It hasn’t happened to me often. Backstabbing. You know what I mean – the stereotypical behavior of women betraying other women – with gossip, with actions, with trash talk.
Sure, in high school I remember one instance of a friend absconding with a boyfriend who wasn’t a boyfriend at all. The most he was to me at the time was a crush. But she knew it and her actions hurt.
In my professional life, I have a distinct memory of a perky, smiling, All American Gal who befriended me, sucked me dry for information, then maneuvered behind my back and nudged her way into my job.
Others saw it happening. Women, not men. One even warned me, but I was convinced the woman in question and I were friends, I was confident in my qualifications and performance, and I told my concerned colleague she was misreading the signs.
She wasn’t. I was.
Misjudging Our “Friends”
When we’re still wet behind the ears, it’s one thing to misjudge our friends, including who is and isn’t a friend at all. When we’ve been around the block a few times, romantically or in the working world, a misjudgment of this sort can be all the more painful – and devastating.
Somewhat more recently, I was taken in again. The situation involved masterful manipulation, a canny sense of what I needed to hear, expert awareness of my need to provide a “helping” role, and I never saw what hit me. An opportunity was nabbed right before my eyes – or nearly. The result was a financial blow, but far worse – the sense of betrayal.
While that incident was several years ago now, even the memory still stings. The incident reminded me of my own tendency to take others at face value, ignoring the possibility of hidden agendas.
Shame on me for misjudging.
Shame on her for betraying my trust.
Aggressive Behavior? Passive-Aggressive?
So what is it that makes women backstabbers? Are they no more devious than men on average, but we make more of it when they are? Is the phenomenon of indirect aggression (competitiveness?) a matter of cultural conditioning? Organizational survival? Something else?
Are backstabbers different from Trash Talkers and gossipers? Is there any legitimacy to the so-called studies that claim women are biologically wired to behave in these sometimes seemingly Machiavellian ways?
A definition is called for. If we’re seeking to understand “passive-aggressive” behavior, try this from Wiki:
… The indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, hostile jokes, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.
That doesn’t sound like backstabbing and trash talking to me. Passive-aggressive behaviors are common among spouses, sadly, but I’d say it’s not applicable here.
But there is an element of aggression, or at least, a dismissal of concerns of fair play and detachment from the relationship involved.
Are Women Manipulative? Evolutionary Psychology
Some say women are biologically inclined to engage in manipulative behaviors to take a rival down. An assortment of studies claim this is a matter of evolutionary psychology. I might disagree. And I wouldn’t be alone in that disagreement.
The phenomenon that one article refers to as indirect aggression, especially evident in women, seems as though it is learned and not something that is (gender) inherent. In fact, this same source debunks the idea foisted by the media that women are somehow “destined” to be bitchy, backstabbing, and unworthy of each others’ trust.
In fact, the article concludes:
If confrontation were more culturally acceptable for women, mistrust and passive aggressive behavior might dramatically decrease.
Sniping? Griping? Enough With the Sexist Hyping!
I won’t say I never gossip. That wouldn’t be true. I will say I rarely gossip; it’s not how I was raised and nor is part of the circles I frequent.
I may watch the Real Housewives, but the cutting remarks and double dealing get old – fast. And once again, I can’t abide anything like it in real life.
The Washington Post took exception to related articles on female evolutionary psychology as well, stating:
These claims aren’t just irresponsible because they reinforce sexist and pernicious stereotypes about women. They also undermine the work of credible evolutionary psychologists. Feminists find ourselves clashing with evolutionary psychologists when their work reinforces the same traditional gender roles that we’re working to dismantle.
Learned Behavior by Women?
Clearly, my experience demonstrates run-ins with women who think nothing of befriending someone in order to manipulate, maneuver, and then take what they can. Backstabbers. It isn’t that men don’t engage in comparisons, competition, and ladder-climbing behaviors; they do. The style(s) may be less personal, or we may simply perceive them as such.
For myself, when my inner dialog wanders into catty comparisons – it happens occasionally – I chide myself and stop. This is a matter of breaking a bad habit.
Fortunately, I am inclined to assume a trust with women that is nearly automatic, as I feel we must support each other for our own good.
So color me disappointed in my own fair sex when I see anything less than direct handling and fair dealing. With so few encounters of the backstabbing sort, I am aware of great circle of friends and colleagues in general, who know their competence and keep the bigger picture in mind. I’m happy to say as much because I continue to hold women to higher standards than men. Take that as you will, but I consider it a reflection of the value I place on my own gender.
Your experience with backstabbers, trash talkers, and manipulators – of either sex?
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