March 17, 2005

Women, Work

Helen has a post up about the difficulties she's encountered working with women. It's all good stuff, naturally. One learns to expect that with Helen.

While I suspect this tale may have been slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect:

I stormed into Sherie’s office. “Do you know what’s being said about me? Do you know what Debra is perpetrating? She’s telling everyone I have a sexually transmitted disease!”

Sherie looked at me, one hand deep in a economy size bag of Lay’s. “Well, as far as I’m concerned, you deserve it. You’re young, thin, pretty and smart. You had it coming.”

. . . I can't say I haven't had similar experiences. And at the risk of playing into all those Stereotypes Perpetuated by the Man, I have to say that, in general, this is how I've been able to work effectively with women:

  • When the office is virtually all-female. Throw one good-looking man into the room, though, and it's all over. "See how she just throws herself at him. Ugh. She is such a conniving little whore." "You know she wore that blouse on purpose. He can see everything." "Funny how Carla used to be happy in slacks, but now that she's working with him a lot it's nothing but miniskirts." And so on.

  • When I'm overweight and/or downplaying my looks. Being overweight, or at least concerned about one's weight and image, is a passport to female bonding in many offices. Only the most diplomatic and tactful of the thin may enter, and then usually by complaining that they just can't gain weight no matter what they do, and they're so tired of "not having any curves," etc. Being thin because you "have a high metabolism" or "inherited the skinny genes" is just barely acceptable. Throw one thin woman into the room who says, "Hey, I'm thin because I work out and watch what I eat," though, and it's all over. "It's like she thinks she's better than us." "Too bad all that working out doesn't make her any nicer." "Just wait 'til the kids come; then we'll see how thin little Miss Pilates is." And so on.

  • When I can't see the women I'm working with, and they can't see me. As a (sigh) home-based medical transcriptionist, I interact with women almost exclusively five days a week--via email. We are all largely a supportive, encouraging group, offering help and tips to each other when asked, gladly sharing in a little complaining now and then about various difficult physician dictators. We're mostly a happy bunch. Throw one woman into the (virtual) room who's a little too confident, a little too assertive, though, and it's all over. "She has 20 years' experience? With what, a chiropractor's office? I think I know more about cardiology than she does, thank you." "Well, I could have been a CMT myself, but even if I were, I wouldn't brag about it." "She's just so arrogant about everything." And so on.

    I want to stress that these are just my subjective observations.

    And I have no idea why it happens. And, guys? I probably don't want to hear your theories about why it happens--particularly not if it's another tired-ass recitation of The Influence of Evolution in Encouraging Women to Compete with Each Other to Land the Best Mate. Fool, please. I'm not ruling out that there's some influence from exactly those origins; I'm just saying it's not sufficient on its own to explain all the bitchiness.

    I even bought a book recently, Catfight, to see if I could get some clues about this. I haven't finished it yet. This is probably because about every fifth page I end up shrieking, "Oh bullshit!" and chucking it across the room. I'm bad that way when a book really pisses me off. If you want to take that as further proof of the existence of the Hysterical Female archetype, be my guest--but I really think it's just me. I'm a book-thrower. This is who I am and what I do.

    I'll tell you, too--in the end I don't really care why this happens. I care about managing my own behavior and learning not to be part of the problem so that, yes, I can be part of the solution. I know it sounds hokey, but I don't have any better ideas.

    What I do have are all the same catty instincts I often see come out when women get together. I do fight down a knee-jerk reaction to loathe perky, teeny, slender blonde women. I do fight down a knee-jerk reaction to loathe women who flirt openly in business environments. I do fight down a knee-jerk reaction to resent women in authority.

    But I think those instincts are worth fighting. In fact, I know they are. I've come a long way from being a teenage misogynist. I've come a long way from having conversations like this with my mother:

    "Haven't you any girl friends to talk to, Francie?"

    "No. I hate women."

    "That's not natural. It would do you good to talk things over with girls your own age."

    "Have you any women friends, Mama?"

    "No, I hate women," said Katie.

    And if anyone has any suggestions for further reading on this topic (something besides Catfight! Please! The boyfriend is tired of ducking!), I'd sure love to have 'em.

    Posted by Ilyka at March 17, 2005 09:31 PM in hell is other people
  • Comments

    My boss is a woman, over a group of all men. She has told me that she prefers to have men working for her; it surprised me, but she said she has more authority problems with women than she does with men. Go figure, I had thought it would be the opposite.

