Some people claim to perceive differences in social interactions in terms of women exhibiting more criticism toward others than men. For example, many females can recount being rudely treated by another woman, including criticism or unfair treatment based on their appearance, words, or actions. Such judgmental behavior may exist between women not just in separate situations but as a prevalent issue. To understand this problem, it is necessary to explore the possible reasons behind it.
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It is reasonable to subdivide the question “Why are women so judgmental?” into several smaller concerns: women being critical of themselves, women judging other women, and women being judgmental of men. In my opinion, the first two issues raise the possibility that experience, training, personal beliefs, and behaviors can create a set of rules that women go on to impose on others. This essay explores the possible reasons behind judgmental responses, in other words, women sustaining negative and critical attitudes both toward themselves and each other.
First, it is necessary to understand the meaning of the term “judgmental.” Personal experience, supplemented by other authors’ reports, supports that judgmental behavior can often be identified as taking the form of harsh criticism and invasive comments about other people’s lives. For example, women may show their aggression when hearing about other women performing some action or making a choice that they do not support.
A female scientist or football player might, as one hypothetical example of this attitude, negatively react to seeing models or participants in pageants, or they might write or speak negatively about related activities. Women questioning their friends’ choices between a career or staying at home may also fit the definition of judgmental behavior. Some instances may involve family members, for example, mothers who are strict about the attitudes and habits of their daughters. However, numerous reasons may cause women to pursue such behavior, and women’s justifications for their behavior may even vary in the above examples.
While it can be difficult to discern motives for negative behavior as people tend to present themselves in the best possible light, one possible reason for judging others lies in feelings of fear and anxiety resulting from social exclusion, especially if the need to be accepted in a group of people is viewed as a part of socialization for all individuals, including women. Thus, a woman wishing to be acknowledged as a team member may use criticism to place herself above others; she might suffer from possible underlying insecurity regarding her identity and thus choose a negative course to appear worthy of attention. Hidden feelings of inferiority might also encourage women to be judgmental of others based on their chosen group or social class.
Meyers and Gilbert described a similar thought process, finding that female student can exhibit negative attitudes toward other young women presumed to be sexually active or promiscuous. This example illustrates the possible power of social exclusion; the criticism internalized by these students may result from the fear of being treated negatively themselves.
While such uncomplimentary assumptions about young women may be untrue, the existence of this type of attitude can drive societal opinions and establish rules of behavior for all female students or label every female student as potentially promiscuous. Therefore, women’s criticism and harsh attitude may be a self-protective mechanism, exacerbated by their need to maintain their status as valued members of the chosen side. The strong influence of assumptions and women’s fear of exclusion thus may lay a foundation for judgmental behavior.
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Another reason may lie in the influence of family. The sociocultural pressure that originates from parents and mothers, in particular, can impact the way daughters see the world. The habits that a mother teaches a girl as “acceptable” behavior (e.g., be reserved, do not hunch your back, do not sit with your legs crossed) can affect the way an adult woman treats other people, especially in terms of judging women who were brought up under different rules and standards.
While some learned patterns and attitudes may be positive, others can create a situation in which the woman’s view of right or wrong impacts her ability to accept individual differences. A woman who has been taught that short or dyed hair is inappropriate for females because it is not feminine, attractive, or healthy will apply this attitude to other people. Expressing such an opinion takes on a critical tone.
Similarly, those who negatively view past experiences and reject previously experienced teachings may fall into the trap of criticizing others who follow similar teachings out of choice. A woman who has been taught that makeup is a necessity, for instance, may go on to judge other women who do not use cosmetic products. On the other hand, a female who rejects the practice of using makeup on an everyday basis may feel inclined to criticize women who prefer to use makeup; thus, she may seek to strengthen her position of resisting behavior that was imposed on her. This reason can be explained by social learning theory regarding the influence of a mother’s behavior on her children; the theory posits that some negative patterns form views about both self-image and social engagement (Meyers and Gilbert).
However, the influence of family is not the only source of information to shape women’s perceptions about themselves and other people. Lifelong exposure to media and culture can conceivably also affect women’s attitudes toward society.
