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April 29, 2008

Why Women Lie

Why Women Lie

By Sarah

Apparently, real women lie. Not real women like Harley, who, as she explained yesterday, lives a lie by Apple_pie keeping a meticulous, apple-pie-smelling house. I'm talking about about serious stuff such as extra marital affairs and money and whether or not his bald spot is growing. (It is.)

Now a book by Susan Shapiro Barash called "Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets: The Truth About Why Women Lie," claims women lie much more than we know. To prove this, Barash interviewed 500 women who answered her Craigslist (Craigslist??) ad and this is what her questionable Cash research found - that 60% cheated on their husbands, 75% lied about money as in how much they made and how much they spent (well, duh) and a whopping half lied about their feelings of motherhood. For example, getting up three times a night to breast feed or tuck in a crying toddler or soothe a nervous teenager might not be as blissful as they claim to the playgroup.

Okay, I admit women lie and for that I say, thank heavens. I write chick lit, women's lit, whatever, and two of my stories - The Cinderella Pact and The Sleeping Beauty Proposal - are predicated on the protagonists' lies. It's no accident they've done well sales wise, I suppose, since women love to read Twolovers about themselves. And look at soap operas. Some woman's always lying about the paternity of her darling new baby or whether she bludgeoned David Hamilton to death with a statue of Two Lovers. Women lie like carpet in fiction, hearkening back to Grimm's Fairytales (Rumplestiltskin) and Hansel and Gretel (it's Gretel who convinces Hansel to stick out the chicken bone instead of his arm.)

Which brings me to one reason why women lie - survival. I think this is Barash's premise, too, in part, but since this is my blog, not hers, I'm going with it. As girls, there's so much more pressure on us to be good. Boys can get into minor mischief, break a few windows and, when they reach adolescence, experiment with sex without suffering the condemnation of society. Whereas girls, of course, are still stigmatized for sleeping around. Hey, no one's paying them to lose their virginity by their eighteenth birthday and in some cultures it could spell their execution.

So perhaps that's why women are practiced at lying and why they resort to it when they get older and their problems surmount. As a reporter, I covered a number of cases - a surprising number, actually - ofTennis_bracelets  women caught embezzling. Trust me, these were not women zipping around in fancy cars with fabulous wardrobes and diamond tennis bracelets. These were women trying to make ends meet.

The New York Times has reported that between 1993 and 2002, the number of women embezzling increased by 83%. Unreal. Sometimes gambling is to blame. (Porn. Gambling. Why is it that vices are the first edge of new technology?) Sometimes outrageous medical bills - but that's for another blog.

The women I wrote about were secretaries, bookkeepers and town clerks. They embezzled very little on the grand scheme - it was, after all, Vermont - but enough to get them a felony conviction and even time in the slammer. In almost all the cases, they intended to pay the money back and they stole because they needed to pay family bills. That, to me, sums up female lying at its most desperate core.

Women also lie to escape the wrath of their husbands who might hit the roof when they rip open the Visamastercard credit card bills. They lie to paint a more perfect image of themselves to their children. (The evolution, I suppose, of when they lied to paint a more perfect image of themselves to their parents.) And sometimes women lie because, what the hell. It's more convenient than telling the truth.

The bottom line is women lie because they lack power. And, like Brer Rabbit outsmarting the fox, they need to find the upper hand, even if that means sneaking around the back and getting a lift up.

Okay...so what have you lied about? (FYI, email addresses won't be posted and names can be aliases.)



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Maybe women lie because they don't have power, but women also lie for the same reasons that men do, whatever those reasons might be. Wait. Doesn't that mean that women lie more than men? Damn! I never thought of that before. I need to join some of those MRA groups.

I agree that Craigslist is probably not the most reliable source. She could have at least verified through Wikipedia. She could have written the Wikipedia entry first, then cited to it.

Hmmmm. Interesting blog, Sarah. I don't know if this falls under "explanation", but in my experience, both personal and professional, people will lie even when the truth will get them out of serious trouble. I've read a lot of "scholarly studies" on this, and theories range from ego to manipulation to psychopathy, but no one has a clear cut explanation.

What amuses me in a cynical way is when people are CAUGHT lying.... whoa. Look out. Catch someone in a lie, and call them on it, and they go nuts. Everything from "How DARE you question MY honesty and integrity" to (on one occasion) a very serious and sincere attempt to separate my skull from the rest of my body. (I'll say it here and now; PLAY MISTY FOR ME is *NOT* a Training Film.)

