The True Life of Badass Professional Women


Excerpts from the book, Women Overcoming O-Syndrome: Real, Raw, Unapologetic

by Theresa M. Robinson & CollabHERators


1: Bitch codes

You know. These are words that are coded but mean the same as “bitch” when men use them to characterize women who are violating the “be seen and not heard” gender paradigm. Because men in the workplace can’t get away with the use of “bitch,” such a blatantly sexist and misogynist loaded term, “bitch” is codified by expressions like aggressive, opinionated, argumentative, combative, difficult, contrary, etc., and women are criticized and rebuked for each of these allegations.

He and the men in his group accused me of being combative. I know full well that if I were a man in this situation I would never be called combative. I speak up in meetings and on conference calls, and I don’t allow myself to get spoken over. I speak up for myself, I ask questions, and I contribute my ideas. Those are things that get men recognized and promoted. What did it get me? Labeled combative. To top it off, I was informed in my performance review meeting that I come off a bit too strong.
— Lisa B., a collabHERator

Being told by men that we’re coming across a bit too strong raises way more questions and issues than their feigned feeble attempt to be helpful or constructive. How can we be our authentic self when it clashes with another’s view of us? Whose view matters? Whose view comes with a power dynamic attached that will have implications for our career? Can we, without risk, be transparent about how we feel or what we experience?

2: Smart and Pretty

Hey wait a minute. You’re either pretty or smart. You can’t be both. You’re pretty, so you can’t possibly be smart. According to Regina, in her early thirties, these types of comments, stemming from persisting stereotypes regarding a woman’s attractiveness, summarize several of her interactions with male clients.

Sometimes my male clients will get flirty. Other times they will challenge my education. One guy was trying to test my education and find out how much I know. He was asking me everything from my undergrad studies to my master’s, and about my career and my certifications. At the end of it, he was like, “Well, you’re very young, and you’re very cute to be doing what you do.” It happened to me several times. I just brush it off because I can tell what men’s motives are. They are trying to find out how smart I am.
— Regina, a collabHERator

The smart test to which Regina’s male clients subject her probably does a better job of revealing how dumb they are. Specifically, for the man in Regina’s example, there is a good chance he doesn’t have analogous credentials and was threatened by her. At the same time, he felt emboldened to exude an air of superiority over her via interrogation.

Society has taught men that even if they’re less educated and earn less money, they are still the superior gender. Okay, I may not be as smart or as skilled as you are, but I have a penis. And penis trumps everything. It’s my free pass that guarantees me entitlement.

3: Intersection of Gender and Age

CollabHERators below age thirty convey a curious mix of caring with defiant rebellion. This group had the most to say about how they experience gender bias in the workplace when it comes to matters of gender intersecting with age.

I don’t let people know my age even if they ask. Even if they’re curious as to how old I am, that’s something I don’t reveal. I don’t share that because I feel like I’ve been bullied before at work. In my past life I had a job where people were ten years older than me and were on the same level. They tried to undermine me and make me feel uncomfortable in my role. After that experience I learned to stop sharing my age. People like to ask, but I just don’t share. It’s funny because with the older people, I’m not asking them how old they are. I feel like people use age against you. Like that would be a reason why somebody wouldn’t get promoted. I don’t ever want my age to be a reason for not being promoted. Look at my experience. Don’t look at me and tell me I can’t have a role because you think I’m too young and then compare me to your daughter.
— Maya, a collabHERator
There are still a lot of men in the workplace that don’t think well of or respect women, particularly younger women. Men in their fifties and sixties are the worst with their outdated gender notions that they judge us by.
— Liz, a collabHERator

4: Rival, Adversary, or Foe

No surprise. It’s not just men we have to worry about. Women are subject to envy, judgment, unjust criticism, and unfairness from other women. We know it when it happens. We feel it when it happens. It’s instinctual. According to Dara, in her thirties and a sorority member, “Women can distinguish the difference between a woman that has our back and one that is out to sabotage us. For instance, when something good happens at work and people celebrate us, some women will fake celebrate and you can feel it. The combination of the feeling along with how they gush is what tips me off. ‘Oh, my God! I’m so happy for you!’ Yeah, fake.”

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a rival is one of two or more persons striving to reach or obtain something that only one of them can have. An adversary is described as one that contends with, opposes, or resists. And a foe is someone who has personal enmity for another. Though these definitions don’t seem to fully and accurately capture my experience, they do a good job of pointing in the direction of what my collabHERators describe as some women’s need to compete with and put down other women by any means necessary.

I hate to be that person that says, “You hate me because I’m pretty.” I hate to say shit like that. I absolutely hate it, but I really do feel like some women feel threatened by how you look or how you carry yourself.
— Simone, a collabherator

Have you encountered them? Women detractors who seem to revel in undermining us? Women who seem to live by the mean girl playbook from middle school? Who seem to make a game out of making themselves look good at our expense? When the behavior of a woman detractor reaches a critical point, some of us might avoid her or shut down. Others might strike back passive-aggressively to shut her down. Still, others might copy the behavior with others.


It’s critical that all women get this. One woman’s success doesn’t take away from another woman’s success. One woman’s skills and talents don’t diminish another woman’s skills and talents. If we ever get worried that another woman will outshine us, look to the sky and consider the stars. They’re countless and all shine, making the entire night sky a magnificent sight to behold!






Baylie RobinsonComment