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7 Things Every Woman Needs to Know About "Other Women"

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DIVERSE WOMEN
JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images

by Shirley Osborne

Here are some important facts about a vital and natural bond that too often gets needlessly broken.

1. Other women do like you.

Did you know that women are nearly five times more likely to show an automatic preference for their own gender than men are to show such favoritism for other men? A study conducted by psychologists Laurie A. Rudman, PhD, of Rutgers, and Stephanie A. Goodwin, PhD, of Purdue, found that both male and female participants associated positive words such as good, happy and sunshine with women more often than with men. [1]

2. Other women want to be friends with you.

Other women know that, as Anna Breslaw writes in Cosmopolitan:

that whole "supporting each other and sticking up for your own kind" thing -- you know, just being a cool, girl-friendly girl on a basic level -- is awesome. Getting a tight-knit group of female friends is the smartest thing I've ever done in my adult life and I'd be lost without them. In a group of girls, you don't feel the social element of "tokenism" and you don't have to whip out the artifice and posturing that many women feel they need around men.

3. Other women are not envious of you.

Lynn Margolies, PhD at PscychCentral.com, finds it "curious" that women have a reputation for being "catty" and competitive with other women. Women learn that they are not supposed to be competitive and win at the expense of others, so their natural competitive spirit cannot be shared openly, happily or even jokingly with other women. Often, then, what could have been healthy competition becomes a secret feeling of envy and desire for the other woman's failure -- laced with guilt and shame. Thus, concludes Margolies, often, what looks like hostile competition between women may, instead, be women masking feelings of insecurity, fear of success, and healthy aggression.

4. Other women want to help you.

"You see a lot of companies where the women who are making it are doing everything they can to help the other women," says Christine Silva, lead researcher on a survey from Catalyst, a non-profit that focuses on women in the workplace.

The research also refutes the oft-repeated "queen bee" myth, that women don't help other women. In fact, women sponsor women at a greater rate than men do (70% compared to 30%).
Women are not looking at their female subordinates as competition to be cut down, but view less-experienced female coworkers as potential talent and are actually more likely than men to develop that talent through mentorship.

5. Other women can help you make lots of money.

Hedge funds run by women tend to outperform other hedge funds.
A 2013 report by Rothstein-Kass indicated that between January 2012 and September 2012, an index of 67 hedge funds owned or managed by women had returns of 8.95% -- significantly more than the 2.69% return generated by an index "designed to be representative of the overall composition of the hedge fund universe."

A 2011 Catalyst report found that over the course of five years, companies with women on their boards had average returns on equity of 15.3% compared to 10.5% for those without.

6. Other women are good for your health.

A landmark UCLA study suggests that women possess a larger behavioral repertoire for responding to stress than merely "fight or flight." Laura Cousin Klein, Ph.D., one of the study's authors, thinks that when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead. While she is engaging in this tending or befriending, more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect.

7. Other women might help you live longer.

This "tend and befriend" notion noted by Drs. Klein and her colleagues might explain why women consistently outlive men. Women are "a source of strength to each other," explains Dr. Ruthellen Josselson, co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls' and Women's Friendships. "We nurture one another. And we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when they're with other women. It's a very healing experience."

And then, there's this: There really is no such thing as "other women."

Seriously. Verdad! Ja! We express ourselves differently, have hugely diverse talents and preferences, look very unalike and speak any number of unrelated languages, but, "Women are women, all over the world. Everywhere, we face the same challenges," said the participants of the Gender Mainstreaming and Female Leadership course at a Hague Academy conference in The Netherlands.

Jezebel.com -- and my grandmother -- advise, "Don't tear other women down because even if they're not your friends, they are other women and well, this is just important."

[1] October issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 87, No. 4)