Educational Administration, Department of


Date of this Version


Document Type



Journal of Women in Educational Leadership, Vol. 8, No.4-October 2010


©2010 Pro>Active Publications


"There has been a lot of rhetoric on women mentoring other women. However, the so-called solidarity of women does not exist. Some women are engaged in competition and sabotage."—A high school principal

Relational aggression among women is alive and well among women in educational leadership. Women who assume leadership positions are sometimes targeted for acts of sabotage perpetrated by female peers and subordinates (Brock, 2008). A review of the literature supports the notion that relational aggression among women is commonplace in other career fields as well (Barash, S. 2006; Briles, 2003; Chesler, 2001; Funke, 2000; Heim & Murphy, 2001; Mooney, 2005; Tanenbaum 2002). Relational aggression occurs among both genders, however, it has been found to be more prevalent in female relationships than in males (Underwood, 2004). According to Maguire in his book, Wicked, (1995), "Cross a man and you struggle, one of you wins, you adjust and go on—or you lie there dead. Cross a woman and the universe is changed once again, for cold anger requires an eternal vigilance in all matters of slight and offense." Although the numnber of women who engage in relational aggresion is small the damage they inflict is great. Reputations are ruined; careers are derailed; victims suffer devastating and enduring emotional pain (Brock 2008). On a larger scale the perception of women's ability to lead and engage in productive teamwork is diminished. Gender slereotypes and corresponding inequities are unwittingly perpetuated. The intent of this paper is to raise awareness about the destructive phenomenon of women's retational aggression and encourage women leaders to be proactive in addressing the problem. A variety of terms are used to decribe acts of relational aggression including indirect aggression, covert bullying, horizontal violence, sabotage, and the queen bee syndrome. Although th terms have slight variation in meaning, all of them describe a cluster of behaviors, such as gossip, rumors, betrayal, exclusion, and other forms of humiliation that are intended to damage reputation and/or block the social or career advancement of others. For the purpose of this paper, the term relational aggression, a term first coined in a 1995 study by Crick and Grotpeter, will be used.