Personal policy: as soon as someone starts telling me how honest-ethical-straight up they are, I start looking for the Exit Sign.

I don't remember a lot from my long-ago Research Methods class, but I do know that a self-selected sample can rarely be considered representative, simply because the participants are folks who had some motivation to participate. Obviously it depends how she worded the ad, but the only people who are going to answer it are those who already have an interest in the subject. So right away, all your data is skewed.

As for why women lie - dang. Probably just because we're human. Fear is a big motivator, even among the powerful. And there are those who lie just because they find it fun to manipulate others. But I think fear is the bigger factor.

Sometimes I tell little white lies to protect someone else's feelings. For example, when a friend asks, "Does this dress make my butt look big?" and I know she's spent more for it than she wanted to and has to wear it in three hours, I'm not going to tell her it makes her butt look as broad as the backside of a barn. Why undermine her confidence? Or if a casual acquaintance wants to become better friends and I don't want to but I don't want to hurt her feelings, I'm going resist her overtures as kindly as I can. It just seems kinder to me to invent a previous commitment than to say truthfully that I'd rather have a root canal than spend time in her company.

I also lie by not telling the whole truth. For example, if someone asks me if I spent a hundred bucks at the bookstore, I might say yes. What I probably won't say is that I actually spent $241. I did, after all, spend a hundred bucks. Or if someone asks if I bought my cute new T-shirt locally, I might say yes. That person doesn't need to know I got it at the used-but-nice thrift store rather than at the ritzy department store.

Other things I'm apt to lie about are whether or not I've heard hurtful gossip about the questioner, whether or not I think the questioner is being unreasonable in an argument with his/her significant other, whether or not I think his/her kid is a brat. (I believe that people who have rotten kids deserve them, assuming, of course, that there are no medical issues involved.)

So, lie? You betcha!

See, Janis has it right. Sarah, responses would have been more fun if you asked us what we lie about.

Okay...I'll change the tag line.

Sorry Typepad is so slow this morning!

Of course all those women responding to the Craigslist ad were cheating on their husbands. Why else were they on Craigslist?

Great blog. I agree that people lie a lot.
When I was a prosecutor I got lied to constantly. People lied because they wanted to escape the consequences of their actions or because they wanted the easy way out. There's a pattern. Everybody starts by denying it all and proclaiming complete innocence. Then when you tell them you have evidence, they confess to the things they think you already know and deny the rest. That dance goes on for a while, then they get around to blaming somebody else (it was the drugs, it was the fact that I was abused as a child, it was my co-defendant who made me do it, etc.) It's really hard to get to plain old yeah, I did it.

This doesn't just apply to criminal defendants. I had the exact same experience -- same pattern -- with a babysitter I had on tape hitting my son. And with a guy who cheated, too.

I think the focus on gender with this issue is unfortunate. And Barash's "research" is completely useless.

I would much rather see a focus on why people lie, regardless of gender. And I find it disconcerting that one message Barash is sending to women is that it's okay to lie, because all(or most)women do it, as if it's some sort of immutable trait of the gender.

When the next study comes along lamenting the "glass ceiling," and the hurdles women face, I doubt that anyone will suggest that one thing holding women back is the view that, in general, they are less trustworthy than men. I certainly don't agree with that view, but I don't think it's unreasonable, either--and there is plenty of crap research, such as Barash's, to reinforce that view.

My brain isn't functioning very well this morning, but I'm going to try to express myself anyway :) People aren't the only animals who "lie", if by "lie" we mean "communicate false information" in one fashion or another. Non-human animals do this to manipulate other animals to their own benefit -- ultimately, to increase their reproductive success. Examples are available upon request.

I think, in many ways, humans are basically the same. We lie and cheat to benefit ourselves, whether it's for financial gain, to protect ourselves from the consequences of our own actions, or to make ourselves look better in the eyes of others. When I'm being particularly cynical (or following the thought to its logical, ultimate conclusion), I can even make the argument that lying to protect someone else's feelings, while proximally done for altruistic reasons, may have at its root the need to maintain a particular image of myself as a good person. (Mostly I'm not that cynical -- at least, not after I've had my coffee.)

