an I'll-tell-you-later*wink* kind of treatment because it's going on in front of me and I'm nosey. I'm not worried that I'm being talked about, but not knowing if I'm being talked about winds me up a little.

Anyway, to the original poster: I have seen this laser-talk thing used in conjunction with the much-mentioned tone of voice (inflection, intonation, emphasis, etc.) to alter the meaning of conversation. "Is this the guy?" or "Is this the guy?" can be decided by eye-laser. I don't think it's reserved for close friends either. I think the death stare (alt: stink eye, cut eye, crook eye) is an incarnation of this eye-laser phenomenon.
posted by KevCed at 6:43 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Watch Flavor of Love (my personal favorite), or any other "reality" type show where women spend a lot of time together and are competing. It's largely edited and acted, but the kind of interactions you see are true to life I think. If you can't figure out what's going on, the straight to camera interviews in which they disect everything make it clear who's trying to slight/marginalize/hurt who.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:03 PM on September 27, 2006


This thread makes it sound like catty remarks are an inherent part of adult female communication.

This behavior is extremely common in high school, but by the time most women are in their 20s they've matured past this pettiness.

I would never be friends with a woman who repeatedly used vocal subtext to send nasty messages to me or to other people. I wouldn't want to associate with someone like that at work, either.

Toxic, immature shittiness is out there, but it's not endemic.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:05 PM on September 27, 2006 [5 favorites]


I guess it surprises me that so many men aren't aware of this; I was in the habit of assuming that many men I knew were simply unobservant to a fault. (Though it explains the many conversations I have had in the past when I, baffled, had tried to describe what went down in the power dynamics of the room and was greeted with incomprehension. "But she seemed really nice," that sort of thing.)

Yeah, watch the eye contact. It's a whole other level of questioning and confirming, of seeing who is on your side. I'm recalling this mostly from when I was younger, as I don't often these days end up in groups where women behave like this, or where women are competitive in such a way.
posted by jokeefe at 7:08 PM on September 27, 2006


On preview, what croutonsupafreak said, and what I was more or less getting at when I said I don't usually end up in these situations any longer-- the cutting down and so on. It's very high school, which is when those daggers are sharpened and knife fighting learned.
posted by jokeefe at 7:11 PM on September 27, 2006


Agreed, agreed, agreed croutonsupafreak. I can't handle that shit, so I don't hang around with those that practice it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:14 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


A few years ago, an ex explained exactly what hooray is talking about to me. After I learned that it was like I was seeing all of these small fights happening everywhere.
posted by milkrate at 7:16 PM on September 27, 2006


"... It's very high school, which is when those daggers are sharpened and knife fighting learned.
posted by jokeefe at 10:11 PM EST on September 27 [+fave] [!]

So it's a fall evening in 1975, in the Athens of the South. Scene: my living room. Players: my wife, and several other women, all professional musicians or community orchestra players, who play together in the city's symphony. And, scene:

I come in from an afternoon of motorcycle riding, and thus add the only Y chromosome in the house to the group. I hang my helmet and leathers in the foyer, and ask about refills for the ladies as I head into the kitchen for a beer for myself. I take the drink orders, make 'em, put 'em on a tray, and bring them out, to "oohs!" and "aahs!" and comments about what a "good boy" I am, and what a poor hostess my wife is, and how everybody should get there own drinks in a liberated society. Well, hell, it was 1975, and that crap was spouting out of everyone, for half a decade already...

So I flirt a bit with various women, innocently, in front of my wife, and the well bred, well educated women flirt back a little bit, and the subject gets teased from courtesy in hosting to other things, and my wife gets a little jealous, and then, because it's fun, like feeding a biscuit eatin' dog under the table, I put out a few unearned compliments about a recent concert to the community orchestra players. These women are the wives of doctors, dentists, and prominent lawyers, who play in the symphony but donate back their annual salaries to the symphony association, unlike the "professional" musicians like my wife, who earn part of their living by playing in the orchestra, and look down on the community players, sitting second and third chairs.