    And my girlfriend works in an office of all women. The interpersonal difficutlties this presents are fascinating to me, as I have (obviously) never been in this situation. Stuff that men would never notice is a huge instigator in her office, problems that would never come up where I work are insolvable over there. Not that the group of men where I work are any better; our conflics are just as bad and as petty, just over completely differant percieved problems. Makes for interesting conversation.

    Me, I hate everybody. I want a job where I don't have to deal with people at all.

    Posted by: francisthegreat at March 17, 2005 10:51 PM

    I hate working for women, and I'm not too fond of working with them. When I was in school, I was much more likely to have male friends. When I was working in a hotel corporate enviroment, that male friendship thing pretty much carried over -- and of course that meant I was having an affair with every single one of them! [rolls eyes] All in all, your post hit the spot :)

    Posted by: Ith at March 17, 2005 11:01 PM

    Nope, that much was true, no exaggeration. It's true there was a longer discussion, but those words were said.

    Sad, isn't it?

    Posted by: Helen at March 17, 2005 11:16 PM

    In my experience, the best women to work for are lesbians who have already settled down with mates, and unmarried, childless spinsters (ie, women who are old enough to have started working when the idea of being a career businesswoman and a married woman were considered diametric opposites). The worst type of woman to work for is a mid-to-late-thirties single woman desperate to get married and/or have a baby. Sorry but it's true.

    Posted by: Andrea Harris at March 18, 2005 03:33 AM

    Oh, and about reading material-I'm just about to delve into Wurtzel's "Bitch", after just finishing "Bitch Rules". You know Wurtzel, the author of "Prozac Nation"? Everyone's favorite ego-centrist? She is that, but she's also a blazingly un-apologetic feminist, which I like.

    I have to disagree with Andrea on one point. The childless spinsters I can deal with, being one of them (I can also ignore hte skinny blondes, as I just think: "Oh yeah. I could take you."). It's the women in their mid-to-late forties with teenage children and big bling on their wedding ring fingers you gotta' watch out for. In my profession, those are the ones to administer the patronizing attitudes every time.

    Posted by: Helen at March 18, 2005 08:12 AM

    Dude, sorry-I meant I can work with the mid-to-late thirties women desperate to get married/have a baby, not childless spinsters, as I wrote above.

    Christ I'm busy already labelling myself a childless spinster.

    Posted by: Helen at March 18, 2005 08:14 AM

    For me, the Bitter Infertile, the ones I can't handle are the ones who are who say things like "As a mother, I feel..."

    Great! So you produce functioning eggs and have a normal uterus! OBVIOUSLY your opinions on this book catalogue are so much more valid than mine!

    Doesn't happen very much, but I can't stand them.

    Also, dedicated spinsters are the bomb. They're the only ladies at work who aren't continually moaning about their ex-husbands.

    Posted by: Sonetka at March 18, 2005 08:29 PM

    I've found that the women most comfortable with their own lives are the easiest to get along with. Insecurity can affect many segments of the population, attractive, unatrractive, single, married, kids or no kids. If you repersent what they are insecure about, or even if you are in the same boat, but secure with your life it makes them feel less than you even if you aren't doing anything to make them feel that way.

    I wish I knew the solution because I'm having that problem at work with my coworker, Erin. I'm not sure what's wrong and I wish it wasn't. She seems like a nice enough person. Well, to everyone else at least. She's my age (early 20's) and I'm not used to working with people under the age of 35-40. We are computer developers so I'm use to guys. This catty behind your back nonsence is getting on my nerves. If a guy has a problem with you he can seperate business and personal better and will be direct about it.

    She talks about me behind my back, invites everyone in the team but me to meetings and social things, talks snotty to me and picks at my work on stupid things and generally pushes at my pet peeves (slow walking, not being a team player with everyone, flirting). She is also very childish and throws pens at people and pulls on their seat belts in the car on road trips/lunch meetings. Many of the other teammates do it too since she does. The monkeys (that's what I call them) need to grow up. Look up Happy Friday Guy on Google. I work with him.

    I'm not sure how to deal with her or with them. I typically just smile or turn the topic back to the work task. I try to smile more than not because I don't want to be an outsider. Nonone but Erin treats me badly. Everyone else--though many are childish--is really nice.

    Posted by: Lauren Hunt at November 3, 2005 11:57 AM