Why Do Ladies Lash Out?

July 15, 2010 at 8:19 am (Uncategorized)

Another gorgeous day here – so much so that one might almost forget Sydney is in the blue-fingered grip of winter. Nice to see all the kids out playing, like the pair of girls I saw this afternoon laughing hysterically as they rolled down the grassy hill at Shelley Beach. It was rather tempting to join them – I haven’t rolled down a hill in years.

I was talking to my friend B from PhD (in her case post-doctoral fellow) days today – she’s about to have Baby #2. We were laughing at the way women sometimes behave toward other women, and I wonder now if men find it all pretty terrifying and foreign, or if they think the same applies just as much to their relationships with each other – I’d be very interested to know. Because what I do know for sure is that female-to-female relationships – when we’re not happily rolling down hills – can be pretty fraught, and pregnancy takes some of these tensions to a whole new level.

At about the Week 9 mark, I ran into a friend downtown headed in the opposite direction. After exchanging pleasantries, she said hopefully, nodding eagerly, “Feeling sick, are you?”

“Actually, no,” I said. “Luckily I seem to have dodged that bullet.”

She narrowed her eyes, flicked them over me and said, “No sickness at all?”

I had the unmistakable feeling I’d given the wrong answer.

“Um… no. But it sounds awful; I do feel really fortunate.”

After that, she just couldn’t get away from me fast enough. When another friend learned I hadn’t been struck down by morning sickness, she laughed gaily, topped up her wine and said, “Not to worry! You’ll probably get varicose veins instead!”

And indeed I probably shall – they run in the family. But what am I supposed to say to that? “Gosh, thanks! Here’s hoping!” A third friend, upon learning I’d been feeling well, stared at me over their dinner table before muttering, “I’m so happy for you,” looking very unhappy, and rather more like she wanted to stab me. Llew was there for that, which was great, because I think he previously thought I was making it up. Then she added, “Oh well, you had such a hard time getting pregnant, didn’t you, so I suppose that’s all right then.”

What – I ask you – does that even mean?!

I had absolutely no idea that other women were going to take my absence of nausea so personally. My friend B’s equivalent war stories centred around her weight gain (which looked perfectly modest to me, just the result of being 37 weeks pregnant with a boy), with the most popular barb being to insist that she must, just must be expecting twins. “Nope,” she says, “just the one.”

“Get out! Are you sure? Nooooo… It’s gotta be two!”

“Pretty sure it’s one. O-n-e. So they tell me.”

“My god, you’re GIGANTIC!”

“Uh huh. Thank you.”

Then come the midwife stories. I’ve been hearing a lot of those. In fact, I’ve heard so many that I’m starting to wonder if there is some kind of sadism involved in some women’s decision to enter the profession. How else to explain it? B said, “The one piece of advice I wish I’d paid more attention to was, ‘Be prepared for at least one bitch midwife.’ Because it’s true.”

I shook my head. “In the wrong job?”

“No,” she said, “they love it. There are really, really nice ones too, but of course it’s the bitch you remember. There are some who are real… bullies. They boss you around until you find yourself sobbing in the shower like you’re in Cell Block D.”

At this point I’m sure I looked completely aghast.

“But I’m sure yours will all be lovely,” she hastened to add, but neither of us believed her.

Truth is, I have heard this cautionary tale about some midwives, lactation consultants and nurses – always with the strenuous caveat that the rest of them are fantastic – from just about every mother I know. One said she was subjected to undisguised contempt after the birth until the nurses learned her caesarean was an emergency rather than elective decision. Another said her inability to instantly grasp the technicalities of breastfeeding earned her the scorn of a lactation consultant, so extreme that she found herself physically and psychologically unable to keep trying. It goes on. So you have to wonder if these people are just having a bad day, or a bad week, or if they’ve just seen it all too many times to care that it’s still a new mother’s first, or if on some level they actually enjoy seeing and/or making other women suffer.

Because some women seem to actively dislike other women. It’s true. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know what’s behind it or where it comes from or what it means, but I have met women who clearly do not like women. They’re out there, no question. And what better place to exact some obscure revenge on their sex than in the labour and maternity wards, places where women are absolutely at their most vulnerable? You have to admit it makes a sick kind of sense. It does tarnish that rosy mental picture of kindly caregivers somewhat, but at least I’ve been warned, so instead of bursting into tears, should someone be mean to me at the hospital, perhaps I’ll be able to look the bully in the eye and say, “Please don’t speak to me like that.” Maybe I should start practising now, just in case.