I'm playing, meanly of course, on an old, subtle crack in a social facade, praising the community players, none of whom can be heard alone further back than the fifth row of the hall on a good night, but who all harbor some sense that if they hadn't married their 6 figure husbands, and instead concentrated on their art, they would have been concertmaster or first chair of their section in the Chicago Symphony, by now. So I pay attention to the most neglected, and they preen a little, unaccustomed to the bright light of a semi-compliment about their playing, and I see the steam rising in my wife and the other professionals. As soon as I see their eyes darting at one another, while the community players twitter, I know my job is done.

And sure enough, I quiet down, and within 10 minutes some things have been said by the professional players, not a word of which couldn't have been printed on the front page of the paper, and the gathering is hastily breaking up, and the girls are all getting their coats and heading out the door. But really, all I wanted was a little piece and quiet in my own home, and the plausible deniability of comforting my wife against her feelings, "caused" by those no-talent community slags, "who think they're so much better than everyone," after they were all gone...

And, /scene.

Oh, yeah. We guys notice, girls. And sometimes, we work it. So, yes, it may be very high school, but it's been a major means of social pacing forever, and still.
posted by paulsc at 8:22 PM on September 27, 2006


One thing I've observed, there is no better way for a guy to get hit on, than to attend a social function in the company of a woman other women view as higher on the social scale.
posted by Manjusri at 8:47 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


*Looooves that Shoes video.* Fantastic

*Takes note about bringing high class arm candy to social function as bait.*

*Tries to think if he knows anyone high on the social scale. Is stumped. Remembers that one girl, Becky. But, God, what a cold bitch*
posted by kookoobirdz at 9:23 PM on September 27, 2006


As soon as I see their eyes darting at one another, while the community players twitter, I know my job is done.

*replaces jaw* I know this is offtrack, paulsc, but why on earth would you act like this? Sheesh.

All this talk of "higher" and "lower" on the social scale is giving me even more high school flashbacks. All I can say is that there are ways that women communicate, ways that seem subtle to those (men) who haven't learned their use, but these communication skills and techniques are used for a whole range of things, not just struggles over perceived rank.
posted by jokeefe at 9:31 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


However, in the spirit of giving examples, which is what the OP is asking about, here's one:

"Those shoes look really comfortable."

Compliment? Or a sentence with an unmistakable subtext of "They're godawful and frumpy and obviously chosen with no eye to fashion or looks whatsoever."

In this case, the second meaning was clear. The only way to react to it is to insist on taking the "compliment" at face value and refusing to acknowledge the underlying meaning.
posted by jokeefe at 9:34 PM on September 27, 2006 [2 favorites]


A classic tactic is the "friend" playing "friend", while hitting on your partner. Nothing ridiculous, and they always turn back to you to give the impression of continual friendliness, but then the flirtation returns to the partner after a minute or two. Lucky for me, I've only been submitted to this sort of passive-aggressiveness (or any sort of passive-aggressiveness at all) by one of my female friends. It is an extremely frustrating situation, since only way to get back at someone playing that game is to play that game better, and I am absolute shit at playing the game. I'd prefer to simply start a fight with people doing that shit, but they have enough plausible deniability (and that is exactly why this works so well for the aggressor--the plausible deniability) that taking real, aggressive-aggressive physical action would be highly frowned upon.

On a lighter note, one of my non-passive-aggressive friends came up with a series of wonderfully hilarious passive-aggressive "compliments". Like instead of calling someone ugly, you say they "bring out the best in everyone around them", or instead of stupid they "have a unique viewpoint on the world".
posted by schroedinger at 9:43 PM on September 27, 2006


It's much easier to tune in to power dynamics of just about any kind by observing them when very stoned.

The downside is that they all become so obvious and repulsive that the observer just wants to crawl into a little hole and die.
posted by flabdablet at 10:01 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


In addition to the "Odd Girl Out" book, read Cat's Eye. Or maybe even just start with this essay.

