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March 16, 2005

In the Battle of the Sexes the Men Have the Good Locker Room

When I graduated from university with a four year degree in anthropology (with minors in English and French), I leapt straight into the working world. Not, as you'd suspect, into a sophisticated area of work commensurate with my degree (a career aligned with my degree could only entail the use of the words 'Would you like fries with that?' or 'Paper or plastic?') but I went to a job fair where a number of companies were recruiting. At the fair was a temp agency, and seeing as it was the best bet, I talked with them. Said temp agency signed me and my shiny new degree up and I was sent to interview at a stock-broking agency. I cut my nearly waist-length red hair off, went to JC Penny's to buy the only suit I could afford, and got the job.

I never even went to my graduation, but then again, I never really saw the point in those types of things.

Upon working at the stockbrokers, I delved straight into the ideal that I had fought so hard in college. Being of the crunchy granola type of study, all women's rights, evolution, and study of the cultures of people, I was one of those who thought that a utopia was more than just the name of a fruit drink and that helping your fellow man was what it was all about. I became a capitalist, armed with a salary of 22k and a student loan debt that nearly matched that. I worked very hard under a woman that I didn't really like and definitely didn't trust, and I studied and took some of the stock broking exams in order to move up.

The truth of the matter is I hated it. I could've care less about studying for the 22 or about Blue Sky Laws. It was so mind numbingly boring I would rather spend time memorizing bar codes, and I was simply awful at finance to boot (that said, when I lived in the States I was meticulous about my own personal finances, even managing a spreadsheet for my checking account and knowing, to the penny, what was in my account at all time. Anal retentive bitch.). So I switched jobs and started working in the same company in compliance and quality assurance.

And it was here that I learnt something fundamental about myself.

The truth? I can't work for women. In fact, I can barely work with them, so I guess it's a damn good thing I work in a severely male-dominated industry.

I started working for another woman named Sherie. Sherie was a single Mom, a woman who dressed in pale yellow suits, and she was a Texan through and through. Big hair, big makeup, and she had a self-confessed problem with overeating. I once walked into the office as she was polishing off an entire extra large pizza'all by herself.

I didn't know it at the time, but Sherie was about to make my life a living hell.

Our department was something straight out of 'The Office'. There were four women, six men, and very little to do. We were grouped with the statisticians and the ISO 9000 managers, parodies of people that hadn't seen the light of day since perhaps the late 1960's. I was the youngest of the group, along with my colleague Jessica, who was one of the snottiest bitches I had ever met in my life. I introduced Jessica to the small group of four friends I had made in the stock broking department, and within a month I was on the fringe and Jessica was the hottest thing since Baywatch. Just like that, I was out of the loop in a sweeping gesture reminiscent of junior high, albeit without the experimental colored mascara.

Across from me in the cubical nightmare sat Debra-a woman with blond hair springing from dark black roots, enormous breasts that she loved to reveal in candid décolletage, and lips only a carp could love. Debra loved to sit and listen to people's conversations and to idly offer opinions on how to fix things, interspersed with desperate longings to fuck anything that walked upright and find a husband in the meantime.

I hated it.

One day I decided to do something different. I had to stay in my job as the student loans were stunningly high. I simply couldn't afford to leave, but I had to do something for myself to save me from going postal. So I signed up at Parkland Hospital to be a baby holder. Parkland, Dallas' largest county hospital, had more than their fair share of babies born addicted to drugs or with HIV, babies that needed constant attention. I decided to be one of the volunteers that dropped in to hold them. I signed up for the intro session and then went to take a number of inoculations, vaccinations that were needed to ensure that some of the babies' fragile immune systems would never be exposed. One of these shots was to prevent Hepatitis. I called to book this test while at work.

The next day, people in the company avoided me like the plague. I couldn't understand what was happening, it didn't make any sense. Was it my uncool dress sense? Did I offend? Was I wearing white shoes before Labor Day? Then Jessica pulled me aside.

