Every time I give a talk inside a large corporate women’s group, I am always—ALWAYS—asked about women who uphold the patriarchy. Or as they’re more colloquially known, Queen Bees.
I have read so much research on this, and women who have experienced it aren’t imagining things. But it tends to be an outgrowth of a zero-sum workplace, where one woman will succeed to the highest levels, creating a scarcity mentality. All the research I’ve seen shows that when multiple women are on boards or C-level management, the behavior basically goes away.
A more pervasive and insidious presumed truism than “Queen Bees” are “Mean Girls.” (Add it to the list of things that Tiny Fey has a lot to answer for when it comes to feminism…)
I went to an only-girls school; I’ve experienced a girl acting mean and have probably been one, although I didn’t have the social clout that defines the genre. I also experienced Queen Bees. So before my great feminist awakening of 2011, I assumed both were a thing.
It was really Nancy Jo Sales’ book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers and a later debate we had onstage at a Pandoland conference that opened my eyes about the mean girl thing. First, there is no evidence to prove that teenage girls are any more or less “mean” than teenage boys. And consider that one is a way to tar women at a young age as “catty” while the reasoning given to bad behavior for young men “boys will be boys” excuses them.
But more than that, Sales articulated that believing that “mean girls” are a thing gives people an excuse to invalidate and minimize young girls’ pain. The same way the “queen bee” myth gave executives cover not to promote women saying things like, “Well, actually, most women tell me that it’s the women that hold them back…”
I get into this today because of Greta Thunberg’s tremendous and fiery speech on climate change yesterday. Thunberg is part of a wave of badass, empowered, and ferocious young women who have become a driving force in politics right now, from the Teen Vogue generation to the student activists for gun restrictions. The Washington Post reports today that teenage girls are leading the fight on climate change.
These teenage girls’ value won’t be reduced to how they look, they won’t be shamed into being “nice,” they don’t care if you call them angry. They’ve somehow figured out that the key to power is rejecting labels like “mean girls” that divide you and instead amalgamating your voice and your power. “I’ll show you mean…”
It’s something women in corporate America should be paying attention to. Men should as well. How many world leaders, CEOs, and GOP lawmakers don’t speak their minds because they’re terrified of an angry Presidential Tweet? A 16-year-old girl doesn’t seem to care. Why do they again?
This is a particularly exciting development given our big annual summit, the Chairman Mom Flee, starts tomorrow, and one of the talks is Catherine Connors on “How to Raise an A**hole.” It’s a talk that she’s given in board rooms that have brought grown female leaders to tears—ripping right through all of this built up patriarchal plaque of what we are supposed to do and who we are supposed to be from the youngest ages, while men are encouraged to be as bad as they feel like. It’s a talk that cuts at the heart of what we say we want women to be, and how we still parent young girls. I’ve never heard the talk but I’ve heard about it and can’t wait.
In my experience as a journalist, I’ve realized there’s a difference between being an a**hole and an a**hole with a cause. The latter is something I’m beyond OK with, even though it’s cost me a lot in my career and my personal life. For 20 years it was my job. It should be the job of anyone with any level of power.
And I’m OK modeling that for my kids too. They seem to get there’s some sort of distinction there. The other day I stopped to pick something up for someone and rushed to give it to them and Eli said, “Mom, you are so nice! You are always doing nice things for people. I don’t know why everyone is so terrified of you!”
I can be “nice” and a warrior at the same time.
Today we’re spotlighting a few of our favorite Chairman Mom threads about raising girls. Add your insights and give them a read:
- How do you reconcile with trying raising a strong daughter who loves all things “girl”?
- How do you raise daughters to not be into their looks when you indulge in your own vanity?
- Should I send my kindergartener to an all-girls school?