When I'm being less cynical, I just agree with Janis :) I try pretty hard to be very honest about the big stuff and to accept the consequences of my own actions. I do, however, believe that not hurting other people takes precedence over "being a straight-shooter", or "telling it like it is", both of which, as Miss Manners has repeatedly pointed out, are just thinly disguised excuses for bad manners.

I agree with bea. Everybody lies, to varying degrees, and I don't think it's because of anything as profound as powerlessness. I think people lie to get out of sticky situations.

Except dogs. When my dog throws up on the carpet or digs up my petunias, she stands over the evidence of her guilt instead of going into the house to whistle and play cards like she's been doing that all day instead of barfing and digging. And never once has my dog said, "It wasn't me, I was in Cleveland at the time."

I agree with bea. Everybody lies, to varying degrees, and I don't think it's because of anything as profound as powerlessness. I think people lie to get out of sticky situations.

Except dogs. When my dog throws up on the carpet or digs up my petunias, she stands over the evidence of her guilt instead of going into the house to whistle and play cards like she's been doing that all day instead of barfing and digging. And never once has my dog said, "It wasn't me, I was in Cleveland at the time."

Can I blame a 10 year postpartum depression for my ability to lie (very well I'm told) about anything (mostly money) for a time?

I told Dear Hubby at the beginning of our marriage that I trusted him with my life, but if he ever made a fool out of me, he wouldn't have that very long.

Yeah, I don't think the issue is that only women lie. Men lie, too, with often worse consequences. (Current administration as Exhibit #A) The question is why women lie and how their lies differ from men's.

Dog's don't lie, but they do run away. And they do pretend they haven't done anything wrong. Cats don't lie; they dare you to make something of their crimes.

Michele - loved the dissection of the lie. Kind of like a flower slowly unfolding - and dropping its petals.

There is lying (or being polite, as some would describe it) about whether someone looks good in a dress, and then there is real lying - like stealing or cheating.

Some people are pathological liars - they don't know the difference between the truth and a lie - usually because they are total jagoff sociopaths, or are mentally ill. They not only lie, but it becomes their reality - or their excuse, depending on the balance of jag-ness and illness.

I am *not* trying to make this political, but the unfortunate fact is that when our leaders lie as a matter of course, it has a top-down impact. To say nothing of all the talking heads, who lie if it suits their programming needs. It's insidious and scary.

And on a lighter note, for some reason, I am reminded of the Jon Lovitz character on SNL who made shit up in a goofball way - was his character called The Liar? "Yeah, that's it, that's the ticket - I was in BULGARIA with a UNICORN --- yeah."

Okay, okay, I'll confess! I don't even have a dog!

(Sorry for the double post.)

If someone tells me they NEVER lie, I know it's a lie!

I'm a BAAAADD liar. Everything show on my face. I take the 5th on what I've lied about lately. :)

I definitely don't think women lie more than men, but maybe they do lie for different reasons. I think we're more likely to do the type of lying so as not to hurt someone's feelings or to build up confidence and esteem, and I don't necessarily think that's always a good thing. Maybe the woman really needs to know the whole neighborhood thinks her kids are annoying as hell.

Men who lie frequently, I think, are more likely to do it to save themselves - more ego based. Please notice I say "men who lie frequently" - I'm NOT saying all men do this. But this may explain the feelings we have about politicians lying. To succeed in politics, you have to have a big ego. And when you have a big ego, you feel like you can, and should, get away with a lot.

That being said, I remember a few stories in the local news lately about long-standing female employees embezzling for years and years. They put on a good front for a long time before they were caught.

Well, Sarah, your change didn't really help things, so I'll try to get the ball rolling here. What do I lie about? Hmmm. I can't think of anything, offhand. I tell my doctors everything that I do. Ah. Maybe I lie to my shrink.

Everyone lies in some capacity. Me? I'm a huge embellisher/overexaggerator, for the sake of telling a good story. I tell myself that it's for the people who look to me for their entertainment, that it's for them. But really, that might be a lie too.

I don't lie well, so I try not to unless there's no other answer(like the little white lie that saves someone else's face). My daughter swears the evidence is in my voice, which of course makes me a bit more paranoid than usual. I don't even do it well over the phone, so of course I can't call in sick without feeling really guilty--and the phone just rang. They need coverage at B&N. Did I already have plans or could I fill in? Did I lie? Nope. Now I have to go get dressed instead of hanging out in my sweats. See?

