This is the title of a Dutch book written by feminist Milou Deelen, together with journalist Daan Borrel. In this book, Borrel and Deelen investigate why women tend to mercilessly judge each other. They wonder, are women really like crabs in a basket, pulling each other down to raise themselves higher? In other words, as soon as one crab claws its way to the top, the others crabs are quick to pull the one crab back down. 

The crab-bucket effect

Crab mentality, also known as crab theory or crab in a bucket effect, refers to the phenomenon of “If I can’t have it, neither can you.” This phenomenon can be seen in the business world, where oftentimes, women will (unconsciously) stop each other from advancing as a way to “keep their own heads afloat.” 

Women are not naturally jealous or vicious 

According to the authors, women tend to exhibit this behaviour when they feel threatened. And this feeling could happen anywhere in a person’s life. However, it mostly happens in the workplace, specifically in larger companies where there is a strong hierarchical structure. For example, places like banks or universities. It is hard to feel a sense of solidarity when you are afraid of losing your place.

A place in hell for women without sisterhood

Madeleine Albright (the former US Secretary of State) said it so aptly, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” Instead of pulling each other down, like crabs do when stuck in a bucket, women should be helping, lifting each other up and out of the crab basket. In doing so, women will be able to show more solidarity and support to the sisterhood. 

Stop pulling

So, how can we free each other from pulling one another down? Well, we can start by trusting more and distrusting less. Women often talk about gender inequality, but if women want real change, they must first start with themselves. Equality begins with treating each other as equals.

Collaboration is the new competition

Competing is out, collaboration is the new normal. We can get out of the crab basket by being aware of our previous behaviour and changing it. Let’s support women in their opinions and proposals. By helping other women, we can expand our network. This not only helps others in succeeding but also gives us a boost in the right direction. 

Sisterhood and empowerment

Vreneli Stadelmaier, a career coach from SheConsult, believes that in order to build a strong sisterhood, we need to stop gossiping and judging each other. So, stop judging, comparing, don’t listen to prejudice. If you choose not to compare yourself to other women, you are not only supporting other women but also yourself.  When you stop comparing yourself, your state of mind will stay positive. 

Susan Smith, Happinez columnist and author, also supports the sisterhood: “There is enough for everyone. Other’s achievements and qualities, like bestsellers, breakthroughs or even their happy relationship are not done at your expense. So enjoy yourself and don’t let others’ achievements negate all the things you’ve done.”

New women’s challenge in the world 

Since 2020, women have been wearing their hearts on their sleeves by sharing the slogan “Women supporting women” on Instagram. Women are being called upon to not diminish each other, not to cut each other out of the conversation and not to undermine each other online. Rather, let’s move forward together. Support and inspire each other. That’s the goal! 

This women’s challenge started in America, mainly among famous Hollywood stars. However, now, there are many famous Dutch stars also sharing the message. Long live the sisterhood!


Feminist Milou Deelen: waarom vrouwen elkaar naar beneden halen: 

Klim uit de krabbenmand:

Vrouwen, help elkaar omhoog op de werkvloer. Daar word je zelf ook succesvoller van:

Go, girls! Waarom het zo belangrijk is dat vrouwen elkaar steunen:

Sigrid Kaag over vrouwensolidariteit:

Waarom vrouwen elkaar moeten steunen in plaats van te concurreren: 

Vrouwenchallenge verovert de wereld: ‘We moeten elkaar steunen: 

Waarom vrouwenteams in relatie worden gebracht met het metafoor krabbenmand-(d)effect:

Kaag (D66): ‘Plekje in hel voor vrouwen die elkaar niet steunen’:

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