Work Life Balance

All This ‘Queen Bee’ Talk About Competitive Working Women Is Outdated, Sexist, And Not Helping Anyone

By  | 

queen beeHere at Mommyish, we’ve always been a tad skeptical about women vs. women studies that paint females out to be constantly combative to one another over their life choices or place in corporate and social hierarchies. Whether it’s childfree vs. mothers, SAHM vs. working woman, or Millennial girls vs. baby-boomer ladies, we always take these studies on woman to woman relationships with a big grain of salt. And an acknowledgement that these battles are often bad for both sides.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the recent Wall Street Journal piece, “The Tyranny of the Queen Bee,” written by Peggy Drexler and attempting to both demonize and explain uber-competitive female executives who don’t buy into the whole “professional sisterhood” business. Drexler tells the story of three businesswomen who are undermined or bullied by other women in the office, either their bosses or subordinates. She pairs these anecdotes with a variety of surveys showing that women bosses are more often disliked and that women workers are more likely to judge their women bosses harshly.

Most telling about the myriad of statistics thrown around Drexler is the fact that only one of these studies actually compares female bosses to male bosses. It does show that women are more likely to bully other females, while men bully both genders equally. (Of course, this is from the perspective of the person being bullied. So it’s possible that men are less likely to see their female bosses’ behavior as “bullying,” or that women are more likely to feel “bullied” by other females.)

One of the most frustrating fact thrown out in rambling piece of sexist stereotypes and assumptions is the 2011 survey showing that 95% of working women believed they were undermined by another woman at some point in time during their career. I wonder if we asked men and women, “Have you ever worked with an asshole who happened to be of the same gender as you?” if the results would change at all.

In fact, there are lots of survey questions that I think we could change to make them just a little less sexist. We ask about female bosses and whether they’re supporting and mentoring other females. We never get around to asking how many male bosses are pulling their business associates up the corporate ladder with them. We highlight stories of women whose bosses disliked them and sidelined their careers. We ignore the countless ambitious male managers who choose favorites and likewise, hold others back.

Good and bad managers can come in either gender. Men are less likely to be called out for being ambitious and competitive. They’re aggressive nature is more likely to be celebrated. But women are the ones with “Queen Bee syndrome.”

If you’re doubting just how sexist this conversation is, I’d like to offer this passage as proof.

As the old male-dominated workplace has been transformed, many have hoped that the rise of female leaders would create a softer, gentler kind of office, based on communication, team building and personal development. But instead, some women are finding their professional lives dominated by high school “mean girls” all grown up: women with something to prove and a precarious sense of security.

When men were neither soft nor gentle, it was simply the way business was done. When women failed to change the office dynamics, even though they are still under-represented in top positions, they’re immature “mean girls.”

I realize that this is a parenting site, but we have to acknowledge that the issues effecting working women in the office have become parenting issues. As more and more mothers join the workforce, both out of necessity and choice, let’s all agree that women’s abilities to reach high levels of professional success directly impacts the way we parent. Case in point: Anne Marie Slaughter.

The battles constructed to pit women against each other hurt us all. And the “Queen Bee” talk is just another example of the way that women are held up to different standards, expected to be more accommodating, more nurturing, more “mother-like” in the office. The entire debate is sexist and it will continue to be until we start asking the right questions when we talk about workplace management.

(Photo: irin-k/Shutterstock)