Who Me, Judge? Never. I’m a Lady.

I recently finished reading Friendship: An Expose, by Joseph Epstein. The book is billed as an “anatomy of friendship in its contemporary guises,” which I think is a description that sometimes holds up. Other times though, I found myself wondering “Is he serious? What world does he live in?” But then I realized, he lives in a 67-year-old professor’s world. That is to say, a world entirely different than my own.

There’s so much in this book I want to cover, but one passage I need to discuss now. It’s from the chapter that made my highlighter run out, about women and friendship. If I watched Lost, I’d say reading it made me feel like I was in Sideways World, but I still don’t entirely know what that means. Something about purgatory? Let me rephrase. Reading it made me feel like I was in bizarro world. (How wonderful that so many TV shows present us with alternate realities.)

Epstein writes, “According to the received opinion of the day, women are better at friendship than are men.  … This is so—again, I’m reporting received opinion—because they are less competitive, which means less rivalrous, than men. They are also more easily given to intimacy and are thought to rush less quickly to judgment, which can put a terrible crimp in friendship.”

Obviously Epstein has never been a teenage girl.

Honestly, there’s a part of me that wants to hug the author. To say, “I can’t believe we have you fooled. Less competitive! Less judgmental! You are a good good man.”

I think most of his statement is pure crazytalk. Women aren’t less competitive than men, we’re just less obvious about it. Men compete in straightforward ways—on the basketball court, in political races—where women, and I’m generalizing here, foster under-the-surface rivalries. We smile and sing Kumbaya while silently comparing our lots in life—looks, clothes, families, smarts. And in my experience with judgment—both being judged and doing some judging of my own—it’s women who commit the brunt of it. At least, that’s what I get from the conversations with my husband when I say “she’s nice but not really my type” based solely on something as superficial as her shoes or the book in her hand. I’d go so far as to say that it’s judgment above all else (both our fear of it and the way we instinctually judge others, like a bad tick) that makes it so hard to find new BFFs as adults.

Epstein’s quick to say that this is not fact but “received opinion.” Is it really? I’ve always thought prevailing wisdom was that women are impossibly hard on other women. That we’re all straight out of Mean Girls.

Maybe it’s a case of grass being greener. Everyone thinks the opposite sex has the easier time of it. Or maybe female friendship is cattier among young women than it is for Epstein’s generation.

Were you as shocked as I when you read Epstein’s quote? Who do you think is more competitive and judgmental? Are women truly “better” at friendship?  What does that even mean? And why do you think he has such a different read on the lady BFFs than I do?


Filed under The Search

31 responses to “Who Me, Judge? Never. I’m a Lady.

  1. Ha. Silly man. 😉 I totally agree with you.

    Have you read the Female Brain? That might give you some fodder for your work. I just got it from my mother-in-law this weekend….

  2. Have a problem with a friend? I’ve always said that women let things brew under the surface. They gossip about one another. Judge. And are overall catty about most situations.

    Men, on the other hand, they put their beers down, go outside, have a good, old fashioned fist fight, shake it off, go back inside and continue drinking their beers, as if nothing ever happened.

    I think that’s why I sometimes have issues with my women friends. Because, I’m more like a man when it comes to issues. I want them out on the table immediately and resolved so we can move forward. Most of my women friends don’t respond well to that and we often wind up blowing things out of proportion.

    • I was just saying exactly this to my boyfriend the other day! I told him that I envied men because if they have an issue with one another, they just go beat the crap out of each other and then they’re done with it. Not that I’m advocating physical violence, but sometimes I think that’s preferable to this behind-the-back BS that women pull on one another.

      • Haha, I wrote my comment before reading everyone else’s. You’re both totally right. That’s way I’m having such problems with my roommates right now.

  3. I have to disagree with him as well. There is a lot of judgement between women, unfortunate as it may be. There is so much keeping up with the Jones’ betwen women. Plus I think we try to be mind readers, for example ‘she hasn’t called me in a month because (insert silly reason here)’. This often leads to negative feelings or wrong assumptions.

    On the flip side, I think women invest more energy and thought to their friendships, which may be a factor in why he deduces that women are better friends…


  4. Megan

    Why does he have such a different read? Because he’s never had to BE a lady and try to make friends with one. Which is to say, I think that quote is a load of crap. It’s simply not true to my own experience – or any other woman I know, for that matter. And “experience” SHOULD speak louder than “received opinion”…whatever THAT even means. :-).

