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.