Fierce Women Dish

an artist, a journalist, an activist, a psychologist, a student, and a diva place a cup of nourishment on the table.

Why Are We So Critical? April 5, 2008

It seems that women hold each other to really high standards and then spend a great deal of time enjoying someone’s inability to reach those standards. Why are we so critical of each other? What can we do about it?


Crystal:  Ouch. This is so true. I like to think it’s not, but it is. Whether it’s a woman who got a job instead of you. Or Britney Spears.


Donna:  Why DO we do this?!!!   I think it must have something to do with competitiveness based on looks when growing up as little girls. Plus, my mom always used to say that three little girls can’t play together because two will always side against one.


Janine:  You’ve heard the expression “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Well, how about ‘Hell hath no fury like a jealous, insecure woman’?


Rosie:  I realized this happened in seventh grade, and that what it elicited in me was a deep sickness.  Now, when I look back, I realize that so many young women are expected to be effortlessly perfect.  The bag of goods we are being sold is that we should be pretty and smart and fit and caring and creative without anyone seeing us sweat.  We need to make it look like this is just how we are when we get out of the bed in the morning—perfect without even trying.  And that’s the standard we expect of each other.   


D:  Could this just be the adult version of the playground—maybe some sicko way to bond with each other in the same sicko way we love to bond with each other over our own body image issues? (“Oh, geez, I hate my thighs.” “Your thighs? You should see my ass?!”)


Amy:  As women, we hold ourselves to very high standards.  It can be a way that we both define ourselves and have a sense of control in our lives.  Given this, if we as women enjoy other’s inability to reach these standards it is because it allows us to take some pressure off of ourselves.  We are particularly critical of women in the media and in public positions.  This criticalness may relate to a feeling of “why her”, “how did she achieve that”.  We as women, strive to do it all and be all things.  Invariably, we must make choices and prioritize.  If we enjoy someone else’s failure it may be because that means that we have not made a mistake in our choices because that woman is not able to pull off the lofty goals that we have not chosen ourselves. 


R:  It is as if the feminist movement gave us permission to not just be any one thing we ever wanted, but, rather, created an expectation that we should be everything anyone could ever want from us.  So this is the standard, we use to measure ourselves and other women.  But it is impossible, really, to be everything and, though, we cognitively know this, we have to remind ourselves of it by issuing a judgment on other women.


J:  It’s sad to say, but as women we can’t help but compare ourselves to other women. We size each other up and down the minute one of us walks into a room. Why? Good ol’ fashioned ‘insecurity.’ For a lot us, we haven’t been told enough how great we are!!! Either mom was too busy or dad (in my case) wasn’t there at all. Regardless, we just didn’t hear enough of “You’re beautiful”, “You’re needed”, “You’re important.” It seems even women who did hear all those things, unfortunately still require a small dose of “You’re It!” So when we compare each other, and secretly wish each other failure, I believe we are really just angry with ourselves because we see in those women what we’d like to be, but didn’t have the push to become that person.


C:  We’re critical of each other because of our own insecurities. Rather than examining and addressing why we got passed over, we often blame someone else or office politics. Also, I think we sometimes revel in the pain of others – especially those we perceive to have everything that we don’t. To end it, we need to check ourselves. Ask yourself: What language am I using? Am I reveling in someone else’s downfall or pain? Am I supporting my sisters? Am I nurturing the girls in my life with positive language and actions? This sounds easy, but it’s not. It’s a constant effort.


R:  It’s a choice, really, to behave differently.  And it’s a choice we must chose everyday, making ourselves less judgmental—of ourselves and others—so that we can all just be who we set out to be, and, thus, end up living our best lives. 


A:  This criticalness of others in my mind, inherently is a mirror of our self-criticalness.  When we are able to truly accept ourselves with all of our flaws and wonderfulness we will then be able to do the same for other women.


