The XX Factor

Bearish on Bullies

Is it harder to work for a female boss if you’re a woman? That’s the question du jour being chewed over in the feminist blogosphere. The New York Times ran a piece on workplace bulling that’s stayed near the top of their most-mailed list since Sunday, centered around a study claiming that women choose other women as the targets of their bullying 70 percent of the time. Jezebel pointed out that it’s the second such bullying piece the Times has run this year, the first written by the leadership coach, Peggy Klaus, whom the most recent piece quoted prominently. Meanwhile, the American Lawyer ran a similar piece a couple of weeks ago-also citing Klaus-and remarking upon the statistic that a majority of female lawyers under 40 preferred to work under a male boss. The takeaway from all the pieces (other than that Peggy Klaus has a gift for self-promotion) is that women are disappointed when their working relationships with female bosses don’t measure up to idealized expectations.

Speaking of expectations, there’s also the question of the decidedly un-nuanced assumptions about how women operate in the workplace from which the Times piece proceeded. On the XX Factor, Meghan O’Rourke writes that she was “perversely pleased” by the piece: “That’s not to say I think anyone should yell at her assistant today; but I do think that anything that reminds us that women hardly conform to a single type, in the workplace, at home, or in the bedroom, is a plus. That’s why I never really got into difference feminism, which would have us believe that XX and XY are apples and oranges.” On Broadsheet, Amy Benfer agrees , saying “Every woman does not have to think of every other woman in every situation as being on her team. In fact, one may mildly dislike or outright despise another woman without having to revoke one’s feminist card.”

Still, irksome as the treatment of the “bullying” question might be, it’s worth deconstructing, if only to figure out how it fits in with this bit of old news buried inside the Times article:

After five decades of striving for equality, women make up more than 50 percent of management, professional and related occupations, says Catalyst, the nonprofit research group. And yet, its 2008 census found, only 15.7 percent of Fortune 500 officers and 15.2 percent of directors were women. …[Snip]… Research on gender stereotyping from Catalyst suggests that no matter how women choose to lead, they are perceived as “never just right.” What’s more, the group found, women must work twice as hard as men to achieve the same level of recognition and prove they can lead.”