Normalisation of women bullying other women

by Sep 22, 20220 comments

Women bullying other women

Sadly, sexism and bullying are gender neutral and women are as capable of it as men

I came upon this tweet from a male British news presenter commentating on the spike in bitchy articles on high-profile women. The names of the targets included: Meghan Markel, Serena Williams, Nicole Kidman, Hillary Clinton, Kate Moss and others.

What astonished him was that women wrote the columns. These female writers clearly missed the memo about special places in hell for women who don’t support other women. What was also obvious when I looked at the bios in these particular cases, all of the authors were older women. But it happens across all age groups, from school to the workplace to the senior gardening club.

Sadly, sexism and bullying are gender neutral and women are as capable of it as men.

Women bullying women


I became involved in women bullying other women over a decade ago and was astonished at the mixed reaction I got at the time. I had originally set out to benchmark a specific client’s experience.

My preconceived notions at the time were centred around bullying being a predominantly male activity (which it is) and I simply wanted to investigate corporate checks and balances, as well as any legal deterrents that dealt with this problem. I have to confess that I also secretly hoped to disprove the findings of The New York Times at the time which said that 70% of cases of women reporting being bullied were by other women.

Unfortunately, I was not able to do that. My inbox started filling up immediately.

The responses fell into three categories and can be paraphrased as follows:

  1.  Well done Dorothy for highlighting a difficult and sensitive issue which we need to acknowledge and tackle on many levels
  2.  What on earth are you thinking Dorothy? Don’t we women have enough obstacles to progression without you dredging up this sort of stuff?
  3.  Heart-breaking case studies, including what sounded like psychotic abuse in some instances, accompanied by pleas for support

And response number two was the one which resulted in the most profound reaction. There is a definite tendency to want to sweep this issue under the carpet. That’s why I called it the Pink Elephant. We don’t want to talk about it.

Worth a read: 8 types of subtle workplace bullying – 3 Plus International

Mean girls and social media

Women tend to use different tools from their bullying toolbox. Verbal harassment, reputation smearing, bullying body language, and exclusion are their WMDs rather than physical abuse or violence  – although that does happen and is increasing.

In a workplace bullying survey conducted in 2017 by the Workplace Bullying Institute in the U.S, 20% of Americans have witnessed a workplace bullying incident. The study suggests that almost 75% of the bullies in the workplace are men, with 60% of that number targeting women. it also says that over two-thirds of women who bully (referred to as “mean girls”) target women.


women bullying women

Well, the women bullying the targets I mentioned are certainly not girls and take the notion of meanness to a whole other level. What we are seeing today with these savage mobbing attacks, sometimes carried out on a global scale, is the normalising of vindictive bitchiness by women towards other women. By accepting this behaviour from senior, well-established journalists on social and mainstream media, we are sending a message that what they are doing is OK.

We are also seeing something far more sinister, the creation of bot accounts on social media which are funded by God knows who (someone with a vested interest in seeing the demise of that person, I would imagine). Bot Sentinel a Twitter moderating account shared that there are “83 accounts responsible for approximately 70% of the negative and often hateful content” in a co-ordinated campaign against Meghan Markle.. This is much more than bitching around the coffee machine. Many of those accounts are claiming to be women, frequently with avatars of the Queen.

They also found similar campaigns against Amber Heard.

To quote the late Princess Diana “There is no better way to dismantle a personality than to isolate it.”

Trickle down

If high profile successful women can become the targets for the braying masses, how much of this filters down into our workplaces and wider cultures? It is possibly because they are high profile and successful. Maybe they stand out and speak up? Or break the silence and push back?

Research from  2018 published in the Harvard Business Review indicates that women tend to report “experiencing more incivility at work than their male counterparts”.  They also noted that when women acted more assertively at work – “expressing opinions in meetings, assigning people to tasks, and taking charge” — this behaviour was received as being uncivil. Men who did not adhere to gender expectations were not penalised by their peers in the same way.

Sharon Eden, London-based Executive Coach commented “interesting isn’t it? It’s more normal to see women colluding with the patriarchy albeit unconsciously than not in pulling other women down It would be easy to say given their age they are caught in the patriarchy thing of competitiveness with other women and slaying those more likely to get the Alpha male or just plain jealousy… But those still occur in some younger women. Fascinating!”

Donna Svei, Executive Resume Writer, commented: “Until women make themselves formidable, people who need to pick on someone will pick on them.”

So ladies –  you don’t like what someone has done, or what they stand for. That’s OK. But do better and be better.

Read the whole series from2010 here: It is still relevant over a decade later Bitch or Bully the Pink Elephant


If you are struggling with bullying in your organisation or personally contact 3Plus NOW


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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