The Bitchiness of Women
Why aren’t relationships between women easy? What happens between the time we play with our Barbies and giggle about boys to the time we chat over coffee and gripe about our husbands? As girls, we willingly share our secrets and our toys. Then, some miraculous transformation occurs and we become bitchy. We nit-pick, gossip, compare and compete. We tear each other down when we should be building each other up. We put ourselves on a track when there is no race.
Crushing the Joneses
My friend, Mary, is a dear woman but she has a serious problem. She has a pathological need to keep up with the Joneses. If one of her friends buys a new couch, she is suddenly redecorating her living room. If another buys an outfit by a particular designer, she buys the entire collection. She copies recipes, hairstyles, outfits, manners of speech, gardening techniques, decorating ideas. The list is endless.

At first, I found this very annoying. I did not like to meet her for lunch only to discover we were wearing the same ensemble. It disturbed me to see little bits of my life scattered about her house, replicated to precision. It bothered me to have this person infiltrate my life, show up at every club I belonged to, mimic my every movement.

I’d had a friend like Mary years ago. Liz not only copied everything I did, but went one step further. If I mentioned that I wanted to buy a particular item, she would buy it first and flaunt it in my face. If I planned a party, she would throw an “impromptu” gathering the night before. Worse, when we were in social groups, she felt a need to criticize me or point out my flaws. She was brutal but clueless. She had no idea she was the toxic component in her relationships.

The difference between Mary and Liz? Intention. Mary tries to keep up with the Joneses because she lacks the confidence and vision to develop her unique style. Liz not only kept pace with the Joneses, she raced past them with her fingers in the shape of an L on her forehead.
I once had a friend who treated her interactions with other women as combat. With her, nearly every conversation was a battle and she was almost always the victor. She was hard on friends, miserable to sales people, and impossible with people in authority. She was loud, opinionated, rude, and defiant. Don’t get me wrong, she had her redeeming qualities, but she was so combative to other women that she had few female friends.

One year, I went shopping with her on the day after Christmas. As we stood in line to enter an upscale department store, she barked orders like a General.

“As soon as the doors open, you acquire us a basket and I will chart a course for the ornaments. We’ll rendezvous in the gift department. We have six other stores to go to, so we should be out of her 35 minutes after we enter.”

I tried to tell her that I wasn’t in a hurry, that perhaps we could slow down and stick together.

“You’re kidding, right? Look around. See all of these people? They are the enemy. They know all of the Christmas stuff is marked 50% off and they want to beat us.”

When the doors opened, she shoved people out of the way, snapping nasty comments at anyone who dared to try and remind her it was the “giving season.” We got our ornaments and paper, lights and holly, and headed for the check-out. The next skirmish lay straight ahead. The sales lady was busy ringing up items when she came to a small box of chocolates.

Suddenly, my friend bellowed, “Why didn’t those ring up as 50% off?”

The sales lady explained they were not Christmas items.

“They most certainly are,” my friend snapped.

I cringed, knowing that a bruising battle was on the horizon. I told the cashier that it didn’t matter if the chocolates were on sale, I would still purchase them.

“Doesn’t matter? Of course it matters. This is just another example of the establishment trying to cheat the little guy,” my friend ranted, hands on hips, voice raised. She was in full battle mode.

The cashier called for a manger. He came over, took one look at my friend, and crossed his arms.

“What seems to be the problem, ma’am?”

“The problem, Sir,” my friend said, her voice thick with condescension. “These chocolates are not ringing up as 50% off.”

The manager repeated what the sales lady had lady said. I hung my head and kept my gaze averted. My friend raged on.

“What do you mean they are not Christmas items? They are chocolates, which are eaten at Christmas-time. They are packaged in a red box and tied with a silver bow. It says that it contains a holiday assortment including eggnog truffles. I smell Christmas here, don’t you?”

Her voice had risen to an unnaturally high pitch and all around us people were nodding and murmuring. “She’s right. They are wrapped like a Christmas gift.” “Give her the chocolates already.”

The manager finally demurred. The battle had been neatly, decisively won and my friend was triumphant. Of course, I was humiliated and the manger looked like he needed a valium, but my friend gloated the rest of the day. Over $6.25.

