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.
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.
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.
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.
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!