by Risa Green
I got set up recently with a new friend – it was one of those things where we had a million mutual friends in common, all of whom thought we would really like each other, but somehow, our paths had never crossed. She’s funny, I was told, and smart, and she’s a writer, too. You’ll love her.
I’m usually a little wary of set ups like these – a lot of times, it just ends up being a situation where I get trapped into listening to someone’s idea for a book – but this time, that wasn’t the case. We did get along great, and we did have a lot in common, and she ended up being someone I could see becoming a real friend. But she also had an idea, which was, it turns out, the real reason for the set up. Her idea was to bring together a group of like-minded, working moms in similar fields, on the theory that we could all help each other get ahead in our careers. Part support group, part networking group, part therapy session, she pitched it to me as a kind of sorority for working moms; a self-selecting group that would always be there for each other to provide a contact, to lend an ear, to be a sounding board. My initial reaction: I don’t think so.
It’s not that I don’t like the idea – I do. In theory, I think it would be fantastic. A group of working moms helping each other to get ahead? What could be better than that? But then I think about the experiences I’ve had with other women in the workplace, and I just can’t help thinking that this idea has no chance of ever working out.
When I was a summer associate at the law firm I eventually went to work for, there was a young associate – about five years older than I was – who hated me. I don’t know why. I had barely ever even spoken to her, but for whatever reason, she made it her mission to sabotage me as much as possible. A few years later, when I went to work as a college counselor, the backstabbing among some of the women in the profession was unbelievable. What I noticed, more often than not, was that many of the women were fighting with each other – subtly, of course – to be the alpha female. If there was a chance to trash talk a colleague, they took it. If there was a chance to beat someone else to the punch, they took it. If someone went on maternity leave or had to take care of a sick child, or had to leave work early for a mammogram, forget it. The men wouldn’t dare complain about any of these things (at least, not in the open). But the women? Bring it on. There was no sisterhood, no female bonding. Work, at least as I saw it, was like being in an all-girls roller derby, except that nobody was playing for the same team.
I’m not going to psychoanalyze and try to figure out why so many women behave this way towards each other. I’ll leave that to the professionals. And, I have been out of the traditional office workplace for a few years, so maybe things have changed. But I don’t really think so. Plus, it happens outside of the office, too. Just look at what goes on in motherhood, with the SAHMs versus the working moms, the breast-feeders versus the non-breastfeeders, and the constant judgments and comparisons and competitions that go on among women every minute of every day. Sure, we can root for a Hillary Clinton or a Sonia Sotomayor, but that’s because they’re too far up the ladder, too far removed from us to be a threat. But what if Hillary Clinton worked in your office? Come on, you know you would hate her. She’d be picked apart faster than a chicken bone in a dog shelter.
So, back to the working mom sorority idea…I expressed my reservations to my new friend. I mean, I was in a real sorority, and nobody could even stand each other, let alone want to help one another. But she assured me that it would be great. We would make sure that nobody in the group directly competed with anyone else. So, for example, we would not have another novelist who writes the same kinds of books as me. And, she said, we would always have lots and lots of alcohol at our meetings, to help dull the cattiness that would, inevitably, arise.
In the end, I told her she could count me in. Worst case, it could end up being great material for a future book. Best case, I might make some interesting new friends. And who knows? Maybe she’s right. Maybe it will work. I’m going into it with an open mind, and lots of optimism. Because in the end, I would love nothing more than to have my faith in womankind restored.
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