  1. Pete said,

    Yes, it’s astonishing as you say that women can be so mean to each other. And they would probably be very nice to the dad and congratulate him on all that he did (which, let’s face it, is often not that much). Those anecdotes really made me smile though (in sympathy, I hasten to add). And I love it that you’re giving us commentary on each stage of the trip.

  2. doctordi said,

    My own gut, Pete, is that men just seem to have more uncomplicated goodwill toward their fellows than we do… I know I am generalising, but… yeah, women can be really mean!! And you’re right – one has to laugh.

    Well, I don’t want this to turn into a pregnancy blog by any stretch, but as with caring for Lady Alzheimer’s before she moved into St Andy’s up the coast, it’s a pretty big part of my life right now!

  3. charlotteotter said,

    Definitely keep those sharp answers at the ready, just in case. The midwives I actually hired (for my home birth) were fabulous, but the ones in hospital in the UK were stressed, over-worked and sometimes a little snippy.

    Don’t worry, as soon as you’ve had the wee one, people will be asking you how well you’re sleeping and how many times you get up at night.

    • doctordi said,

      True, Charlotte, I think plain old burnout has a lot to do with it too in the case of healthcare professionals – in public hospitals in particular, they’re overworked to a shameful degree. One of my friends in London was shoved into her coat and shown the door just four or so hours after giving birth to her first child, and found herself in a cab on the way home before she’d even had a chance to close her eyes. Llew’s mum is pretty floored to hear I’ll only be in hospital a couple of days if all goes well – she tells a very bewitching story of two weeks of bed-rest and round the clock care!!!

      Yeah, I’ve pretty much come to terms with the idea that this is the rest of my life!!

  4. bookgazing said,

    I can only imagine, but I bet when you’ve spent a lot of time with your head down the toilet you do start to resent those who miss out that stage a bit, as much as you’re very glad the pregnancy is going well…but for goodness sake if they can’t quite control the squinty eyed moment of jealousy they could at least keep their words inside.

    As for this women hating women thing, I think this is about the third post this month I’ve seen on it and it makes me very glad not to have really experienced it (I suspect this is a combination of being such an odd person, that people’s dislike of my oddness would remain even if I was a bloke and not being exactly stellarly successful).

    I suspect part of their dislike is a bit like something I read in ‘Watching the English’, that the English like to talk about the weather, but forbid that anyone correct us about the weather – because agreeing about the weather is how we bond. Just a guess, but perhaps it’s the same with bitching about our lives, it’s how a lot of women bond and if someone elses life is going swimmingly we feel like we’re being judged, like the oppossing party is trying to keep from forming a bond with us? It also makes us feel more normal to know we’re not the only ones who have troubles. And I expect that’s multiplied a million times when it comes to pregnancy and babies, because the whole world tends to be so judgemental about what makes a ‘proper’ mother.

    Of course this leads to us all happily dwelling on the bad things in our life for the sake of cameraderie which can’t be good for us. Possibly a gender divide causing that: men are encouraged to present a positive, strong face to the world or be branded a failure, or weak – while women are encouraged to talk about their foibles, especially if they’re super successful, because without their flaws women are viewed as less human.

    Whatever may cause it, it can’t be very nice to be on the recieving end when your pregnancy is going well and I can’t imagine being annoyed because my friends life was going superbly, even if I might have moments of envy. It would remain quiet envy and I would tell them how happy I was for them, until I really meant it.

    • doctordi said,

      I can imagine that, Bookgazing, I really can, which is why I am very quick to say – most sincerely – that I think women who have to put up with morning sickness are absolute Trojans. I just immediately try to turn the conversation away from my own lack of nausea, because I can see it’s not where they want the conversation to go. I have been able to talk about the exhaustion, at least, although apparently mine didn’t last long enough to quite pass muster… but the very last thing I would ever do, especially after everything I have been through to get to this point, is gloat about not being sick. That would be annoying. And callous.

      Totally agree with everything you say re. bonding etc. I just worry that we leave each other far too little room for the basic fact that every woman and every pregnancy and every child is actually different!!

  5. Grad said,


  6. Grad said,

    Don’t know what happened with the “M” thing. Anyway, what I meant to say was my best friends and my worst enemies have all been women. There were a group of women in my office who made my life miserable for several years. In fact, when I think of my 40’s I cringe and think of them. I let them destroy my memories of an entire decade, which is “my bad.”! They all finally got fired and left the firm disgruntled (luckily for me they were very limited). I’m afraid I gloated…”the cheese stands alone.” People who are happy about themselves seldom set out to make others feel unhappy, and it says more about them than about you.

    • Grad said,

      I meant “was” a group. Duh.