My current theory, based on a bunch of the reading I've been doing on various things, is really just that all of this is less about gender than about power. When you're a group not in power, you are not allowed to express your negative emotions in such a way as to offend the dominant group. So you use passive-aggressive language, gestures or other body language, or other "coded" communication that can't be taken at face value in order to escape the radar of the dominant group (who will, if they do notice, tell you you're being "too angry," "too catty," "too aggressive," or "too scary" if you express anger openly).

What I've been finding interesting is that it seems all oppressed groups share these mannerisms -- in my reading, I've seen women, American blacks, Jews, American Asians, and Venetians (once described as "the Jews of Italy) all described similarly. Crafty and sly, overly emotional, overly concerned with body language and hierarchies, passive-aggressive, indirect and unclear and eye-rollingly obsessed with minutia of human interaction. When you start seeing these same attributes attributed to so many diverse groups, you start to wonder if something other than gender, race, culture, etc. is going on here.
posted by occhiblu at 11:04 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Oops, bad link above. Essay here.
posted by occhiblu at 11:05 PM on September 27, 2006


"... *replaces jaw* I know this is offtrack, paulsc, but why on earth would you act like this? Sheesh. ..."
posted by jokeefe at 12:31 AM EST on September 28 [+fave] [!]


"... all I wanted was a little piece and quiet in my own home, and the plausible deniability of comforting my wife against her feelings ..."

I'll point out that not a thing I said that night was unkind, or even untrue. If I exaggerated as to opinion, it was my opinion only, to exaggerate, and I represented it, totally, then, as such.

Not a thing said in that room that evening, couldn't have been printed, for the interest and edification of the larger population, on the front page of the Tennessean, the following day, without embarrassment to anyone present.

Anything that caused the room to empty, premature of when it might have otherwise, wasn't voiced in any syllable by me.

Which is not say I was blameless, or so stupid as to fail to understand what results some interactions would clearly foreshadow. And all of this is not to say I haven't learned a greater respect for human feelings in the intervening 30 years. But the poster asks
"... What other things are happening around me that I, as a male, simply don't pick up on? ... "
and I answer, with 30 years of further learning, in how to tell an honest tale, though I be the villain, and though, in that time, I never was.

And you, sweet thing, wish I hadn't.
posted by paulsc at 11:07 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


You know, Henry James also gets at a lot of what we might consider the "female" power dynamic, though he describes both (European) men and women interacting in that manner. If you read his novels and take the Americans as acting in a typically American male way and the Europeans as acting in a typically American female way, you'd probably get a pretty good idea of the sorts of things going on.
posted by occhiblu at 11:10 PM on September 27, 2006


I echo those who have talked about simply not hanging around in such circles, or playing that game. But I know it exists and can pick up on it to some degree. Frankly I don't hang out much in groups of females at all.

That said there are certain things I *know* there is no way I can say much about without being accused of leveling perceived slights to people I care about. In my family, the topic of breastfeeding can be toxic. I know to step warily.

This is because I nursed my daughter for nearly two years, and suffered tremendously in the beginning doing it (but I stuck with it, and things got a lot better). I had a "failure is not an option" attitude about it, but I haven't ever made judgmental comments to anyone who wasn't able to do as I did. (At least I hope not - I can't remember ever doing that).

Both my sister and my sister-in-law tried to breastfeed and had great difficulties, and ended up pumping for awhile then using formula. I am sensitive to the fact that just about anything I say about breastfeeding around them can be seen to be some sort of grandstanding (at best) or cutting indictment (at worst) of their experiences, so I try not to mention it at all. Even with the most innocuous and gracious tone of voice and careful wording, I just don't want to go there and cause them any additional pain at all over something I know they were disappointed about.

If I were evil or had no empathy, I could have said all sorts of things that would have hurt them greatly, yet given me perfect plausible deniability. But I'm not like that.
posted by beth at 1:02 AM on September 28, 2006


This behavior is extremely common in high school, but by the time most women are in their 20s they've matured past this pettiness.

