WEDNESDAY, June 17 — Q: I have a great circle of female friends, but one of “the group” has a way of making backhanded comments about my appearance that make me feel bad about myself. Her latest topic is my breasts and how much smaller they are than hers. Incredibly, she manages to work this into any conversation — exercising, fashion, shopping, camping. If I confronted her, I know she’d act as though she’s been paying me compliments. (“But you're SO lucky to have small boobs!”) How can I get her to stop?
A: Stopping her would be
easier if you two were guys: “I don’t like the way you’re talking about
my boobs, Marjorie. Let’s take this outside.”
But while men will
sock each other in the bar parking lot (and can sometimes go back in and
have a beer), women engage in what anthropologists call “covert
aggression” — attacks that are hard to pinpoint as attacks, like
gossip, social exclusion, and stabbing another woman in the self-worth.
(“Stabracadabra!” — you’re bleeding out, but nobody but you can tell!)
Anne Campbell, like others who study female competition, explains that
women seem to have evolved to avoid physical confrontation, which would
endanger their ability to have children or fulfill their role as an
infant’s principal caregiver. (Ancestral Daddy couldn’t exactly run up
to the store for baby formula.) So while guys will engage in put-down
fests as a normal part of guy-ness, even women’s verbal aggression is
usually sneaky and often comes Halloween-costumed as compliments or
concern: “Ooh, honey, do you need some Clearasil for those bumps on your
The tarted-up put-down is a form of psychological
manipulation — a sly way of making a woman feel bad about herself so
she’ll self-locate lower on the totem pole. And because men have
visually driven sexuality, women specialize in knocking other women
where it really hurts — their looks. Like those supposedly minuscule
boobs of yours. (Right…you’ll have a latte, and she’ll just have another
mug of your tears.)
The next time that she, say, turns a trip
to the mall into a riff -- “Har-har…Victoria's Secret is that they don't
carry your size!” — pull her aside. (In a group of women, conflict
resolution is most successful when it’s as covert as female aggression — as in, not recognizable as fighting back.) By not letting the others
hear, you remove the emotionally radioactive element of shaming. This
helps keep your defense from being perceived as an attack on her — yes,
making you the bad guy.
Simply tell her — calmly but firmly:
“These mentions of my boobs are not working for me. You need to stop.”
Be prepared for the antithesis of accountability — a response like
“Gawd…chill” or “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But she’ll
know exactly what you’re talking about, which is that you’ve just become
a poor choice of victim. She may float a remark or two to test your
resolve, so be prepared to repeat your warning — calmly but firmly —
until she starts acting like just one of the girls instead of yet
another breast man
Q: I’m a successful lawyer in my late 40s doing online dating. I’m active in the Republican Party and philanthropic causes, so I often go to benefit dinners, for which I typically buy two tickets in advance. I’ve asked two women I met online to come to these as a first date, but both canceled by text at the last minute. (The dinner yesterday was $1,000 a plate and for a political cause that means a lot to me.) Maybe I’m just attracting rude women, but I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m doing something wrong.
A: You can learn a lot about a woman on the first date — like that she still hasn’t worked out her drinking problem and that she doesn’t always like to wear panties. Ideally, you find these things out while seated across from her at Starbucks, and not after she climbs on the table at a benefit and starts doing some sort of fertility dance with the centerpiece.
Sure, it seems convenient when your need for a plus-one coincides with your desire to go on a first date with some online hottie. But you’re better off coming up with a list of attractive female friends you can take or even male friends who share your politics or just enjoy free meals enough to not challenge your tablemates to a duel over theirs. Not taking a woman you barely know is also an important business safeguard — so that when some conservative client of yours turns to your date and asks “So how do you two know each other?” he won’t hear something like, “We met in the ‘Republicans Who Like Hot Wax Play’ chat room on Christian Mingle.”
Advice Goddess Radio (“Best Of” replay): Dr. Beth Montemurro on how women develop the sexual confidence to have more satisfying sex.