Wasn't it Mark Twain who said that writers lie for a living, or something to that affect? So the ability to tell convincing lies makes for a good writer of fiction, at any rate.

Personally, I detest being lied to (except in fiction). My first husband could not tell the truth to save his soul, and my sister lies pathologically about everything, regardless of the consequences. I'm not saying I don't tell the little white, social lies (especially when my lazy husband insists I say he isn't home when someone calls), but I do try not to lie about the important things, and I've tried to model truthiness for our kids.

Speaking of the kids, I have trouble telling when someone is lying, since I'm not much in the habit of it myself, so when the kids were growing up we had one very important rule: If they lied to me, and got caught, severe punishment. If they told the truth, no matter what the offense, I would not punish them. Since they are grown up, they have confessed to a couple of minor infractions (the middle daughter whose friend's parents served alcohol), but they all say that was a good rule to have, growing up, and their friends who tried to get them to lie were astonished that they refused to do so. And I chose my second husband in large part because of his honesty. If you can't trust your spouse, who can you trust?

Josh, I think you're right on the money about women lying to preserve or create more power. One woman I knew for a short time would routinely embellish her social position to make it look more exclusive. The cleani... became the housekeeper; the babysit... became the nanny, and so on. Of course she blew the whistle on her own self for not having her mouth in gear first, but she was always a great source of amusement to me.

I have told one very great whopper in my life, but it was for a good cause, to make my lying, cheating soon-to-be-ex feel down and dirty for leaving me for another woman. He still does not know that it was a lie, and I think we'll let it stay that way.

Karen - I like your style.

A favorite storytelling slogan: Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story!
When I tell tall tales to children, I do make sure they know the difference between exagerrating to make a good story and telling lies -- and they do. I was never good at lying or keeping secrets (like surprise birthday parties), but I can tell good stories -- different worlds.
I let my students know that lying was a major mistake and would permanently change the trust they would be given. At parent-teacher conferences once, a couple had a list -- all the things their child had told them in advance. Their children knew the worst punishments would be for things they hadn't already divulged, so they revealed much more than I would ever have reported (or even remembered).
Karen, I'd love to know the story of that lie . . .
My own lies -- mostly to save others' feelings I guess -- "No, you didn't wake me with this call." "No, really, it's not trouble." "I'd love to."

they are total jagoff sociopaths, yep, that's my ex! He knew I could tell when he was lying, so he told me I was crazy, even when I caught him in the act!
My kids knew I could tell if they lied, they couldn't keep eye contact!
I'm a terrible liar so I bite my tongue alot, like around my friend whose slug of a husband hasn't worked for 10 yrs!

I figured out a few years ago that it bothers my boss to NOT lie to him. If I make a mistake I come right out and admit it. It appears he would like to catch me in a lie and give him an excuse to get all upset at me. Love to derail the annoying guy.

I don't have a husband or kids so I don't have to answer to anyone about money or well, anything. I will fib to girlfriends about minor things, haircuts, ugly clothes, etc. It only bothers me when I have to fib about what a great guy their husband is (not) or what darlings their kids are (not). Such is life.

I once told a drunk college friend that the reason he saw two of me was because my twin had come up for a visit.

OK here goes. I am heading out to work in an hour (retail work).As a test I am going to try and not tell a lie from 12noon til 8:30pm, white or just downright lying. You have me curious just how many little white lies I tell in one day while trying to help customers or trying to help ones that are causing a scene because we ran out of mandarin oranges that were in the ad.Now I dont know if oranges are in the ad this week,it is just an example, but they do feel the world is coming to the end if we do run out. This should be interesting or fatal. One way or the other I will let you know.SusanCo

Karen, I benefited from the same rule growing up, and used it myself with my daughter to excellent effect. Her friends couldn't believe it the one time she really screwed up, felt terribly guilty, and told them she was going to tell me about it. And she told me afterwords that, while she had harbored a tiny doubt about whether or not I'd keep my end of the bargain, I proved to her that she could trust me. What a deal!

