Project Wonderful

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ask An Election Nerd: Queen Bee Syndrome

Got this one in my email:

Have you ever encountered queen bee syndrome on a campaign? If so, how have you combated it? It isn't something I've had to deal with yet, but I've heard horror stories from friends.


Yes. It took me a long time to answer this one because I don't think I handled it super well. Queen Bee Syndrome for those of you who don't know "describes a woman in a position of authority who views or treats subordinates more critically if they are female."

I'm going to preface this with a disclaimer that I have some pretty gender normative things to say when it comes to field organizing (my campaign roots) and the sexes.
Can women be tough ass bitches? Absolutely. I like to fancy myself one, but nature or nurture or some combination of the two have trained us by and large to have different skills, desires, and emotional patterns than men and those can be heightened in times of extreme emotional pressure.

Because talented women are harder to come by in politics, and field organizing requires a lifestyle not conducive to traditional feminine roles (lots of scrapiness, bawdiness, pushiness...all of which we may excel at but don't make us feel particularly ladylike) there is no prescription for how to be a woman on a campaign. Let me be clear that I totally blame men/society for this, but it doesn't make it less true. Some women try to act like total bros and just be one of the boys. Some women go in the opposite direction, become uptight, and wind up alienating their coworkers. It doesn't help that everybody is sleeping with everybody. I think "Queen Bee Syndrome" sometimes arises because women wind up resenting each other for trying to be a woman on a campaign differently, as if one's choices are in tacit judgement of another's (again, society's fault but our problem.) In addition, for the reasons listed above, women on campaigns are under an extreme amount of scrutiny and pressure which makes it a even more difficult to cope with the already stressful environment. These unique pressures, by the way, are why it is so important for female bosses to mentor and encourage baby female organizers.

I kind of tried to be all of these "kinds" of women (bro, high strung, feminine...) and so wound up succeeding at none of them. (Sidenote: One of the funniest things my exboyfriend ever said to me: "Can you stop calling me by my last name? It would make me feel more like we're dating and less like we're in the Marines.") I was an organizer on a campaign with all female leadership (my State Director, my Field Director and my Regional) and all male coworkers in my region. My discomfort with being on my second campaign, which was run differently from the first one, and the isolation of being the only one in my office for a long time made me kind of drop my basket. I wound up being extremely defensive and clashing with my boss, the only other woman with whom I had daily contact. I felt that I was held to a different standard than my coworkers and expected to act differently. I am sure there would have been some friction between us anyway, but I have no doubt that gender played a role.

What I wish I had done is empathize with this other woman and make a greater effort to find some common ground. I was so focused on how "unfair" she was to me, I didn't consider how unfair it was to us. This may sound trite but I really think opening up a dialogue about what it's like to be a woman in this world would have greatly strengthened our relationship. I can't help but wonder what would have happened if I had taken her out for coffee or proposed a girls night early on. She must have been feeling the same pressure as I did, yet it never occurred to me to ask her how she felt about managing an almost entirely male staff or if she ever felt like she faced different challenges than her male peers. What a relief it would have been to both of us to have someone with whom to discuss that pressure. We definitely still would have bumped heads, but I think it would have felt less personally motivated. As Mother Teresa said "If you judge people, you have no time to love them."

There you go! Advice I hope you never have to use.

Love, Woman Power, and Call Sheets,


No comments:

Post a Comment