'Are you taking antibiotics? I mean, it freaks me out. I don't want you near me if you aren't'. she said nastily.

'What are you talking about?' I replied. 'I'm not ill.'

'That's not true. Debra overheard you on the phone and warned us about your illness.'

Nope. I was still lost. 'Sorry?' I asked dumbly.

'You have herpes! Don't you know how disgusting that is?' she said, looking at me as though my home was beneath a comfortable grate with a nice view of the sewers.

I was stunned. 'Well, I do know that herpes isn't a nice bedtime companion. But I don't have herpes. I was booking a vaccination for hepatitis. Totally different thing.'

'Yeah, right.' Jessica sniffed, and walked away (probably to the ladies' room to have a scouring session, as she was standing so close to me and all).

I stormed into Sherie's office. 'Do you know what's being said about me? Do you know what Debra is perpetrating? She's telling everyone I have a sexually transmitted disease!'

Sherie looked at me, one hand deep in a economy size bag of Lay's. 'Well, as far as I'm concerned, you deserve it. You're young, thin, pretty and smart. You had it coming.' She chewed slowly, the yellow foil bag reflecting the sheen of overheard fluorescent lighting.

I was dumbstruck. Floored. So it was ok to be mean to me if I was of a certain image (an image I don't agree with, but it's nice to know I am thought of that way)? I marched out of the office and went straight to human resources. I filed a complaint. I went immediately to a headhunter and was out of the office within two weeks, landing myself as a contractor with what became the dreaded Company X in the field I now work in.

I have had one good female boss that I liked a lot, a Swedish woman in Company X. But I've had run-ins with nearly every single female colleague that I ever worked with. I am not sure if it's the industries I have chosen, but almost every woman I work with has come across as petty and conniving. Maybe I come across that way, too, I don't know, but I do seem to be more unconventional than others. I absolutely don't hold anything against women in industry-in fact, I think we should all be on the same side trying to bust through the glass ceiling. What's better, one woman with a hammer chipping away slowly, or a whole team blasting through the ceiling with one mighty splash of splintered glass? It just never works out that way.

The women I have worked with are perhaps like me-mavericks, women in a mens' industry. Maybe it's because we feel we have more to prove-women generally aren't engineers and don't often work in technical design categories. It's as though we are worried of being disregarded by the men-folk-we all sit around a table with our views and points, but how soon before you ignore what I have to say if I fuck up? As such, shouldn't I fight like hell to make sure I never do fuck up? And if another woman is about to fuck up, should I distance myself so she won't bring us both down? We have to fight and battle like mad to get men to listen and respect our opinions, is it so that we only have enough strength to get ourselves out of a burning building, we can't be helping each other, too?

I'm not saying I do think like this, but I do wonder if it's part of the working woman subconscious. I don't automatically discredit a woman who turns up at the meeting, I don't think she's a silly female who can't contribute. I don't ignore her input and I don't cut her out of the loop. But I am careful of how I conduct myself around her, I admit. I relax more and crack more jokes around male engineers than around their female counterparts.

I wish I could say that I have had deep and enriching experiences working with women, only I haven't. This isn't to say all men are princes-I mean, look at my manager Jeff. He's definitely hard to work for. But the men I have worked for are, in general, easier to deal with. They forget about past sins. You can tell them things off the record and said things fly out of their head later on. They'll tell you how the game is played and let you get on with playing it.

All of my working friends are men, with one exception (and we only became friends after we stopped working together, we never got on well while working next door to each other). I'm not sure that this kind of work in this kind of industry is conducive to making longtime female buddies-if we should get together and drink, is there a possibility that we could reveal our weaknesses? That letting our hair down means letting our guard down? That anything we say can and will be used against us in a court of meetings?

To be honest, if I were to interview for a job and find out it would be working for a woman, it would count as a massive con on the list as I debated taking the job. I have been burnt. I am wary.

It's a shame, really. I imagine a group of talented and clever women could rock the house and make incredible things happen. Instead, all we seem to do is waste time and energy tearing each other down.


