Ninja Stars in Girl World

My group of girlfriends and I at my annual Christmas Party.
My group of girlfriends and I at my annual Christmas Party.

I was emailing back and forth to my beautiful editor, M.L. Scarbrough, one day (like most days) and she was telling me about the fitness group she’d initiated with her coworkers. I started to type my response “I love your little fitness group,” and as soon as I typed the sentence thought, “That’s kind of rude.”

I didn’t mean it in a derogatory way and in fact did admire what she was doing for the women at her office, but for some reason on that day I realized how condescending that sounded. “I love your little fitness group,” like, “Don’t get a big head, you’re teaching squats not curing cancer.”

Then I realized not only did I hear women say things like that all the time but was guilty of doing it myself. These passive aggressive digs we say to other women that no one ever calls us out for.

Let’s be honest, women have it hard. Constantly being compared to the male gender and trying to fight for equality in every arena. So why is it that instead of being each other’s strongest allies we subliminally disregard or demerit the efforts of other women with casual verbal attacks ?

What’s even more upsetting is that we do it unintentionally and subconsciously, but the effects are very real. Has the media and American culture made us so competitive and insecure that we feel like we have to keep other women down or “in their place” to make ourselves feel better and be better by comparison? Does insulting other women, no matter how subtle the dig, really solidify our spot in the limited quantity of women that are allowed to ‘make it’?

Are we all just politicians promoting ourselves and running smear campaigns on each other in order to thrive? Does it really have to be her or me? Can’t we both have it all? How about instead of fighting each other for the limited amount of respect we get from both our male counterparts and society we give each other that respect. Help each other rise up and accomplish more.

I stopped and thought about it. I took a few days to kind of study my interactions with other women to see what other subliminal ninja stars we were mentally throwing at each other’s self-esteem and self-worth.

I had a friend who was getting ready to go on a date with a guy she’d met the week before at a bar, went home with and had consensual sex. She was talking about what she was going to wear and telling me she felt nervous and I sarcastically said, “He’s been inside you… the time to be nervous has passed.” I didn’t mean it in a mean way. I was just making a joke, but was I judging her? Did that ninja star make her self-conscious about the choices she was entitled to make about her own body?

When I first started All The Things I Do I was very nervous about sharing it with the world… well not the entire world, but my own world. I was waiting for the grammar Nazis and conservatives to point out every missing comma or let me know they didn’t appreciate me talking about menstruation products on their mini-feed. I was so worried that the people who should be my biggest supporters would reject and insult me. (Luckily the support and growth has been overwhelming and amazing).

There were times I would post about something I was proud of online or send a text expressing joy and getting corrections would just be upsetting. I know I’m not perfect and as a writer I know criticism is a necessary evil, but it felt like personal attacks. The corrections never came in the form of, “I’m going to pull you aside and tell you this because…”, or “maybe you didn’t know or didn’t notice…” Instead they would be soiled in negative undertone. Laughing at my expense for the most forgivable offense: human error.  I didn’t need a thread between my friends insulting me for using the wrong tense of “there” on Facebook. I’ve since realized that this “haha you made a mistake” way of sharing criticism was their own sub-conscious way of gaining validation that they are smarter or wittier.

So to a point, I couldn’t be too upset with them but more at the system that made us this way.

When you show someone something you’ve been working on and pouring your heart into and it’s met with criticism or casual neglect it’s disheartening, especially when you consider that person to be someone you trust.

I remember sharing My Month Without Facebook with the guy I’m seeing (before launching the site). I was so nervous and ready for ridicule (not because he’s an insulting person, but I’m so mentally programed to expect the worst criticism). What I got instead was the nicest most supportive email I could of hoped for with one criticism, “Not to be a dick, but in this one section I think you left a word out.” It was supportive and helpful.

These are the messages we should send each other. Yeah, it’s nice to be the funny person but not if it means being a bully to your loved ones. We should try to help our loved ones grow. The conversations should be: “I love you. I want you to do your best and be the best you can be. This information might help improve what you’re doing.” You don’t have to say that but your phrases should have that undertone instead of “Wow you’re dumb, I’m smarter… this is how it should be”.

Another thing we do is speak without thinking about the situation. I remember my freshman year of college when times were hard (the struggle was real), I was supporting myself with minimal help from my parents, taking classes, working and participating in sorority events.

I remember for one event we had to wear red heels… I did not have red heels. I had 2 pairs of heels I rocked in rotation…black and brown.

Unfortunately for me the joy of having 40 sisters didn’t help since I wear a size ten. I couldn’t just borrow a pair. I ended up grabbing a pair at Walmart for $12 that I planned to return afterwards. Before the event I went to put on my “Walmart special” shoes and two of the girls started openly mocking my “grandma heels”. I snapped, “Way to make fun of the poor girl.”

It didn’t hurt my feelings that they said the shoes were ugly because I knew they weren’t Louis Vuitton or super sexy shoes, but they said red and it was what I could afford and find or such short notice. My feelings were hurt because I was doing the best I could and the girls commenting on it knew that. They weren’t trying to be malicious, but it was frustrating enough that I still remember it eight years later.

We should all make an effort to be conscious of the context surrounding our commentary. Are you simply attacking an ugly pair of shoes, or the drive of a struggling student who feels like it’s never enough?

I’m sure some of you are reading this like, “Grow a pair” or “Learn how to take a joke” and that’s your right, but maybe just take a second to think…. Have you been hit with or thrown any emotional ninja stars at anyone?

I’m not some person who can’t take a joke, in fact my taste in humor tends to be crude and slightly offensive, but I’m just asking to examine the fine lines between helpful and hurtful, funny and cruel.

When we take these “little” digs at each other, we’re not only breaking the bond of sisterhood all women share, we are giving men the permission to think of us as less than equals and judge us harshly.

What are some death stars you’re guilty of throwing at your friends? What are some passive aggressive things you’ve heard them say to you?

Edited by M.L. Scarborough


  1. Jenny

    Great thoughts thanks for sharing.

  2. Danielle

    This is great! I think everyone so take these things into account at all times. I majored in biology and it was really hard and a well earned degree but shamefully I used to pin my nose up at other majors. I would say well if you can’t take organic chemistry and perform the same way in your business major or performing arts then your gpa shouldn’t count more than mine. I know now that now and I know I made someone feel bad about it once and I never have since. I know that they work just as hard it’s just still something I struggle with.

  3. Victoria

    I think my friends all through around passive aggressive digs about our jobs. We’re all supportive of one and another, but I think at the same time everyone does wanna be the one with the best “opportunity” after grad.

  4. Dia

    Thanks for stopping by Victoria. It’s true we want to feel a little more accomplished but I just want to be careful about how I say things

  5. Dia

    Such a great example. Everyone has different struggles and you really can’t compare.

  6. Amanda Butler

    You are so right! We do this all the time without even realizing it. Thanks for the reminder to think about what I’m saying and how it will come off!

  7. Dia

    Right enough people are negative towards each other we should lift our friends up.

  8. Cori

    I have never understood why people feel the needs to compare and then be passive-aggressive if how you’re living your life doesn’t like up with how they think you should be living. At the end of the day, we’re all doing the best with what we have. Everyone has different demands on them, some not visible to others.

  9. Dia

    Thats why it’s so important to think before we speak, or type when talking to others, at the end of the day bringing someone else down doesn’t bring you up.

  10. Lesile Rossi

    i catch myself doing this too once in a while and then feel really guilty!

  11. Dia

    At least you catch it and can correct it. 🙂

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