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Women can be bullies


Women can be bullies

Jane Stephens says bullying and abusive behaviour isn’t always perpetrated by men – women need to be called out.

Abuse is abuse and harassment is harassment no matter the gender of the perpetrator. There is a lot being said about bullying, harassment and violence, both emotional and physical, and usually the narrative assigns the villain role to men.

And while the stats show men are more likely to be the perpetrators, the true picture is not singular.

It’s time we talked more openly about women who bully and abuse and included them in discussions about men who do the same.

Recently retired Matildas great Lisa De Vanna, Australia’s second most prolific goal scorer, has claimed she was subjected to sexual harassment, indecent assault, grooming and bullying from senior players throughout her career.

De Vanna told media she had seen cultural problems at all levels during her 20-year career and there was a paucity of consequences and accountability.

She has yet to make a formal complaint, but football authorities have already said they want a full and frank assessment of the state of play in women’s footy.

The problem is international. Allegations have been made of abusive behaviour in the National Women’s Soccer League in the US. And no one presumes such girl-on-girl bullying is confined to soccer.

De Vanna is right. She wrote on social media: “Women protecting women who abuse women. Players protecting senior players who abuse younger players. Organisations protecting ‘coaches/players’ who abuse players. Abuse is abuse. Poor behaviour is poor across all boards!”

When it is women delivering the vile behaviour, it is too often talked about in low voices. Traditionally, women are not the baddies and unacceptable, anti-social behaviour is a male trait.

And in civil society it is not said very often, but women know that our biggest critics are often other women.

Women are more likely now than in other generations to berate, belittle and besmirch each other, perhaps emboldened by two generations of being told anything blokes can do, they can do better.

But bold and confident should never be confused with bullish and corrosive. Let’s shine a light on ways to do and be better towards each other, regardless of gender.


Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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