Posted by Everydaystranger at March 16, 2005 08:51 AM .

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Excerpt: Helen has a post up about the difficulties she's encountered working with women. It's all good stuff, naturally. One learns to expect that with Helen. While I suspect this tale may have been slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect: I stormed...
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Tracked: March 17, 2005 09:37 PM


I missed that seminar in high school too! oh well, guess it doesnt matter since i work in a male dominated industry too.

Posted by: sara at March 20, 2005 09:01 PM

Thank you Donna! Loribo and Easy also sent me links and I will be checking all 3 every Wednesday. Updates in my comments also welcome! I love Lynn and Alex and am rooting for them!

Posted by: Helen at March 17, 2005 08:24 AM

Yep. Got my best friend a job with my company - albeit temporary. She started telling my other employees not to bother me, that I was always in a bad mood, to come to her with everything, including getting leave and sick time approved. Tried to go to my higher boss, who thought I was a paranoid bitch.

Then she started monitoring the time I spent in the office, telling my boss I wasn't really sick when I was out two days with the flu/bronchitis, told them I arrived late for work, didn't know what I was doing.

Then she got my boss to agree, while I was on leave, to let her manage an entire area under my supervision without having to report to me because it was 'affecting our friendship.' AIYEEEE!!

Next, she checks in with 'her' employees on a day when she was out of the office, completely twists their comments about my help (I helped with crowd control, scheduling and so forth, they'd never done it before) and told my boss they were all afraid of me and I'd created a hostile work environment and - wait for it - I was interfering with 'her' job.

The boss, also female, finally got so sick of it she piled everyone in one room and said she wanted to work it all out right now, along with much profanity. Everyone said they had no problem with me and, in fact, LIKED me. Once the boss realized the bitch was lying, ostensibly to get my permanent position, she let EVERYONE higher know in case she tries it again. Talk about marginalized. What goes around comes around.

Side benefit - all the workers told the boss they were sick of the petty sideshow and being used in some type of vendetta and they all wanted to work for me. The evil one has been outsourced to another office for her remaining time on the payroll.

The kicker. She didn't speak to me for THREE weeks. Hey, aren't I the one who should be mad?

Agreed. Some women are duplicitous, back-stabbing uber-wenches. You just can't tell from the outside. May they all get varicose veins at an indecently early age.

Posted by: Anonymous at March 17, 2005 06:05 AM

Hi, Helen. I am a big Amazing Race fan, so I thought I'd update you on what happened last night. The guys that you like, Lynn and Alex, came in first to the pit stop in Argentina. They were very happy to have beat Rob and Amber, who came in fifth. Debbie and Biana were eliminated. Here is a good Web site if you want to know the details: http://www.realitytvworld.com/index/articles/story.php?s=3322. I'll be writing again after the next episode.


P.S. I really like reading your posts, and I am cheering for you in everything you do.

Posted by: Donna at March 17, 2005 02:27 AM

This has nothing to do with your post. But I wanted to say what a GREAT picture of you up in the corner!!!

You look very happy.

Now... back to catching up on your posts!

Posted by: Snidget at March 17, 2005 02:26 AM

"Lips only a carp could love" AHAHAHAHA! You kill me, Helen. I so get a kick out of your writing. Your last vacation went on much too long; no more vacations for YOU! ;-)

And I *adored* The Office. So cringingly accurate in so many hysterical ways it's almost too hard to watch.

As far as working with women goes...:::sighs::: What can I say? I, too, have rarely gotten along with other women if I have to work with them. This goes for all the jobs I've had all the way to preparing holiday meals with them. Everybody can get so catty and bitchy.

I'm damn glad that my daughter and myself run the two sides of the company we work for. When we butt heads, we just hang up on each other, then one of us apologizes later and we make up completely, staying the best friends we are. Maybe that's the difference; we're really honest with each other and no bullshit. Seems to work well.

