Why Aren't Men Punching Back?
Since getting an MBA in the early 1990s and working at a series of corporate marketing jobs, I’ve found a new persona: the aggressive woman.
Without consciously realizing it, I act far more aggressively at work than I’ve ever been socially, in school, or in my relationship with my husband. And more aggressively than my male colleagues. For 15 years, it’s worked for me to negotiate promotions boldy, barge my way into important meetings, propose radical cost-cutting solutions, and invite myself to lunch with executives 3-4 levels above my rank.
Simply put, for my post-Title IX generation it seems acceptable to be driven, ambitious, goal-oriented and competitive at work – without fear of backlash from men in the office. At work, I’ve found women can be pitbulls without being accused of being bitches (with my apologies for the unfortunate dog analogy). And I gotta say, it’s been exciting – as a girlie-girl growing up, I always wondered what it was like to rule the playground. And I’ve found the thrills far more intense when the rewards are stock options and fascinating challenges, versus first pick of kickball teams.
Last Sunday’s Washington Post argued the same point in Boxed Into a Corner, Men Can’t Punch Back
“Boys still aren’t supposed to hit girls. Even if it’s the girl who starts the fight…The idea of getting ferocious with a woman has been fraught with anxiety and over-analysis…The idea that a woman can be tough, ruthless or just plain mean comes as a kind of head-scratching revelation, especially to men…The reality is that women can deliver a straight-up beatdown…There is significant evidence that women are fighting more like men – and men don’t know how to respond.”
The context prompting this analysis is Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s delicate posturing when faced with Sarah Palin’s attacks. The men are clearly afraid of coming off as bullies, or sexist, or ungentlemanly – fears that Palin takes full advantage of by talking trash, calling her opponents names, pointing both fingers in the air and staring boldly into the camera like the alpha-dog leading the pack. Men’s fears of responding to aggressive women also extend to corporate board meetings, television, the hip hop music industry, and the worlds of journalism, academia and entertainment, where women “get away” with being as aggressive as men (or more so). We live in an era thick with tomboys -- Carly Fiorina, Tyra Banks, Arianna Huffington, Tina Brown, Laila Ali, Naomi Wolf, Judith Regan, Cathy Black, Madonna. These women throw punches at men and get away with it nearly every time.
What do you see? Are you more outgoing and aggressive at work? Do you see women succeeding – or failing – in our attempts to compete with men? Do you think the Sarah Palin style of aggression is a passing phase, or a permanent change in women’s socialization?