D:  Tearing someone else down is a cheap shot that momentarily makes YOU feel better about your own situation. It’s also interesting to me that many times the thing that’s focused on is something about appearance. I think this happens because as women, we know that physicality is where you can most easily land the knock-out punch. I think it’s a learned thing, and we can unlearn it just as well, and must just agree not to do it out loud, or otherwise, for the betterment of our gender. If for no better reason that we don’t want to pass our own bad behavior down to others—especially the younger women we influence.    


J:  The next time I’m sizing up another woman, instead of pulling out what she doesn’t have, I think I’ll just tell her what I really see and that is “You’re pretty fabulous!” Maybe that’ll put me one step closer to becoming the ‘me’ I’m supposed to be.


Join the table.  Why do you think we do this and what can we do about it? 


8 Responses to “Why Are We So Critical?”

  1. Harriett Says:

    I believe we are taught the culture of “comparitive analysis” from birth. Rather than taking the measure of raw data we compare all accomplishments from kindergarten on “in relation to the peer group”. This sets up a classic mechanism for women who then view their accomplishments as a part of the whole rather than as unique efforts. We don’t exist in a vacumn so we must equate other’s lives with our own to take a measurement. I don’t think women do it more than men…..we’re just more sensitive to it because we are nurturers who strive to bridge gaps in relationships, build coalitions, and “work for the good of the whole”. If men carp at each other it’s all in a days work. In any case it isn’t new phenomenon, consider Jane Austen characters and plots or any of a thousand “classic” authors. I believe because we are sensitive human beings we feel more guilty for our actions and seek our moral compasses as indicators of our sins rather than our cultural peculiarities. This is NOT an excuse….just a rationale.

  2. JJ Says:

    Thanks all of you for starting an important conversation, and for this site! GO LADIES! I have to say, I think beating up on other women is part habitual too…and like any habit, it can be broken….perhaps more easily than others. Spread the love….it’s not so hard, and makes YOU feel better. Practice looking for the good. It sounds so darn cheesy (it’s not) and easy (it is!)….I for one love being the nice kid on the playground….and guess what….more girls want to play with you! Sending love and congratulations to you all! jj

  3. Rachel Says:

    Rock on! Congrats on the site … I know it’ll do great things!

  4. Ann Says:

    I think it is easier be critical of each other than it is to flatter each other. I am a high school teacher and I make it a point to say something positive to at least one student each day. Most students don’t know how to accept flattery; I think we can change the world Ladies!! If each of us make it a point to say something nice to at least one person each day, just think of the possibilities!! Go get ’em girls……..

  5. Ann brings up a good point that I’ve encoutered in my body image work. A Kansas State study released a couple years ago shows that women (girls and even kids) who view themselves negatively are dramatically positively impacted by just one compliment (and it doesn’t have to be about their body either to have their compliment shoot up). Go get ’em indeed.

  6. fiercewomen Says:

    Wow! It seems we all agree that we need to celebrate and rejoice in other women. To do this we definitely need to break the habits that JJ is talking about. I have lived this. . . having grown up in a small town people always knew what you were doing almost before you actually did it, especially if it was something baaad and word spread fast. Gossip. There’s a 4-letter word used to bring women down. We now have an entire industry dedicated to celebrity gossip and scandal. It seems that Hollywood has become the new small town and we’re all peering in making fun of while giving fame to 20-somethings who can’t handle it and then criticizing them for falling apart. So what do y’all think. . . where does our current celebrity obsession fit into this mix? We certainly hold celebrities to high standards and revel in their downfall. What is this teaching our girls??????

  7. J Says:

    People are afraid that if we lift others up, the others who are lifted will receive some kind of benefit that we won’t. Which is, of course, not true, because there’s plenty of love and good in the world to go around. But we think it all the same, even if subconsciously.

  8. Big D Says:

    I’ve actually been criticized for choosing to point out a positive quality in a woman when I could have gone for the jugular. That, or I get the roll of the eye like I’m trying to gain some recognition through my choice. I think people see compassion as false just because we have to reach for it sometimes. I like to see it as exercising a muscle in atrophy.

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