For years there has been talk of ‘men keeping women down’, but is it the bitter truth that women remain their own worst enemies?
With women holding so few key roles and leadership positions in boardrooms around the world, you might think we’d spend time building each other up rather than tearing each other down. But it seems that despite constant calls for more stringent gender equality measures in the workplace, it can often be women themselves sabotaging progress.
In 2010 Kelly Valen released a hard-hitting book entitled ‘The Twisted Sisterhood’, which revealed that almost 90% of the 3,000-plus women who took part in her survey frequently felt “currents of meanness and negativity emanating from other females” and that almost 85% of those who took part in the 50-question survey admitted having suffered “serious, life-altering knocks at the hands of other women”.
Valen went on to say that there was “a distinct undercurrent of meanness and negativity plaguing our gender, and that these secret, social battles are waged, in many cases, by the very same women singing the praises of girl power, feminism, and female friendship in their lives”.
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It is speculated that such ‘sniper sister’ attitudes stem from a distinct feeling that there’s not enough success to go around; because we live in what is still a male-dominated society, women are apt to feel like they are presented with fewer opportunities, and thus have more motive for one-upmanship (or one-upwomanship) than men perhaps do.
Research by the Institute of Leadership and Management on ambition and gender found different attitudes between men and women. Compared to their male counterparts, they tend to lack self-belief and confidence – which leads to a cautious approach to job opportunities and a reluctance to take risks in order to further their careers.
Traditionally, young girls are also taught conflict avoidance roles – not necessarily a bad thing in school, but in a workplace environment this can lead to a continuation of passive-aggressive patterns into adulthood. Instead of addressing a conflict directly, some women whisper – not all, but it only takes a few to have a knock-on effect on another woman’s career. Whether perpetuating rumours that a female colleague only got the job because she’s good looking or even because she must be sleeping with the boss, such spite takes its toll.
As well as this, young girls are often socialised not to compete, according to Women In Higher Education article which goes on to state that relationships are particularly central to women’s lives, and that they expect their friendships to be on a level playing field; thus, when something affects this balance, such as a promotion, it raises feelings of insecurity. It seems women are far more likely to judge their professional abilities against those of other female colleagues than those of males.
In fact, a recent Oxygen Media poll found that 65 percent of women resent other women who are either in power, or act like they are.
This pervading culture of comparison could work for the positive; but only if women start treating the issue as one of a non-gendered meritocracy and use it to healthily fuel their own and other women’s ambitions.
Instead, often women still think they should be handed things just for being women – a problem which perpetuates feelings of resentment and negativity from both those struggling to promote for gender equality and professional meritocracy as well as those who are happy to take such isolated individuals as spokespeople for the equality movement and use it for their own misogynistic means.
Intentionally or not, it seems many of us women are guilty of at least one of the above. Whether by harbouring insecurities which prevent us from stepping forward and taking on a new challenge, intentionally deriding the success and progress of other women or even nurturing illusions of inviting social condemnation simply because we happen to be women, we need to work together to stop this kind of behaviour.
Stop gossiping, start talking.