Meanwhile, I don't need to lie to anyone about money or anything like that; I stick to the same "social white lies" as everyone else. Except not anymore with folks who call soliciting money over the phone: if I'm sick, down with a migraine, or (on one memorable occassion) packing to go to a funeral, I tell them :)

hmmm Where's Me, Margie? She's not off somewhere with Pinocchio, is she?

What's with typepad today? they doing 'upgrades'?

Must be...because I've been trying to post and can't get on. SusanCo - great experiment.

What's with the Next, huh?

Sarah, the "Next" is to increase pageviews, which would matter if that's how you are charged or how you get advertising revenue. I hated it when MSNBC all of a sudden was splitting its stories onto two pages. Viola! Double the pageviews.

I could be wrong, but I'm not lying. : )

Thank you, Kathy.

Mary, if you ever stop seeing me post here for awhile, it's because I've FINALLY gotten up the gumption to write my book, and then you will find out what the lie was! It will definitely be a part of it, somehow.

Thank you, Kathy.

Mary, if you ever stop seeing me post here for awhile, it's because I've FINALLY gotten up the gumption to write my book, and then you will find out what the lie was! It will definitely be a part of it, somehow.

Yes, Kerry! That's exactly what happened with our girls. I also made a pact with them when they were each teenagers that if they were ever unsure or uncomfortable when they were out with friends, call me, and I would come and get them, no questions asked. My middle daughter and the youngest one each called once, but neither of them have ever told me why. They also trusted me enough to tell me they were about to become sexually active, and asked for help and advice on birth control, per another agreement. I love these girls!

Seems to me people (yes, including women) lie for one of four reasons.

Some lies are told to protect yourself from harm.

Other lies are told to preserve our image of ourself. This is the one that's really insidious over the long haul.

Some of us lie for the hell of it. Some of us lie because we don't like other people well enough to tell 'em the truth or share our secrets. What would be character flaws (such as those) for some, writers seem to find an advantage.

Okay, I'm still stuck on Michele's comment about catching the Bad Babysitter and the Bad Boyfriend in their respective lies, and having it on tape.

Did you really catch the boyfriend on tape? Please say, yes, Michele, even if it's a lie, because it's the most entertaining and fabulous image! (of course, it wouldn't be so entertaining if it happened to me.)

In my family we don't call it lying. We call it embellishing. And we embellish a lot.

welllll, I do lie when I'm messing with peoples minds, but that's when everybody is sitting around slinging BS!

Well here is the results of trying to not lie for 8 1/2 hours in retail.
I failed horribly!!! I lie without giving it a second thought! The man yelling at me because we ran out of sugar free cherry Jello, I lied that I was sorry we had let him down. I wasnt after being cussed out for three minutes. I lied to one of the clerks that got a new hair style. She was so proud of it what could I do but say I loved it. I knew I was suppose to not lie today and found out in retail working with the public YOU CANT NOT LIE. A man who has been coming into the store for many years and is one pain in the butt to make happy, I told him I was glad to see him again.A LIE. Maybe someone who doesnt work with the public can try the experiment because I FAILED ALL DAY LONG, some with forethought and some without knowing I was doing it. SusanCo

My biggest lie? "Yeah, boss. It's good to get back in the swing of things after a week of vacation."

Hi, I think your article its very important and interesting,good work, thanks for sharing!! Have a nice day!

I am man who is trying to figure out why the woman I love has lied to me, so I've been reading all sorts of opinions on the internet today.

What I am finding is that women have a completely different attitude towards lying than men do. For women, lying seems to be a daily activity with no need for guilt, explanation or apology. For men it's much different - at least for me and most of my friends. For us, lying is actually wrong.

I believe it was one of my college professors but I can't actually remember who I heard this from, so I can't give proper credit, but they said: "the difference between a sane person and an insane person is that a sane person makes decisions based on good information." I believe that this statement applies when you consider the ethics of lying. When you lie, you give someone bad information from which they will probably make a decision - and even the smallest of decisions can effect someone's entire life. Imagine if you were able to step out of yourself at some point and review the long-term effects of every lie you have ever told?

This is why I don't lie...not even little white lies. If I don't want to hurt someone's feelings, I find a polite way to tell the truth. I don't know if people respect that about me or despise that about me, but I really don't want to ever think that some little white lie that I might have told has caused a life-time of hurt for someone else.

A lie is a lie. stop giving excuses....
don't find excuses why you can do wrong.
girls never admit thier mistakes, do they?

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