For example, anxiety related to body image can be linked to the culture’s definition of beauty standards as presented in the media. Media takes many forms such as cinematography, music, or magazines, all of which expose women to a deluge of information regarding the culture’s perception of beauty in terms of the appearance of female bodies. Stereotypes, both positive and negative, in media—for example, showing protagonists and antagonists having different facial features, body types, makeup, and clothing—may influence women’s perceptions of real-life situations (Albertson et al. 444). Thus, a woman who sees that all “good” characters are slender and fit may connect these characteristics to being healthy and beautiful and may develop an attitude that negatively judges those who do not match her ideals.
Similarly, self-image often relies on developed perceptions. Liss and Erchull have shown that the beauty standards women learn at a young age can create expectations that may be impossible for individuals to achieve, increasing the gap between what is perceived to be beautiful and a woman’s view of self (6). Thus, women may also be judgmental of themselves, feeling critical of their appearance or behavior based on these characteristics.
This self-dissatisfaction may also lead to a negative view of those the women perceive to be closer to their constructed ideal, seeking to identify “flaws” that self-doubting women based on their insecurities. Quite possibly, the anxiety dependent on personal image becomes a foundation for rude behavior toward women who fit the stereotype existing in the person’s mind. The enforcement of societal standards in some cultures may further exacerbate this alienation, encouraging negative comments from all women, affecting either their self-esteem or the need to be acknowledged (Liss and Erchull 6).
Personal problems and issues may also serve as reasons for women’s judgmental behavior. Meyers and Gilbert, for example, described the sort of woman, herself infertile, who tends to criticize other women’s parenting skills. This discrepancy between the woman’s desire and ability may undermine her self-confidence, creating a state of insecurity that drives her to employ criticism as a self-defense mechanism. Even though other people’s parenting methods are suitable and even optimal, the woman’s lack, whether due to bitterness at her inability or limited experience with children, may contribute to her attitude and affect her perception of other families, resulting in a negative view of other parents being inadequate.
This defense mechanism may also manifest in women who are under pressure to perform a certain way or fulfill particular obligations. For example, women who do not want to be mothers but are continuously told that motherhood is essential to female happiness may start to view other women who want children as lacking ambition and autonomy over their choices.
On a related note, women who chose to stay at home to care for their children may view working mothers as unloving or cold based on the assumption that they do not spend enough time with their family. Both sides may develop negative views based on their opinions about parenting and their supposed obligations to society and other people. This argument also presents a reason for women seeming judgmental of other women in voicing opinions that were directly influenced by their learned behavior.
Some of the presented examples that have been considered as part of this discussion may also illustrate why women criticize themselves. As mentioned above, the perception of body image can become a primary reason that a woman might fall victim to self-doubt and even shame. However, the imposed stereotypes and standards connected to culturally and societally established obligations and functions can also result in women developing negative opinions.
To overcome these issues, some scholars suggest using self-compassion and self-love as opposed to self-criticism. Albertson et al. mention that this solution—seeking to perceive self-image in a favorable light—may be a practical approach for women to follow to overcome personal constraints and insecurities (445). However, it is not clear if practicing self-compassion and self-love alone can hold sufficient power for women to readily embrace new behaviors. Other yet-to-be-identified factors may play a part in this process.
The possibility that women are more judgmental than men has been observed in different spheres of life. Speculation abounds as to possible causes. Opinions point to various sources of influence, including family, friends, and media. It is possible to identify similarities among these, especially the fact that many foundations of criticism are attributed to stereotypes and learned behavior. However, the complexity of this question does not lend itself to a simple solution to the problem or reveal a specific single reason that can be addressed to solve the issue.
Albertson, Ellen R., et al. “Self-Compassion and Body Dissatisfaction in Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Brief Meditation Intervention.” Mindfulness, vol. 6, no. 3, 2015, pp. 444-454.
Liss, Miriam, and Mindy J. Erchull. “Not Hating What You See: Self-Compassion May Protect Against Negative Mental Health Variables Connected to Self-Objectification in College Women.” Body Image, vol. 14, 2015, pp. 5-12.
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Meyers, Seth, and Katie Gilbert. “Women Who Hate Other Women: The Psychological Root of Snarky.” Psychology Today. 2013. Web.