I’ve gotten many emails over the years asking about the differences between men and women with disturbances of character and who manipulate. And very recently I received an inquiry from someone who had read some of my articles and wondered if I thought only men could be covertly aggressive. Let me be clear: women are just as capable as men of manipulation and the other kinds of problematic behaviors I’ve written about in my blog posts and books In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance. I also have an archive full of stories about manipulative girlfriends, ex-wives, etc. and two whole chapters in In Sheep’s Clothing that describe covertly-aggressive females. Generally speaking, there’s little difference between manipulative men and women. Both use the same tactics (although women might tend to prefer certain tactics over others) and both engage in covertly aggressive behaviors for the same reason: to get what they want while not overtly exposing their agenda.
My experience has been that on the neurotic vs. disturbed character spectrum, female manipulators tend to be slightly more neurotic than their male counterparts. And they are more often motivated to employ covert strategies because they either have little experience with or haven’t had much success with more direct, assertive approaches, while men who prefer covert-aggression do so simply because they’ve found it effective. Women who manipulate are also more likely to have other co-existing personality characteristics. Still, it would be wrong to conclude that manipulative men and women are all that different from one another.
Gender bias can often color our judgment when it comes to correctly perceiving someone’s character. So, when it comes to judging manipulative behavior, best to simply look for the tactics a person uses and how often they use them. That’s the most reliable way to tell the kind of person with whom you’re dealing.