A lot of remoras have been nibbling on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In phraseology, offering their own ass-backwards versions, as well as criticizing the entire capitalistic foundation of Sandberg's book. Languishing somewhere in the midst of these contending opinions about feminism, capitalism, and stay at home mothering lies Meredith Fuller's observation that women in the workplace would have an easier time succeeding if only they weren't so busy undermining each other, mean girls style.
That's the premise of — you guessed it! — Fuller's own workplace feminism book called, a little unfortunately, Working with Bitches: Identify the Eight Types of Office Mean Girls and Rise Above the Workplace Nastiness. According to the New York Post, Fuller, a "psychologist and corporate consultant" with over 30 years of private practice experience, focuses on the so-called "soft violence" that occurs between women in the workplace, and determines that women need to do a better job of circling the wagons and championing one another.
The title of Fuller's book is provocative, almost to the point that it's a little misleading — pulling anecdotes and data from 200 women and using a case study of 2,000 women, Working with Bitches explores the ways workplace competition pits women against each other. Instead of helping each other succeed, Fuller contends that women in the office are prone to "subtle, surreptitious behaviors that are meant to undermine, exclude and eliminate." Since these behaviors are so "surreptitious," women in the office, according to Fuller, often find themselves without an adequate support system:
One of the things that makes this so difficult is that women who suffer with this tend to be silent. As women, we're supposed to be good at interpersonal relationships, so the thinking is, ‘It must be my fault.' There's a lot of shame. And we also don't want to betray other women.
Women in the workplace, by Fuller's estimation, are effectively gaslighting each other, waging a shadow war against each other when they should be helping one another succeed. However, the Post's Maureen Callahan is careful to note that Fuller isn't arguing that men don't gleefully participate in the same workplace cannibalization, only that men are more straightforward about their meanness:
To be clear, Fuller isn't arguing that men aren't capable of equally brutalizing their employees: They are, she says, but just in a different way. It goes, she says, to "the etiology of what girls and boys learn as kids," and in the ways they relate among each other: boys tend to express aggression in more forthright and physical ways, while girls exclude, spread gossip, form cliques. These patterns extend into adulthood and into the office, and in her consulting work, Fuller says that 100% of the time, male executives are shocked when confronted with her data.
Fuller's book — which is full of tales about former female execs being driven out of their jobs, "reduced to tears," and transforming into nervous wrecks — might be more valuable if it resisted the urge to to name-call. All the workplace villains in this book are women, and, like any good character study, they've all been helpfully sorted into archetypes like "The Excluder," "The Insecure," "The Toxic," "The Narcissist," and, because we're apparently dealing with children instead of professional women, "The Screamer."
Maybe the workplace does reduce otherwise mature men and women into wailing toddlers, but whatever value Fuller's insights might have is diminished by her own willingness to blame women for their own corporate tribulations. The last thing the push for workplace equality needs is a chronicle of the many ways in which women handle workplace stress differently from men. Fuller's point, that women spend too much time infighting, seems less like a critique of women in the workplace than of an unapologetically capitalistic corporate culture that has a long and storied history both of excluding women from its besuited ranks, and fostering the sort of cutthroat competition that gives Pete Campbell night terrors.
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