Women v. Women

11 05 2009

Juniper is the brainy quiet type, which makes her a ripe target for bullies. And when she does suffer taunts at school, it’s most often at the hands of other girls. I wish I could tell her to hang in there until college or so, but instead I say, Get used to it, because there will always be people like that around–even in the workplace.

It’s hardly surprising that a New York Times story about women bullying women at work is the number one e-mailed story on the Times Web site. Every one of us (don’t lie) has either dressed down one of our female colleagues or been on the receiving end of a catty remark or sinister scheming.

When I left my last job as a reporter to freelance full time, I blubbered like a toddler whose binky fell down the sewer. I cried because dammit, I was going to miss that place. Besides, working in my pajamas held very little appeal to me, and in three years of writing freelance, I rarely, if ever, do it. And boy did I miss the people at work.

But what I didn’t miss was the way we women could cut each other down. I remember once sitting around the conference room table after a meeting had broken up. There were still about half a dozen of us in there, including one male supervisor. One woman was joking about how she didn’t want to do this one particular assignment that had been thrown her way, so I laughed and called her a “little weasel”. We weren’t best friends, but we were friendly enough and had exchanged enough office banter that I thought that was OK, that she wouldn’t take it the wrong way. She looked me dead in the eye and said, “You’re trash.”

The room fell silent. I was stunned, but I said nothing more.  The situation had just risen to a whole new level. It was so awkward and unexpected that no one really said anything about it. There was some shuffling of papers, and we all sort of trickled out of the room and back to our desks. Our supervisor hadn’t said a word–not during the exchange nor after. I think he pretended not to hear it.

It’s sort of like Juniper’s soccer team. The girls are all about 11, and this is their first season playing together. Watching them during practice and games is  painful, and not because they lack skills on the field. It’s because the are each other’s harshest critics.  You can see some of them brimming with self-esteem, while others  have the last little bit sucked out of them. If one of the girls misses a pass, it’s “Omigosh, why’d you do that?? That was SO dumb!” Or a missed shot on goal would prompt, “That sucked!” It’s no wonder they’ve lost every game this season.

I’m not sure what it is in the XX chromosome that causes some of us to be this way. But the good news is that for every situation where women were their own worst enemies, there have been others where women showed a much more supportive and collegial streak. I played in a women’s soccer league where there was no shortage of praise on the field. In the freelance world, I’ve found wonderful women as mentors and bosses, colleagues and friends. It’s a relief to know that for every woman, there isn’t another hovering behind waiting to stab her in the back.




3 responses

12 05 2009

I suggest “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.”

This book changed how I listen and talk to everyone.

12 05 2009

I’ll check that out. Liked your last book recommendation.

14 05 2009

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