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When the ‘mean girl’ is a woman: How to deal with an adult bully

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When the ‘mean girl’ is a woman: How to deal with an adult bully

By Cathy Alter

June 7, 2021

Thanks to the Queen Bee, I was pushed out of a friend group, disinvited from activities, tarnished by falsehoods and deserted by allies. No, this didn’t happen to me in the high school cafeteria. It was more recently, at a volunteer job I had held for six years. And my bully, let’s call her Carol, is a senior citizen.

According to Simmons, the same attributes that allow girls to be socially intelligent also allow them to be aggressive. “They are drawing from the same skill set,” she says, adding, “Social intelligence is about being savvy enough to understand people and relationships. These are the same skills girls deploy when they launch lobbying campaigns to turn peers into a target, or to figure out just the right insult that will cut someone down.

“Girls tend to use their highly attuned social antennae, instead of their fists, to wage war on other girls,” Emily Bazelon wrote in her 2013 book, “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.” “Girls can better understand how other girls feel,” she continued, quoting the work of Scandinavian psychologist Kaj Bjorkqvist, “so they know better how to harm them.”

It’s a lifelong skill. “The same behaviors that worked in childhood still work now,” says Cheryl Dellasega, author of six books, including “Surviving Ophelia” and “Mean Girls Grown Up.” “It’s what’s made them popular, because very rarely were they challenged.” What’s more, she continues, “by going along with the powerful aggressor, you stay with the ‘in’ group.”

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