January 28, 2010 by Rhi
I received a poison email this week. Oh joy.
This was prompted from a fallout from an online community I was a member of until recently. But as my priorities had changed, I had been growing further away from their “demographic”, and the membership had changed considerably in recent months, the break was a welcome one. Discussion is something I thrive on, but not when everything degenerates into personal attacks and insults.
Which brings me to the point of this blog. A subject which had dogged the community right from its inception, was the subject of bitchiness. As the group had grown out of another parenting community site, there was a tendency for threads on the original site to be discussed in the smaller group. And as this smaller group was a private one on Facebook (for reasons of members privacy – some women were trying for babies/had recently become pregnant, and didn’t want other friends and relatives on Facebook having access to what were sometimes deeply personal and private posts) the accusations were bandied about that the group was for people to go and take the piss out of other members who weren’t allowed to join.
Now, whilst this wasn’t actually the case, there was an incredible amount of bitchiness… and there always has been. Some people have an interesting take on this. For me, there is a difference between expressing frustration at someone’s inability to debate a subject without resorting to personal insults. However, other people DID quite pointedly use the boards to point out failings amongst other members. Repeatedly. And in very cruel ways. Periodically, they would be called on this by other people, and the reply was always the same. Women are, by nature, bitchy. Any group of women in any walk of life, when grouped together, will have a tendency to gossip. And gossip leads to bitchiness. It’s not nasty, and it’s not personal. It’s just the way we’re programmed. End of discussion. Ha.
Now that I’ve been on the receiving end of said bitching, and the fact that I know the people who have been doing it, I’ve been thinking about the motivation behind it. I am by no means a rampant feminist, but I do dislike being lumped with personality traits based purely on my gender, especially when those doing the lumping are women themselves. It seems to me that the idea that women are genetically predisposed to say nasty things about people behind their backs, comes from a desire by those who regularly engage in such behaviour to feel better about doing it. No one likes to think that they’re a bad person, and so they look for ways to justify what they are doing. Genetics, or the evolutionary process, is a failsafe excuse. You can’t argue with nature, can you?
I don’t think anyone can, hand on heart, say they have never said a bad thing about another person. It’s a common trait amongst humans that we often release our frustrations through communication, and frustrations with other people are no exception to this. Indeed, the very existence of this blog could be seen as bitching. I’ve been frustrated by the behaviour of others, and so I’m taking the chance to vent my frustrations. But there’s difference between MY frustrations, and the frustrations of those women who have been caught in the act, as it were. I have no issue with them, merely with their actions. I seek to understand what leads people to make others feel bad about themselves. What makes a person turn on someone else and discuss their situation in such horrible terms – picking not on issues that are related to gripes or annoyances they may have with that person, but rather on those aspects of someone’s life which they are trusting and insecure on. The type of person who will deliberately hit another person where it hurts, but do so behind their back, lest their own true nature be revealed. Much of their frustrations seems to stem from their own insecurities with their own lives. The group is made up, primarily of mothers – many of whom lack the usual support network either through moving from their hometowns, or living in rural areas away from contact with others in their position. The friendships they make online are important to maintaining their identity as a fully functioning adult, away from the daily drudge of housekeeping and childcare. Which makes their lack of understanding all the more bizarre.
There perhaps is some truth in the argument that the human desire to criticise others comes from nature. In any group, there is a wish to fit in. And if the powerful members of a group take against an individual, it’s entirely likely that those more lowly members of a group are likely to agree with them in an attemot to “fit in”. This group mentality can have a devastating effect on those on the receiving end. And yet, in our desire to be “One of the Gang”, we can lose sight of this – especially on internet groups and forums where it’s all to easy to lose sight of the real people who exist behind those usernames and avatars. It can be all to easy to jump on the bandwagon when someone steps out of line, without stopping to think of the reason behind their behaviour. Is lack of intelligence a valid reason to make a fool of someone? Is there a limit to the amount of sympathy someone can be given when their life hits the skids? In our attempt to create a strong community of women, it’s entirely possible that the process of elimination has actually excluded those who would be most in need of the excellent support the group often gives. It is, in the main, an amazing bunch of women, some of whom have been through hell, and have lived to not only tell the tale, but to offer support and friendship to those coming after. It has saved women from abusive husbands, and from suicide attempts. People have given freely of their time and money to help out others, with no thoughts of thanks or praise. Perhaps this aspect of the group is what makes me all the more angry that, hidden amongst these wonderful, pure people, are those who are unable to give of themselves freely. The payoff for having them as part of the community is having to accept them for who they are. Which is ironic, as it is their inability to that which makes them behave the way they do. I don’t for a moment think that everyone has to be supportive all the time. But it makes me so angry that people are feeding off the pain of others, and using the sometimes very personal stories given as a springboard for their own feel-good sessions of nasty gossiping. The ironic thing is that, were they to ask for support, they’d get it. From the very same people they have been so cruel about.
Perhaps bitching is a fact of life, and it’s not the act but the intentions behind it which are the problem. If you realise what you’re saying is untrue, and that it is bourne merely from your own frustrations, then perhaps you’re a better person for having the intelligence to acknowledge it. But when you’re picking people apart, merely for existing or expressing their opinions, then perhaps you need to start looking a little closer to home to find the source of your own problems, before passing judgement on others.