They passed me quite slowly in the first aisle and I overheard what they were saying. I wasn’t going out of my way to eaves drop on them! They were just talking and it was quite close as we passed each other. They would have been in their 50s and they were talking about some other woman who obviously had small children.
Well! They were savaging her, they were tearing her to shreds. A full on character assassination it was. Firstly about how bitchy she could be. Which was a bit ironic as they were bitching about her bitchiness. Then when we crossed two aisles later they were still at her, about what a bad mother she was, how she never controlled her children, always let them run amok and so forth.
So I wondered about all that. What was all that about? Why did it happen?
I suppose one could see it as a display of anger or aggression. Of all the emotions, it would seem that anger is the one that it would most closely be aligned to. However it is the expression of aggression in a feminine way - that is verbally. I think one could say that the more masculine expression of aggression would be less verbal and more physical.
So one could say that bitching can be a form of feminized aggression. Thus explaining why women (and gay guys) tend to engage in it more than straight males do, or at least one could argue that.
However since musing on this topic I have had discussions with two female colleagues of mine. They came up with some ideas that as a male I had not understood or even considered. They said that for females sometimes bitching about someone allows for a connection to be made between the two discussants. To say such confidential thoughts and secrets to the other means that you are trusting them and taking the relationship to a deeper level sort of thing. A most interesting idea that as a male one does not tend to experience at all. In this way the psychology of bitching is about relationship formation and maintenance.
I would suggest that males are not so bitchy in these ways but males certainly can be competitive. Whilst that is about winning and beating the other it is not so much about putting the other person down or creating some sort of connection between two men.
There is one other point that I would like to mention. In the Transactional Analysis literature one comes across the concept of four life positions:
I’m OK, You’re OK - (I+U+)
I’m not OK, You’re OK - (I-U+)
I’m OK, You’re not OK - (I+U-)
I’m not OK, You’re not OK - (I-U-)
I have since developed the theory of life positions further and this can be found at Life Positions.
I think one could say that the bitch would be adopting the life position of
I’m OK, You’re not OK - (I+U-)
In the article I state that it is more accurate to conceptualise this life position as:
I’m not OK, but You’re worse (I-U--)
The person in this position does not feel OK about self (I’m not OK). They deal with this is by trying to prove to self that others are worse than them. If they can prove such a thing then they feel better about self. It would seem reasonable to hypothesise that at least for some, this is one of the psychological functions of bitching.
“If I can prove to myself that some one else is bad, not doing the right thing and so forth then I wont feel so bad about myself” is the thinking of the bitch.
Now this formulation provides for an interesting theoretical off shoot. This last psychological function of bitching could be seen as a defence mechanism as was conceived of by Freud. The goal of the defence mechanism is to fend off anxiety provoking threats to the person. The belief - I’m not OK - would be such an anxiety provoking threat that the person would seek to fend off using one of the defence mechanisms.
To my knowledge no such defence mechanism like bitching has been previously suggested. There is a defence mechanism called - self negation. In this case the person wards off anxiety by getting in first with self criticisms and derogatory remarks. This is done in the hope that others will refute such claims with comments like - “Oh you’re not silly at all”.
Bitching could be seen as a derivative of this. It is not self negation, but others negation. By negating others the focus of attention is taken off self and this fends off the anxiety about ones own self doubts. In addition by convincing self that others a very negative then one’s own negative characteristics are minimised. Again the anxiety provoking threat is fended off.
So perhaps we need to add to Freud’s list of defence mechanisms with - The bitch defence mechanism.