Are Women Bosses Really Meaner?

Here’s what Abby L. Ferber had to say in this excerpt of her Huffington Post article about the issue:

So why do women most often bully other women? Because they are rarely in positions of power over men. According to the article [NY Times, Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work:

“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.”

In addition, women are more likely to work in careers and workplaces that are primarily populated by other women. Men, on the other hand, wield power in the workplace over both women and other men.

Instead of examining the larger dynamics of power at work here, the article focuses on women as a group, asking why they bully other women.

We are left with numerous problematic conclusions:

Women’s relationships with each other are problematic and women need to learn to better support each other.

Women are the problem themselves, and they are becoming too much like men as they move into positions of power.

Bullying itself is not a gendered phenomenon, men bully men and women bully women, so we are all affected by it.

Bullying by men is natural, and not in need of examination. We should expect that kind of behavior from men.

Looking at the exact same data, however, informed by an understanding of how the dynamics of gender and power operate, a very different story can be told.

The reality is that:

Bullying is about power, and people bully those they have power over.

Bullying increases when people feel their power threatened.

Our unequal gender system contributes to the problem of bullying because it reinforces the idea that some people should naturally have more power than others; that men are by nature more aggressive, and women should be more nurturing and supportive.

And bullying in the workplace contributes to economic inequality between men and women. As this study makes clear, bullying is a very serious problem, with real consequences: 40% of the time, the target ends up quitting her job (remember, most targets are women). So bullying is a tool to maintain inequality.

The way in which the story of the data is told by the New York Times ends up hiding the real problems and blaming the victims. If our analyses are not informed by research and analyses of gender and power dynamics, we end up contributing to the problem, rather than developing real solutions.

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