Why Mean?
0 comment Sunday, July 6, 2014 |
An article in the New York Times, "A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting," brought back memories, good and bad.
One of the first women I ever worked for was a lawyer I'll call Jerry. She shared me with another lawyer who I'll call Dick and I worked as their legal secretary. Dick was in need of a secretary because his secretary had been promoted to paralegal.
And boy was Dick's paralegal mean. Arrogant, rude, and a total shit-dumper of work. In fact, Dick and Para wanted me to pay his personal bills and balance his household checkbook. No problem, I told them, if he didn't mind a few checks bouncing now and then. Needless to say, the balancing and bill-paying stayed with Para.
Then there was the coffee-making incident. One morning I walked into Dick's office to check his outbox. He was on the phone and waved an empty coffee carafe at me. Huh? He waved it at me again, signalling that I should fill it with coffee. Being young and full of Betty Friedan, I was irked by the coffee command.
When I got to the kitchen there was no coffee so I had to brew an entire pot. Standing there waiting, I started brewing too. I noticed a large butcher block cheese board and some white dishtowels on the counter. When the coffee was finished, I filled up Dick's carafe and put it on the cheese board. Then I draped a white dishcloth over my arm and, in waitress-like fashion, marched down the long hall to Dick's office as I held the carafe aloft on my newly-fashioned tray.
When I got to Dick's office, lo and behold he had a client with him. I set the cheese board down, curtsied, and left.
Immediately I found Jerry and confessed the checkbook and cheese board incidents, certain I'd be fired on the spot. But Jerry finessed the whole thing and whisked me away, explaining to Dick that she simply had too much work to share me with him. Shortly afterwards, mean Para returned to her original post, working as Dick's secretary.
To this day Jerry and I still keep in touch and she never fails to refer her firm's clients to me when they need a criminal defense lawyer.
But I've seen bullying too. A woman judge who doesn't like young women lawyers, for instance, and gives them a hard time in trial. Or a woman prosecutor who refuses to give good plea offers to women defense attorneys. Women jurors can be especially critical towards a woman defendant. I don't see it all the time but the fact is an attractive woman defendant has to dress down, make sure she doesn't make the women jurors mad by being "too attractive."
Of course women who are mean to other women aren't confined to the workplace. A good friend of mine, an attractive petite blond, was completely shunned by the other moms in her daughter's class because she rivaled the moms' "gang leader" in looks. Another friend of mine, Christy Brinkley's clone, ran into trouble when her daughter was "cliqued out" and bullied by a group of girls in her class. When Christy tactfully raised the problem with the girls' moms, she got the cold shoulder and ultimately she had to get the school involved.
So why are women mean to each other? What's going on? Some theories put forward by the NYT writer are that women are hyper-emotional and get resentful when pigeonholed into the nurturing role. Or, women are overly sensitive to criticism and take it personally. Still another is that women haven't played enough competitive sports to have learned how to compete "in a healthy way" at work.
Umm, I don't know about all that. Women are hyper-emotional, overly sensitive? Haven't played enough football? Nah. I don't think it's that complicated. The mean women I see are simply insecure.
Accordingly, when another woman can compete with her in the brains or looks or whatever department, she feels threatened and jealous. And if insecurity is the culprit, we moms can start fixing that little problem at home, right now.
Check out Mom Grind's post about helping children with self-esteem. An especially good suggestion is that we stop doing the "I'm so fat" routine in front of our daughters (or at all, for that matter), picking ourselves apart.
Because it's not about being beautiful or skinny or perfect. It's about being kind and feeling "good enough" as we are. And learning to curtsy, of course.