It doesn't do women any favors to pretend that this is so. True, we grow out of obvious cutting cruelty. Most men grow out of playground brawls, too. But children and teens clumsily enact, in large, awkward strokes, the dramas adults perform with more subtlety.

I am not habitually passive aggressive or cruel, and I don't choose friends with those traits. I haven't had as much luck with some of the female relationships that haven't been my choice. Are you saying you've never had the female colleague who denigrates your work with sugar-tipped poison darts? The female relative who tells you that you have a pretty face, meaning you need to lose some weight? The female friend of a friend who calls your personal style "interesting" in such a way that the word sounds like a curse? You've never seen a group of adult women talking shit on some absent sister whose face they smile pleasantly to the next day? You've never been in such a group? Then in all seriousness, I am wistful. You live in my long-abandoned fantasyland of what womanhood would be like, and I'd like a ticket on Wonder Woman's invisible plane there toot sweet.

Obviously not all exchanges between women are laced with this kind of cattiness -- a pale, dismissive word for female cruelty -- any more then men are constantly banging their chests at one another. However, it's equally unsupportable to assert that all women grow out of their ability to cut each other down to size, instead of becoming more subtle in their art.
posted by melissa may at 1:36 AM on September 28, 2006 [11 favorites]


But children and teens clumsily enact, in large, awkward strokes, the dramas adults perform with more subtlety.

This is a... damn I can't find the words... a masterful way of describing so many things. It earns a place in my quote file. Well spoken.
posted by beth at 2:02 AM on September 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


I realise that in reality we're simply comparing one anecdote to another, but since I made the transition from high school to university the level of "cattiness" as it were is of a much lesser level. That is not to say that it doesn't still exist. It does, and it's not just that it's subtle, but that many women no longer care for such playground antics now that they're no longer caged by a restrictive enviornment. I can't, of course, comment on the workplace having no experience in one but my view seems to be that once women are out in the big world these sort of "power plays" become a lesser priority. I find it much more satisfying to excel in my work as a way of "cutting others down" than to use petty remarks.

Also, I'd really like to know: Who on earth is viewed as higher on the social scale? Is there a diagram I can see? I'm very curious.
posted by liquorice at 2:09 AM on September 28, 2006


If there is a secret to these female interactions, please let me know. I am a female who has a really difficult time "speaking girl", and it makes it very difficult for me to make female friends. Those female friends that I do have don't "speak girl" either. I perceive this as a tonal thing, or a style of speaking that is somehow flatter and more declarative. I also have an extremely difficult time deciphering the aforementioned games, and tend to take everyone at their face value. It often leads to uncomfortable situations. So, if there is a secret, please do let me know.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 3:41 AM on September 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


However, in the spirit of giving examples, which is what the OP is asking about, here's one:

"Those shoes look really comfortable."

Compliment? Or a sentence with an unmistakable subtext of "They're godawful and frumpy and obviously chosen with no eye to fashion or looks whatsoever."

In this case, the second meaning was clear. The only way to react to it is to insist on taking the "compliment" at face value and refusing to acknowledge the underlying meaning.


There may have been yet another subtext. The phrase "she wears sensible shoes" is used sometimes to hint at a woman's being a lesbian. Might not "comfortable shoes" carry the same implication?
posted by Carol Anne at 5:26 AM on September 28, 2006


The "comfortable shoes" thing is interesting because I've heard some male pickup artist say that this is the kind of thing that men should say to women in bars in order to attract them by subtly putting them down. So underhanded insults aren't just a female thing.
posted by transona5 at 6:27 AM on September 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


Might not "comfortable shoes" carry the same implication?

No, comfortable means cheap. Expensive (women's) shoes don't look comfortable - perhaps some of them secretly are, but they're built to look anything but. It means the same with clothes; "Oh, that looks comfy!" means "why didn't you just wear your pajamas if you don't care or can't afford to look like us."