There has long been a debate about the role of women in combat. Commanders have feared dissention in the ranks. Hard-core, Patton-types have contended women are too marshmallow soft to survive the rigors of combat. Obviously, these men have never been day after Christmas shopping with my friend. They have never seen her dive for a marked down ornament or go toe-to-toe with a burly store manager.

I was in the Air Force and have met my share of nail-biting, ball-busting, battle-ready women. Force thirty women to work and train together day after day, make them live in the same small room, and you will see some spitting-mean creatures. But my friend, Tracy, was one of the most battle-ready beings I had ever met. She has spent her life poised to strike. A fantastic quality if you are actually going into battle, but it is lethal if you are trying to maintain a friendship.

Women can be the most loyal or the most deadly of friends. I am acquainted with a woman - I will call Mandy – who can smile sweetly while plunging the sharpest, longest knife in your back. She’s all hugs and air kisses, false compliments, and saccharine Southern hospitality. Mandy's true talent lie in her ability to deliver a finely honed insult while pretending to be engaged in harmless chit-chat.

“Oh, I am so worried about Betsy,” Mandy would say.
“Is that so?”

“Yes, I really am. The poor dear. She eats so much this time of year until she blows up like a balloon. She adds nearly fifty pounds. It’s just not healthy,” her voice dripping with sugar-sweet false sincerity.

“I am sure she will be fine,” I say. Then, attempting to turn the conversation, I add, “Have you seen the new Tom Cruise movie yet?”

“No, I haven’t. But it’s a movie about an alcoholic, isn’t it? That’s exactly like Betsy. I think she overeats because her husband is an alcoholic.”

“Mandy! Don't say that.”

“But he is! He’s a pilot, you know. He was grounded last year because he showed up for a flight drunk. I think that is why he is having such a hard time finding a new job…”

Even during the shortest conversations, Mandy hops from friend to friend, like a frog in a lily pond. She dissects and analyzes everyone she knows in her own unique, highly-critical and uncompassionate way. The saddest thing of all, though, is that Mandy is a very bright, outgoing woman who is involved in countless charities and organizations. She just happens to be one of those women who uses her power for evil and not good, wreaking havoc in the world of women.

What gives, girlfriend?
So why do we nit-pick, gossip, criticize and compete? Why do we tear each other down when we should be building each other up? Why do we put ourselves on a track when there is no race? What happened to the carefree days of tea parties and dress-up?

Perhaps life happened.

We traded our boa’s and Barbie for painful, pinching pumps and real life babies. We spend our days power-walking, paying bills, maintaining our marriages, running errands, cleaning houses. We spend so much of our time trying to be the best woman, we have forgotten how to be the best friend. We have also forgotten an essential girl rule: there’s room in the club for everyone.

Turn Off Martha
Martha Stewart doesn’t help. She comes to us in magazines, on the radio, on television, and even from prison. She tells us to decorate, organize, bake perfect crème brulee, sew ball gowns. She challenges us to be the consummate hostess, the agile domestic, the power-hungry business woman.

She may not say it, but the message is loud and clear. If she were the mother of our children, she would make them marzipan dollhouses and caramel race boats. She would welcome our husband home from work with a perfectly shaken martini, wearing a silk negligee she made herself (from the silk worms she raised in the backyard).

It’s too much pressure! So what if we have Crate and Barrel instead of Lenox, order Pizza Hut instead of making bruschetta and pesto, buy our undies on sale from Victoria’s Secret, and occasionally resort to using Xbox 360 as a babysitter?

It’s time we reclaimed and redefined our sisterhood. Who cares about the political-incorrectness of the doll, let’s dig out our Barbies and play. Let’s have “girl days” where we go to the mall and try on silly hats. Let’s trade power-walking for skipping. Let’s forget about competing, gossiping, bitching, battling, picking.

Let’s just be girlfriends.

1 comment:

Fanny said...

Hee hee hee...I think I found myself in that article ;-)I just love your writing, you have an uncanny way of seeing people's true colors and using those perfect words to describe something that most people just couldn't pinpoint...I love the fact that your description of those women, whoever they might be, is right on target, I know exactly who you are talking about...I have to be honest though, I am thankful for those women, because I have a damn good time talking to you about them and their bitchy attitudes!!!!!!!!!!! LOVE YA!!!