Does it make me a bitch to love Cameron Diaz and hate Gwyneth Paltrow?
Both are beautiful, successful and rich -- but if i don't like one, I'm seen as 'bitchy'. If men don't like one, it has some logical reasoning behind it. why is this double standard across the genders deemed acceptable?
Published 30/04/2014 | 13:36
It will come as news to no one that women are generally perceived as being bitchier than men, especially to each other.
After all, the very term "bitch" is inherently female. But that is one whopper of a non-too-flattering generalisation about half of the world's population. Is it fair? Is it true? Is it that simple? Is it a rather insidious means to undermine women? And do women collude?
You hear it bandied about all the time, whether to justify publication of pictures of Sharon Ni Bheolain in her pyjamas; to box off commentaries about Sheryl Sandberg; to categorise comments about Playboy-- some version of "You know how women are!"
A generalisation has reached some level of penetration when it can be summed up in a sentence that contains not one single fact.
I asked a random, unscientific, but broad range of people for their thoughts on how women are in terms of whether we're crueller than men and whether we're crueller to other women.
There were quite a few comments (male and female) about women as bosses. But for every bad female boss, there had been a bad male boss -- it was just the style of being bad was different and the general, unscientific consensus was the women bosses tended more towards headwreck tactics.
One (male) view is that men are simpler. If they don't like someone they don't need to analyse why. They are perfectly happy to just dislike, or even to be disliked, without having to get to the bottom of why that is.
Women on the other hand feel a greater need to justify their feelings. Rather than simply dislike someone and leave it at that they have to explain and in order to do that they lay out exactly why and this becomes a demolition project that seems bitchy.
Another (female) theory is that men are more emotionally upfront. Men and boys are as likely to say to someone's face what they say behind their backs whilst women feel either less free to be honest, or more compelled to be seen as nice.
And perhaps as a result, behind people's backs or in situations that permit anonymity, women are more lethal than men.
Bitchiness is linked to a certain level of sneakiness, being behind people's backs but again, who is to decide what's worse?
More than a few unkindnesses have been perpetrated upfront in the name of "I'm just being honest". Arguably the voicing of any unkind thought, whether to a face or a behind a back, is cruel.
The truth is it is difficult to quantify any of this -- there are only generalisations: plenty of men bitch and plenty of women never do.
Some research has been done. Tracy Vaillancourt, Professor of Psychology at McMaster University, did some experiments and the title they gave "bitchiness" in the study was female "indirect aggression".
The very change in title changes the image. Viewing "bitching" as "aggression" moves it from a dismissable category of misdemeanour to a more serious thing. Something that might be taken more seriously as a behaviour, and studied more seriously.
Dominant evolutionary behaviour has mostly been studied from a male perspective, how male creatures mark their territory, maximise their genetic heritage and so forth.
But clearly they have no genetic heritage without females so it follows that females have their own evolutionary behaviour.
It would be nice if the research had discovered that women are not indirectly aggressive, bitchy or cruel to each other. It would be nice, but it isn't true.
Some studies have found that women, especially younger women, would be more likely to have a hypothetical friendship with plainer, fatter and less sexually dressed other women.
Prof Vaillancourt's experiment involved dressing the same young, thin, blonde woman differently and measuring the reactions of her female peers on a college campus.
When dressed in a manner we associate with sexual provocation, she was greeted with far more hostility -- covert and overt-- than when she wore combats and a t-shirt.
Such behaviour is instantly ascribed to jealousy or envy. Which suggests it's just petty. However, put it down to evolutionary competition, and it seems more serious.
Even without a reproductive element, the evolutionary prerogative is ingrained in us all; just as it is for men, so it is for women -- she who scores wins.
That good old evolution stuff is then well and truly complicated by relatively recent and ever-changing societal issues.
One factor that has nothing to do with gender is that we also resent people who give themselves permission to do things that we do not give ourselves permission to do.
So women who feel, or who have been made to feel, that being "too girly" or dressing provocatively or any number of things are wrong get mad at women who do not feel obliged to play by the same rules.
We judge our equivalents in a different way than we judge our opposites. Men can be cruel to each other too; it just manifests differently.
They're substantially more likely to express rivalries physically. Despite talk of girl gangs or female aggression, women of any age are much less likely to get into physical disputes. A lot of what happens is just different gender manifestations of the same basic thing.
It's not to say that all bitchy moments, all squabbles, comments, scuffles and fights are major evolutionary moments.
Plenty of it is just superficial; some of it's nasty, and lots of it stupid. But by making everything seem silly it is easy to dismiss, and as such easier to generalise.
It makes it easier for some man to go on the radio and say, "Oh you know how women are", without having to explain at all.
That notion has got so prevalent that it is now all but impossible for a woman to honestly dislike or criticise another woman without the charge of interwomen bitchingess being levelled at her. That's annoying, but it's also quite repressive. When you have people unthinkingly dismissing others' opinions as being part of a tendency -- women are mean to other women, Irish people don't like English people, Americans are stupid -- it automatically undermines what they're saying.
It also undermines their very right to offer an opinion at all. An opinion dismissed as almost a syndrome is an opinion completely undermined. And where do these generalisations stop? Women are mean to other women, women are stupid, you're a kid what would you know? Irish people are thick, Catholics/ Protestants/ Jews/Muslims are mean. Don't listen to him he's a golfer?
If a man says he doesn't like David Beckham, people assume it's because he dislikes him on some manly grounds -- knowledge-based manly grounds -- like he was a rubbish soccer player, his boxers aren't well made or his interest in fashion unworthy.
If a woman says she doesn't like Victoria Beckham, it's because she's jealous. It's been very prevalent in recent times with Gwyneth Paltrow's announcement of her "conscious uncoupling" from Chris Martin. There was much all round scoffing at the term, for the dyslexically inclined amongst us all too easily confused with "unconscious coupling".
Then it got personal. Gwyneth has never been a wildly popular figure. Gorgeous yes, but in terms of public image she has not managed to inspire empathy.
The conscious uncoupling, on top of the quinoa-flavoured virtue and hemp skin care- based holier-than-thou-ishness that seemed to be the feeling she generated, was much mocked by men and women alike.
But men who didn't like Gwynnie, or Chris Martin for that matter, were assumed to feel that way on some kind of reasonable grounds. Moral principles or aversion to quinoa. Something of value.
Women who didn't like Gwynnie were just indulging in some interwomen bitching, because they were jealous.
I do not warm to Gwyneth. It's not because she looks better than me or is more successful or better off or for any comparative reason at all. Cameron Diaz is also gorgeous, successful and rich and I really like her.
Clearly I don't know either woman, I am just going on how they choose to portray themselves. To dismiss my failure to warm to Paltrow as envy-based is to undermine the actual arguments I might make for my case.
Incidently they are as follows: setting herself up as a lifestyle guru to me suggests that she believes anyone could live like she does which is annoying because... a) she can have no real understanding of how most people live, and b) it carries with it the implication "if you tried hard enough."
This is hardly a life-alteringly important issue but it is indicative of a viewpoint. If you dismiss an entire gender as being incapable of rational analysis about themselves, it undermines them as sensible beings at all.