At the last Corporate-Style Company I worked for, I got promoted over several women who had been there much longer than I had. I was the only women working at that level; all the others were men who had also been there a long time.

As you can imagine, this made me quite popular with "The Girls".

NOT! They started cutting me dead when they saw me and somehow mysteriously when I needed something done by their departments, it just didn't seem to happen. However, the men whose ranks I'd just joined didn't seem to mind and actually were quite welcoming and supportive.

I ended up quitting because of it; because of all the ugliness directed towards me from over 90 percent of the women working there. So...my sympathies to you, along with agreeing with your observation that women can be much pettier than men. Men can be assholes, yes, but at least they are usually up front about it so you can see them coming.

Women tend to stab you in the back when you're not looking. Neither approach is exactly a charming one, but at least with the "up front" approach, you don't get that nasty just-been-kicked-in-my-stomach feeling.

Just my own opinion..

Posted by: Amber at March 16, 2005 07:39 PM

I don't work with a lot of women, but I have a lot of trouble making friends with women. I was the wallflower in high school and college, and I feel sometimes like that has screwed up my social skills for life. I like most of the women here where I work, but they all have their own little circle and I'm just on the fringe, which makes me feel like a loser.

I think sometimes that at some point in your high teenage years, there's a seminar they send women to on how to be friends with other women and develop cliques like you see on sitcoms and in movies, and well, I just missed that seminar.

Excuse me for blathering.

Posted by: Calla at March 16, 2005 07:09 PM

Haven't read this post as its way to long to read when I'm suppose to be working in the college mailroom - but I just wanted to say I love that song too...its stuck in my head at the moment actually.

Posted by: Juls at March 16, 2005 05:50 PM

So true about women tearing each other down. I work with two men on a daily basis in one office. Our other office consists mostly of women...any dealings I have with them can be bitchy. I also used to work in Nonprofit--99% were women--and they were the bitchiest gossipmongers I've ever met! All the men I've worked with have treated me like a little girl, insignificant, or someone they want to date, especially since I'm petite and look young. Maybe I should start my own business.

Posted by: Milly at March 16, 2005 05:44 PM

I like working for a female boss. Any time you have a work performance issue all you have to do is compliment their hairdo or give 'em a little pat on the ass and all's well.

[Yeah, I know I'll pay bloody for this one but it was a slow straight ball and I just had to swing. >;-) ]

Posted by: Jim at March 16, 2005 05:26 PM

It's totally not surprising to me. I NEVER got along with any woman boss I've had.

I think women who are in a management position feel like they have to tear other women down. I think a large part of it is just because management, by and large has always been a boys club. So take the threatened feelings away, they just tear women down, because they're getting shit from men who don't think that women should be management. It's why I have no desire to ever be in management.

I fear the day we get a woman in the white house.

Posted by: sporty at March 16, 2005 04:37 PM

i think it's different in a collaborative setting, such as a university. i work with a lot of women. while there are some that are annoying, like what you are saying, i work on a team of 6 that are absolutely fabulous. if the men would get out of our way, we'd be a lot further along in our project. but there's not the cutthroat competition that there is in industry - at least not with what we're doing on our project.

Posted by: becky at March 16, 2005 03:39 PM

Do you think that is why there hasn't been a woman president yet? Hmmm. Interesting.

Posted by: Kris at March 16, 2005 03:26 PM

Here's a twist for you...

I'm the same way. Working with women is equivalent to having my toenails pulled out one by one... UNTIL... I started my current job.

My boss now - is a woman and a lesbian - a butch lesbian. It's GREAT! She has the same male mannerisms a male boss would have with a little bit of compassion to boot.

Posted by: suz at March 16, 2005 02:52 PM

I'm constantly amazed at the swirling dynamic of my daughters' relationships with their friends. Women do things differently, and all I can do is shake my head in wonder.

Posted by: E_C_Gordon@yahoo.com at March 16, 2005 01:13 PM

It's funny. Women do it to each other. Men do it with countries.

Posted by: Simon at March 16, 2005 11:00 AM
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