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    Wednesday, February 15, 2006

    Can Women Play Nice At Work and Succeed?


    Peg Tyre of Newsweek investigates by reading three books:

    Tripping the Prom Queen : The Truth About Women and Rivalry by Susan Shapiro Barash; The Girl's Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch) : Valuable Lessons, Smart Suggestions, and True Stories for Succeeding as the Chick-in-Charge by Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio; I Can't Believe She Did That! : Why Women Betray Other Women at Work by Nan Mooney.

    Pity women in the workplace. For the last 40 years, we've been told what it takes to get to the top: determination and a fierce competitive spirit. At the same time, we're relentlessly reminded that we have to play nice—and look good doing it. Then there's the hangover from the women's movement when we were admonished not to compete at all but to band together and help each other. Which in turn sets us up for an ugly and lingering shock when, usually in the early years of our careers, we stumble across a woman manager who isn't interested at all in smoothing the way for other women and in fact, undermines them every way she can.

    Oh yes, the women's movement fucked everything up for women in the workplace.

    In "Tripping the Prom Queen," (St. Martin's Press, March 2006), Susan Shapiro Barash, a feminist scholar, argues that it's high time women pulled back the curtain on feminist orthodoxy. Yes, sisterhood is powerful. But it can also be fraught with conflict, envy, betrayal and jealousy.

    Ummm. I don't think Robin Morgan meant "sisterhood" as just happening to be women in the world, but that very "banding together" we find above. The whole phrase "Sisterhood is powerful," is meant to say, "let's put aside this conflict, envy, betrayal, and jealousy as much as we possibly can in order to move women forward." Agree with it or not, that's what was meant. This may seem petty, but it drives me nuts when journalists for glossies will sacrifice the meaning of language for a perky quip.

    Nan Mooney, who wrote "I Can't Believe She Did That!" (St. Martin's Press, 2005), dwells on the debt modern women owe to feminism. Then she sets about showing how difficult it can be to work with women and how tough it can be for women to admit that. The problem, as Mooney sees it, is that women compete: who's the best-looking, who gets the guy, who gets the plum assignments at work.

    Though neither Tyre nor Mooney seems to be saying directly, this paragraph came the closest to making the point I find most relevant about all these generally rather stupid-ass books: women need to stop competing with each other exclusively and be genuinely competitive (or not) by viewing men and women as potential competitors. The real problem with all this is that, when women were told that, to get ahead in business (or whatever) they had to be competitive, a lot of women apparently heard: "To get ahead, you have to be competitive with other women." If you are a competitive person, you should be a competitive person competing with other people, rather than some tiny subset of people.

    The "chick-in-charge" book, despite it's silly title, seems not-so-bad, though:

    The authors of "The Girl's Guide To Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch)" (Morgan Road, April 2006), Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio, must have grown up in the post-Title IX era because their book doesn't concern itself much with the idea that "nice girls don't compete." Just got the corner office? Relax, the authors advise. Enjoy. You've earned it. Friedman and Yorio, a public relations duo, have had enough experience in the workplace to know that being female doesn't make it any easier to manage or be managed. Want to be an excellent boss and a fine example to the younger women in your company? Make sure to use your power for good—of yourself, your company and your underlings—and not for evil. The authors of "The Girl's Guide" weave in interviews from female small-business owners who describe the bitter and the sweet that comes with being the women in charge. Their revelation? If the woman you work for is a bad manager, it may have less to do with gender politics and more to do with the fact that managers everywhere can be anxious, insecure and poorly trained. The Girl's Guide lays out what women in power need to do in order to be firm, fair and above all—successful.

    Naturally, I must point out that it's just as likely that you didn't "earn" that corner office any more than the receptionist did, but, other than that, I can get behind this. I wish, however, that the time would come for bosses of every gender to not want to be bitches and go seek out a book to help them be nice bosses. It'd be nice if all this didn't just apply to the white-collar world, but here I go again asking too much.

    3 Comments:

    Blogger zp said...

    I wonder what the relationship is between professional women's competitiveness and the economics of the college trend you discuss in the very next post?

    12:22 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    Word- smart point, zp.

    12:28 PM  
    Blogger Omnipotent Poobah said...

    I've worked for quite a few women and men.

    I didn't find anything inherently incompetent about either side, but I did notice differences.

    As a sweeping generalization (which always gets one in trouble) I did think that women sometimes tried to play the game too much like a man instead of playing to female strengths. They seemed to want to be tougher, to out-men men at their own game. I always felt they'de be better served to out-woman them. Different tack to be sure, but able to acheive the same or better results if carried out correctly.

    7:48 PM  

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