Women Bully Too

Bullying Work Workplace dysfunction
Sigourney Weaver played the bully to perfection in Working Girl.

In my experience, women in workplaces bully worse than men, when they are bullying.

I was thinking about this all week and came across a very useful idea, quoted below:

My female bully lied and gossiped about me and others. She used all indirect tactics. I have seen men also use indirect bullying tactics, but they’re much less frequent, and they have seemed solely to protect their ego rather than proactive moves to sabotage.

Is it time to revisit what bullying looks like, who bullies and how hard it is to deal with?

If you’ve ever worked with a bully you will of course know how it feels.  But what if you were working with a female bully and you didn’t know it – either that they were a bully or that you were being targeted?

I know it sounds ludicrous but actually, this is why it is so difficult to define.  And I am wondering if it is difficult to define because we collectively want to avoid the delicate subject of women as bullies – because we don’t wish to appear sexist?

Let’s sound this out.

She was successful at work and had gained a few career accolades, but at home and behind the scenes at work, she was a terrible bully.


He was successful in the community, seen as a great father and provider, but out of the public eye he was a terrible bully.

Which statement seems more likely to you?

Biff Tannen is an obvious example of a bully and bad ‘tomfoolery’.

In schools it is well known that packs of girls can wreak serious havoc on the lives of others with the use of bullying tactics.  Girls bully emotionally.  They tend to be far more manipulative than boys.  Girls harbour resentment and grudges for longer.

Those girls grow into women and rarely do they change.  In life they are the entitled ones and the world is there as their smorgasbord.  A bit of this, a bit of that, throw aside the things that are of no use.  They can be initially incredibly kind and helpful, but they grow tired of that quickly.

A bully is a bully for good.  There is no programme to change a bully into a normal person.

In this respect, we must find ways of teaching people how to protect themselves instead.  Why waste precious resources on the perpetrators?  They are exceptional at taking care of their own needs.

Modes of Female Bullying

1.  Freezing out

Freezing out is a bully’s way of controlling all conversations.   By not speaking to a person or addressing them, or acknowledging that they are even alive, the bully maintains power.  The target wonders what they have done so wrong – and the bully wins.  1-0 to the bully.

2.  Email

One of the most potent forms of bullying.  You will recognise emails from a bully because they almost always contain one of the following:

  • A firm instruction.  One that puts you under pressure almost immediately
  • An instruction to respond within a short time frame. “You were told”
  • A plea for help
  • Sychophantic comments about management with the manager CC’d in
  • Private messages to a target asking them to maintain silence over an issue

3.   Retracting the rope ladder

In the aforementioned article, one suggestion is that bullies who are female see themselves on a rope ladder, climbing to the top, but once there, they swiftly retract the ladder to prevent other women from enjoying the same success.  For them, the sisterhood is one big joke.

4.  Plausibility

One of the hardest traits to obstruct in a female bully.

A bully is a liar.  They go hand in hand.  Therefore we can safely assume that a female bully lies and needs a ‘cover’ to prevent being found out.  Thus, there is always a plausible explanation for everything that is hard to verify.

“I am late for work for the 6th day because I am dealing with a very stressful family situation, which is confidential”.

This plausibility always relies on the goodwill of others, and will only work on that basis.  Generally if the female bully encounters a person who correctly suspects foul play, the bully will target that person for unfairness, or they will devalue and discard the entire situation and person.  And hopefully leave.

Protecting Yourself from the Female Bully

The viciousness of the behaviour cannot be underestimated.  When you are sure you are dealing with a bully:

1.  Always reply to correspondence in a polite manner.  Never lose your cool.  Never signal to the bully that you are emotionally affected by their words.  A bully often communicates in statements.  Why bother answering, if it’s not a question?  Save your energy.

2.  Avoid them.  That adage about keeping your enemies closer – forget it.

3.  Never let them get embroiled in your personal life.  Do not let them do anything for you on a personal level.  It will be used against you later on.  One bully was very good at diving in to help out with a colleague’s children, picking them up on days when the target could not.  This favour was boldy recalled later on and put the target in a difficult position.  Avoid!

4.  Never talk about them at work.  Your actions of avoiding them and your short, professional comments about them will be enough to signal your mistrust of them to any astute colleague.

5.  Stay classy.  It really, really pisses them off, that you are a self-contained classy, capable unit.  Remember that.

There is a long way to go here, but have a look at the New Zealand Worksafe questionnaire here for bullying.

Women can and do bully.  We are not attacking gender when we talk about this.  We are protecting victims from a damaging and chaotic personality disorder.

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