When I was younger, I used to get drunk with my friends at the old Zouk wine bar and make snarky comments about girls’ clubbing outfits.
“That girl’s makeup makes her look like a Geylang prostitute, I’d pay $50 at most” or “Look at that ah lian, she’s too fat to wear that bodycon dress.”
Why did I think it was okay or ‘normal’ to pass undeservedly rude judgement on a random girl, but not a guy? Do girls just ‘naturally’ hate other girls?
Learning to compete with other girls
While some psychologists believe women are evolutionarily predestined to be bitchy toward and socially exclude each other, it’s more likely girl-on-girl hate is a learnt behaviour.
Like most girls growing up in an Asian household, I was told to “behave like a lady”. When I sat with my legs wide open, my parents would nag at me to “close my coffee shop”. When I wanted to play void deck soccer, they said it was a “game for boys”.
Besides making sure my behaviour steered toward typical feminine behaviour, parents and other adults were more likely to coo “good girl” or “pretty girl” in praise, rather than compliment me as “smart” or “brave”.
While it’s not wrong to be physically attractive or want to look beautiful, it’s problematic to conflate prettiness with femininity.
“Growing up, relatives would constantly comment on how good-looking my younger sister was. While they weren’t unkind to me, I grew up thinking I was unattractive and it impacted my self-esteem,” says Paula, 23.
When girls are socialised to base their self-worth and the worth of other girls on their physical appearance, it internalises the idea girls ‘need’ to compete with each other.
It’s not enough to be pretty, you have to be the prettiest, and your prettiness is determined by deeming another girl uglier than you.
Representation of female relationships in media
Movies, social media, TV shows and advertisements also reinforce the idea of required prettiness and ideal beauty.
Every plastic surgery ‘success story’ feature women with symmetrical, sharp, Anglo-Saxon features, clear skin, and a thin, tall silhouette.
When the mass media is not selling female beauty and the idea of girl BFFs, reality TV shows like The Bachelor and America’s Next Top Model use girl-on-girl drama as a plot point for entertainment.
Although it’s unfair to entirely blame media influences, the representation of female relationships on mainstream media is dangerous as it normalises the idea of girl-on-girl hate.
The ‘Queen Bee’ and the ‘Bro Girls’
Sometimes, when women begin to view their gender as an impediment, they’d turn to affiliate themselves to the strongest social group—men.
While some girls naturally gravitate toward making guy friends, the ‘girl who’s a bro’ exclusively makes guy friends.
She’d regularly claim “not to be like the other girls” to maintain her status as “one of the guys”.
This type of girl-on-girl hate is more subtle. Playing on the idea of typical feminine girls being emotional drama queens, she claims herself “more laid back and chill”.
Without ever directly being mean to another girl, the ‘Bro Girl’ encourages the idea of pitting women against each other through her comparison of how she’s “not like one of the girls”.
Like the ‘Bro Girl’, the ‘Queen Bee’ is also guilty of displaying girl-on-girl hate.
Usually portrayed as career-driven, charismatic and manipulative, the ‘Queen Bee’ is the ‘alpha female’ whose popularity is based on fear and control.
‘Queen Bees’ often use relational aggression to damage their victim’s relationships or social status by assessing, hating on and excluding them.
“When I was in Junior College, three girls who were my ‘friends’ ganged up on me and convinced my other classmates to ignore me. Till today, I still don’t understand why she did that because I didn’t do anything to her!” says Amanda, 23
The teenage ‘Queen Bee’ can morph into the adult ‘Queen Bee’ in the workplace.
One employee, Rachel, 26, shares, “I had a middle-aged workaholic female boss who expected her employees to OT with her till 9.00pm every day.”
“If you tried to leave on time, she’d make passive-aggressive remarks about how it’s so ‘early’ and she has to ‘sacrifice the most’.”
Encouraging Girl Love
But not every girl tears down other girls. In fact, many women support and lift other women up. However, there is a significant portion of women who engage in these sort of toxic behaviours.
When we judge other women, it’s often motivated by seeing and coveting a version of ourselves that is better, prettier or smarter. We aren’t really competing with other women, we’re competing with ourselves.
Creating a culture of Girl Love requires the ability to look past assigned female stereotypes and behaviours.
Make celebrating successful women a normative behaviour and not just celebrate the trope of a mum with a high-flying career.
After all, a strong woman is one who lifts another woman up and if #heforshe is to happen, #sheforshe has to happen first.