    • I totally agree with you. Friendship has such a different meaning to different people (i.e. me versus Epstein). Neither are necessarily wrong, but it’s so much about experience. You can only really know about friendship when you’ve lived it, right?

  5. I’m so with you on this one. We may be slightly better at intimacy, but we are WAY more judgmental. I also think we’re less forgiving. Cross us and we’ll cross you off the list much more easily. So overall, I’m not so sure we are better at friendship. Intimacy and friendship are different things. We hope they come together and I think women may fall into both more easily. But I think it may not always be true intimacy right away. We’ll cry together and share certain things about our lives… but sharing those parts of ourselves that the other person might not like or agree with (true intimacy) takes awhile. Once we share past the fear of judging, then real friendship begins. My best friendships are those that have weathered many opportunities for “judgment” and stuck with me anyway.

  6. Lisa Z

    I have observed that both sexes compare ourselves to each others’ friends, although the focus (clothes, career, hotness of spouse) may be different for each person. I don’t have a hypothesis on whether both sexes are equally judgemental or not, but I do suspect that if I was a man, I would be just as judgemental as I am as a woman.

  7. When I first started reading your blog, I thought, “how is she going to sustain a blog on friendship posts alone?” Yet you manage to not only do it, but do it so brilliantly….Anyway, I’m with you- I disagree with Epstein. However, I don’t think it’s because we are the ‘meaner’ sex per se (btw- LOVE the Mean Girls mention). Rather, I think that what makes us great also destroys us to some degree. We are more verbal, emotional, better wired for relationships, and, I think, less conflicted overall. Yet in too high of a dose these same attributes can be problematic. Hence, the ugly female rivalries…and every incarnation of the Real Housewives franchise. It’s like Chris Rock once said,” Women would rule the world – if only they’d stop bitching about each other”.

    Also, one of the earlier commenters got we thinking about something else- the women who claim they can never be friends with women. I always find such claims interesting and would love to hear your take on them.

    • Thanks Lisa! I love that Chris Rock quote. And I totally agree with you on the “I can never be friends with women” claim… definitely fodder for a future post!

  8. I completely disagree with the author. Like you said, women are just more subtlety competitive… And we are way more critical of each other than men are of each other. This author is clearly pretty out of touch with reality!

  9. Karen A.

    I think Mr. Epstein is wrong, but I don’t think it has anything to do with age, it seems that all generations have him fooled.

  10. Michele

    Haha! Oh no, women are totally competitive!

    I do think women tend to form stronger, deeper bonds than men and the relationships require more maintenance because of it. Men can see each other once a year and it doesn’t effect the relationship at all!

  11. Add me to the chorus of those vehemently disagreeing with this guy. In his defense, I think that men really do not see or understand all the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on in women’s friendships.

    I know my boyfriend doesn’t really get why I spend longer getting ready for a potential-friend-date than for a date with him. I’ve explained to him that it’s because he accepts me as I am, but the woman I’m meeting up with is going to judge me on my shoes, hair, purse, etc.! And of course he thinks I’m ridiculous because men don’t do that.

    I’ll know I’ve found my BFF when I can truly be myself and not worry about what they think of me because my shoes cost 20 bucks at Payless and my purse doesn’t have a designer label!

    • Ana

      Darlene, I would judge you for the $20 Payless shoes—I would think you were AWESOME! I love a bargain hunter, my friends and I try to top each other with how cheap our cute clothes can get!

  12. Ana

    I did a double-take at that quote. Bizarro world indeed! My husband likes pretty much everyone and can forgive almost anything. I am much more picky, much more easily irritated by people, and MUCH more likely to hold a grudge; my friends’ tell me their husbands are often similar.
    And let me tell you, you don’t know judgement and competition until you see two moms get together. Its truly frightening, and one of the major reasons I’ve been keeping to myself, or with my older or single/child-free friends these days.
    As far as I know, dads are not like that.

    I do hold out hope, though, that he isn’t completely insane, but that women mellow out as they age, and we can look forward to judgement & competition-free female friendships in our golden years.

    • Ana — I just read today that they are coming out with a new movie “Mean Moms” based on a book by Rosalind Wideman, the same author who wrote the book that Mean Girls was based on. You are so timely with this comment!

