The Rise and Rise of the Mean Girl

When you're a woman being bullied by another woman.

'Mean Girls' Romy, Alisha and Cat received significant media attention during their time on The Bachelor Australia. Image: Network 10

The internet and magazines alike have been flooded in the last few years with stories that invoke outrage in other women around the #metoo movement. These stories have rallied women together, bounded by common obstacles to fight for equality and men who shut us down in the workplace, the street and the club.  

But what about the other people who hurt women? 

I’m talking about the issue that still, in the 21st century, hasn’t gone away. It’s one of the reasons women are held back in the workplace, in education, socially and relationships.  

It is women who bully other women.  

While in the age of #metoo, every woman has the unfortunate experience of a story they can share, there are many who also have fallen victim to the rise of the mean girl. And it’s confusing because media is telling us to love each other, support each other, lift each other up and lean in – but still, we can be met by resistance by the very sex who we thought would help us in these changing times.  

Trixie*, 28, recalls a former job she had as a Marketing Assistant. Excited to work for strong women who headed the department, she went at it with gusto, doing extra shifts, hours, and asking to take on more projects. However, in meetings, she was ridiculed by her female manager – when Trixie made suggestions, she would roll her eyes, belittle her in front of other employees, tell her she was not ‘important enough’ to attend certain events, and culminated when the CEO told Trixie they don’t need her as ‘a monkey could do your job’.  

With friends like these, who needs enemies?  

I have had my own unfortunate experience in the workplace. Excited to be working for a female manager, I expected to learn, laugh and enjoy my job. Thinking it would be a career stepping stone, I took a significant pay cut for even longer hours, hoping I would climb up from within. However, I was blocked at every turn by my manager, who would let the hour decide whether she was my friend or foe. Dragged into private rooms daily to talk about what a ‘disappointment’ I was, heaving sighs or gobsmacked looks when I asked a question or answers of ‘Really? You work in this field and you don’t know that? Seriously?’, silent treatment, belittling, told ideas were ‘stupid’ in all caps emails when sitting right next to me, and the worst, lying to me about what colleagues and management thought of me in order to break me down, leaving me to run out of the building in tears and too upset to return. At first, I couldn’t quite believe it, and did what has become common – I blamed myself. If only I knew more, said it another way, stayed that extra hour unpaid. But it grinded. I found myself filled with dread on a Sunday and crying on a Monday morning when I woke up. I couldn’t switch off and began to loathe my workplace and the menial tasks I felt I was purposely given. I was trying to lean in, and instead, I felt shut out by a woman who I thought was there to raise me up and support me. It almost feels worse than if a man did it – aren’t you supposed to be an ally?  

I will add that of course, this is not ALL women (sing it, Annie!) The best manager I ever had was a female, who was as friendly as she was assertive, direct, engaging, fair and fun. And I would hope as time goes on, she is the type of manager I would like to emulate in my own career. But the fact is, in other cases, it is happening.  

Some may say there are cases for bullying, harassment and HR Teams, and in serious cases of course this should be a port of call. However, it isn’t always that simple. In my case, it was just