Carol, 29, is only ever happy in the company of men. She works exclusively with men, enjoys nights out with her 30-year-old husband Jeff and his male business friends and, at dinner parties, ensures she sits next to a man.
It’s not that Carol is an outrageous flirt – she simply prefers what she calls ‘intelligent conversation’ with men. Carol, who’s strongly biased against her own sex, is best described as a ‘man’s woman’.
When she does encounter women in her world or social life, there’s inevitable friction. “I try not to be bitchy but sometimes I can’t help myself,” Carol admits. “I’ve even had a screaming match with a girlfriend because I thought she was trying to steal my husband. I just don’t trust women. Men are much more honest and easier to manipulate.”
Carol’s mistrust of women stems from her childhood. Adopted as a baby, she grew up in the shadow of a dominating older sister who was her adoptive parents’ only child.
“Until 18, she didn’t consider me worth talking to,” Carol says. “She’d just say ‘clear off’, making me feel unwanted. I tried to be like her but just ended up feeling rejected.”
London counsellor Cathy Itzin understands Carol’s feelings. “I was once like that. Now I realise women are forced to compete with each other for men’s attention, often making it quite impossible to understand each other. I used to love getting together with a group of men over coffee and talking about who had fat legs or wore too much make-up,” she says. “Finally, I decided to trust women and make real friendships. It’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve done.”
Alison, a 22-year-old insurance clerk, centres her entire life around men. Although she has a boyfriend, she spends hours making herself attractive for the benefit of male colleagues and treats women as intruders in both professional and social situations.
“I suppose I have this need to feel sought after by every man,” she admits. “If another woman seems to infringe upon this, I’m jealous. I realise I’m being unreasonable in trying to exclude women, but I just can’t help it.”
Dr Helen Haste, senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Bath, says women like Alison are not uncommon,
“Traditionally women have been conditioned to define their self-esteem based on how much or how little men find them attractive,” she explains. “If they are brought up to believe that their social and economic success depends entirely on how men value them, they will very likely treat other women as competitors.”
Viv, a 25-year-old divorcee, who works as a secretary in London, never realised how completely she’d excluded women from her life until her marriage broke up two years ago. “I had no one of my own sex to turn to and wished I’d worked harder at friendships with women.”
Viv admits that she always felt she had very little in common with other women. “I used to think women were stupid and dull. I’m not particularly feminine and talk about clothes or TV programmes bores me. It’s taken me all this time to understand that there are other women like me.”
Psychotherapist Susie Orbach examines relationships between women in her book Bittersweet.
“It’s healthy for women to have good relationships with men,” she says. “But Viv clearly has difficulty in accepting her femininity. This, in turn, makes her feel bad about other women. If women don’t value themselves, it’s impossible for them to value other women.”
According to Susie, this lack of respect and trust goes back to women’s relationships with their mothers. “The early mother-child relationship is particularly important for girls because, being the same sex as their mothers, they identify with them more closely,” she says. “Women’s relationships often get difficult because of that sameness, making them less tolerant of their own sex.”