I don't play the game worth a crap, but I speak the language. I live in DFW, where you can perform an amputation by properly inflecting "Bless your heart."
posted by Lyn Never at 6:58 AM on September 28, 2006 [4 favorites]


Are you saying you've never had the female colleague who denigrates your work with sugar-tipped poison darts? The female relative who tells you that you have a pretty face, meaning you need to lose some weight? The female friend of a friend who calls your personal style "interesting" in such a way that the word sounds like a curse?

That's right. I don't associate with people who do this. Calling people on their bullshit works surprisingly well. If it doesn't work, avoid, avoid, avoid.

Also, my grandma was a bitch, but at least she would say "You look fat," not "You have a pretty face."

You've never seen a group of adult women talking shit on some absent sister whose face they smile pleasantly to the next day? You've never been in such a group?

Seen it: yes. Participated in it: only until I know what's going on. Then I either say something like, "this is mean and makes me uncomfortable," or I excuse myself.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:46 AM on September 28, 2006 [2 favorites]


It means the same with clothes; "Oh, that looks comfy!" means "why didn't you just wear your pajamas if you don't care or can't afford to look like us."

But what if the clothes do look comfortable? Maybe some people would mean it the negative way, but if someone said that to me, I would take it at face value (and it would probably be true in my case). And I've probably said similar things to people, not meaning anything bad. One way to end cattiness is refused to get involved. Even if someone is being catty, doesn't mean you have to play along. Just smile, say, "Thank you!", and forget about it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:46 AM on September 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think I see why paulsc has mentioned being married more than once....
posted by Lynsey at 9:29 AM on September 28, 2006 [2 favorites]


I'm with croutonsupafreak and ThePinkSuperhero. In high school and beyond, I only hung out with guys because of retarded girl stuff. Over the past several years, I've met more and more women who are comfortable, confident, honest and real people who don't play idiotic games. I think it's true that women in the general sense easily respond to subtle unspoken communication, but it doesn't all have to relate to nasty soap opera drama.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:38 AM on September 28, 2006


That thing how if a girls is pissed off at another girl, but when asked by the other girl if she's upset, she will lie through her teeth to convince the other girl everything is fine and she's not the least bit put out... where/how does that crap fit in?
posted by -harlequin- at 4:51 PM on September 28, 2006


Just a few comments about women-women interactions from my perspective as an American woman who lives in France. I don't know where you're from, barrakuda, where the women are nicer to each other than American women are. But let me just say that I've lived in France for 6 years and French women have got to be the bitchiest of all.

Take, for example, the microcosm of an Air France flight, business class. I've taken about 50 such flights this year. At least half the time, the female flight attendants totally ignore me. When they come round with their little plastic glasses of cheap champagne at the beginning of the flight, they offer them to the men with a "Monsieur..." and a smile. With me they often just thrust the glasses in front of my face with a grimace. It's ridiculous.

Flirtation is such a part of daily life here, at least in Paris, and that's fun and all. But the darker underside is the amount of cattiness and dirty looks that women exchange with each other, all competing for the scarce flirting resources.

Feminism never really hit it big in France in many ways, at least in terms of not having to be desirable and sexy all the time in order to be worthwhile. And I think that's really where the problem stems from. Women are more of an underclass here than they are in the states, and the manipulative, underhanded behavior stems from the lack of power to be direct. Being direct is not considered sexy.

I've spoken to several French men about this. Some of them say "what are you talking about, French women are so sweet!" Others, those whose girlfriends have managed to tune them in to what's going on, agree completely.
posted by hazyjane at 3:58 AM on September 29, 2006


It's much easier to tune in to power dynamics of just about any kind by observing them when very stoned.

No kidding!! It doesn't happen often, but sometimes I feel like I'm telepathic when stoned; I can interpret body language as clearly as spoken words. Glad it's not just me.

Also, I'd really like to know: Who on earth is viewed as higher on the social scale?

If this helps, sexual desirability = social status.

Generally speaking: For women, it's physical attractiveness. For men, it's how much of an alpha dog you are.
posted by LordSludge at 10:51 AM on September 29, 2006


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