  13. Oh my God, I completely agree with you!! I’ve held the belief for quite a few years now that women are just as, if not MORE, competitive than men…but not “according to society” (read: gender stereotypes). So our competitiveness gets manifested in different, much more sinister ways. Have you ever noticed, when guys who are friends get in a fight, they yell and slug it out, and the next day, it’s like nothing happened? But women may never really confront each other, hold grudges, and stay bitter for YEARS on end.

    On another note, competing/judging may be what bonds women, in a twisted way. If you find someone who agrees with your judgments of others, maybe you’ve found a BFF match? Just a thought…

    • This is so true. I once wrote about how women bond over common enemies. It’s similar with judgment… If you and I both make the same snarky comment, I’ll think we’re soul mates…

  14. Heather

    Yes, I definitely agree that women are more judgemental than men, and they’re more judgemental about things that don’t matter. Why are we like that?

  15. I love this, mostly because it’s so disturbing. I WANT to believe women are less judgmental, don’t you? That’s a much nicer picture than reality.

    On the other hand, I do have female friendships I believe are about as snark-free as any human connection can be. When I’m with these women, I feel bold and brilliant rather than diminished, and we don’t bond over resentment or mean gossip. There are other friendships, though, more representative of the comments above.

    Now that I think about it, I wonder if those friendships are truly worth sustaining. Does anyone like who they are when they’re around women who belittle and compete? Is there a point at which you simply walk away and find more encouraging pals? Or is some degree of negativity just good ‘ol human nature?

    • Julie, I think you’ve hit it on the head. Once two females form that serious bond, we are there for each other no matter what (hopefully). But I think judgment and competition are what make it hard to actually form the new friendships in the first place. Once you’re over the hump though, the dream is for the nastiness to go away…

  16. JenD

    I wonder where this guy received his opinions from! That quote made no sense at all, as most men with functioning eyes/ears/pulse would agree. I’m curious if it would somehow (and I’m being generous here) make better sense to me in the context of the rest of the chapter but something tells me this guy has zero acquaintance with the obvious. I mean, hello, look at how WE’RE judging him! Wow. And someone published that crap?

  17. Eva

    “Pure crazytalk.” Yep.

    However, I will second Julie’s comment. I think there are maybe two types of female friendships. The tentative, surface friendship – where we are judgmental and critical and competitive. And then the deep, lasting, true friendships – the ones that have made it through the above phase and survived. The friends you actually trust and confide in. These are few and far between, but as valuable as gold.

  18. I’m sorry, I can’t comment yet because I’m too busy trying to come up with a way to agree with Epstein, just to be different…. thinking, thinking, thinking…. uh…..

  19. Pingback: Awkward moment: The big team meeting « Mel's Work in Progress

  20. Christina

    I think you all misinterpreted Epstein’s remarks….

    His remark was “according to the received opinion of the day” was nothing more than Epstein stating how others perceive the nature of female friendship…. not necessarily his own opinions.

    I say this because in the same chapter where he stated the above, he also writes:

    “The most widely accepted received opinion on this subject is that intimacy is easier for women than it is for men, and that this is particularly so among small groups of women. Yet one wonders if this really true.”


    Anywho… I agree with others, I greatly envy men’s ability to work differences out. I might be the first person commenting on this blog in saying this:

    But I actually prefer my male friends over my female friends, simply because my male friends are not emotional drama queens!!!

    In addition, as an introvert, I find my male friends to be more interesting, the conversations more lively and broad in subject matter.

    My female friends on the other hand spend too much time bitching, moaning ,and whining about the same old stuff… or talking about one or two topics… (e.g. designer purse, shoes or their latest romantic relationship) way too much to the point that it’s B-O-R-I-N-G!!!

    It would be interesting to know if others get (or have gotten) bored with their female friends.

    Am I the only one who feels this way???

    • JenD


      I do feel this way, which is why I’m currently at a loss for close female friends, save for one or two (the first one being on the other side of the country and the other being someone I’ve known forever but just can’t seem to go that close to because we don’t really have much in common after nearly 30 yrs of on/off friendship). I don’t have stereotypical female interests. I hate shopping and could give a fig newton about anyone’s purses, shoes, etc., unless it brings them utter joy, in which case, I’ll gladly celebrate their joy.

      I also have no interest, patience or tolerance for the fabricated drama or gossip. I think life’s hard enough in general, and relationships in particular, to have to deal with nonsense that has no real value and that I cannot learn anything from. Know what I mean?

      Maybe we should have coffee or a beer sometime, eh?

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