    • doctordi said,

      Oh Graddikins, I can’t bear the thought of the Mean Girls wrecking your 40s!!!! And I can’t bear the thought that you let them!!! Horrible, isn’t it, how much effort can be expended on something so awful as peer pressure and bullying, and it’s especially awful to realise it goes on well past the playground. It does speak to their own insecurities and fears, absolutely, but that’s seldom much consolation to the poor person on the receiving end. But you are the cheese.

  7. litlove said,

    I’m with Jodie – think she nails it there.

  8. James said,

    When women attacking women extends to the workplace – things get really scary. I have often seen women seek out other potentially successful women and actively work to destroy them. Horrible to watch. Dragging each other down, day after day.

    I think guys are more experienced at competing. Not that they are more competitive. Rather, men are better trained to deal with the outcomes of competition – winning and losing. Men have been competing their whole lives – playing marbles, playing football, even forcems back in the park – winning and losing everyday (more often losing).

    So when it comes to the everyday competition that is forced on us at work, guys are the pros at competing. We’ve been winning and losing for years. Sure it sucks when you get passed over for promotion at work, or when the bright new thing in the office captures the eye of the boss – but hey remember that time you lost your favourite marble to the new kid even though you were supposed to be the best marble player at school? Survived that one, so this one’s a cinch.

    Oh yeah and don’t get me started on women and networking. Sure blokes playing office cricket are wasting time while their female colleagues are at their desks working hard – but damn its good practice for networking while you chew the fat waiting for your turn to bowl. “Oh sorry that square cut bounced on your desk and disturbed your work – please join in – you can bat if you like.”

  9. doctordi said,

    James, darling, it may not *look* like competition to you, but I can’t stress enough that we’ve been engaged in it for just as long as you boys have, and it’s certainly just as bloodthirsty and brutal – perhaps more so for being more subtle, because sometimes everything looks soooo innocent…

    Perhaps we’re competing for different things, and we certainly do tend to compete quite differently, but the competition itself is and always has been alive and well. Of that I am quite, quite sure.

    And you know, I really envy guys your much more straightforward rules of engagement. I love women, I’m glad to be one, but there is a good reason why I have always appreciated the company of men.

    • James said,

      I think you are right. Competing for men is a bit more like being tackled in rugby. Get tackled, hit the ground, get -up, keep running, have a beer with the bloke who tackled you after the match. Its up front, in the open and we can stay friends afterwards.

      For women it is much more the way Sir Humphrey Appleby would describe it. “You have to get behind someone before you can stab them in the back.”

      It seems more Machiavellian. She seemed like a friend, but now she’s destroyed you. I’m glad I’m a guy.

  10. doctordi said,

    Precisely – I was going to use a rugby analogy myself. I think that’s it: the contest is on, you thrash it out, a winner is declared, and then you all simply move on. A lot of women harbour their hurts and resentments for life.

    That Appleby quote is about the most apt thing I’ve ever read.

    • James said,

      Oh yes – Sir Humphrey is very wise.

      And as an insider, let me tell you that I thought ‘The Hollowmen” was a documentary till someone pointed out that it is supposed to be funny.

  11. doctordi said,

    Now that really IS hilarious.

  12. Norwichrocks said,

    I’m lucky in that I’ve only every experienced one or two ‘bitches’ in my life – but you know what? I think I realised pretty early on that, in order to bond with other females, it is not okay to be totally happy with oneself. I’ve always been fairly slim and athletic, as well as academic, but thats not okay… one is supposed to be constantly battling the extra pounds just as much as one was supposed to have struggled with yearly exams at school. But you can’t say ‘Cut out carbohydrates? Are you completely mental? I love bread and pasta! Fuck the calories!’ anymore than you can say ‘Well, that exam was a doddle, really, wasn’t it?’… unless you don’t want to have any friends at all, you have to lie. Which is odd.

    But I suspect the pregnancy thing falls into the same category – you need to lie about feeling worse so that others feel better…

    And if that doesn’t make you feel sick, nothing will 😉

    • doctordi said,

      Gosh, who is totally happy with herself?! Quite apart from being hard on each other, women are soooo hard on themselves… is there a woman alive who wouldn’t change a single thing about herself? I think I’m reasonably accepting of myself these days, but Christ it took some doing, and I still have moments of awful insecurity, so I guess I figure I’ve paid and continue to pay my dues to the sisterhood. I see what you’re saying, Woo, about lying being almost preferable, but personally I just think that sucks, and perpetuates this big fake world in which women don’t tell each other the truth, and I just don’t have the energy to lie about myself. I don’t see the point. Where’s the benefit?? I actually think it makes everything worse – lying is corrosive.

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