Huffpost Business

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Lynn Harris Headshot

Bully for Who?

Posted: Updated:

The current most popular emailed story at "Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work." A new survey has apparently revealed that "a good 40 percent of [workplace] bullies are women. And that unlike their male counterparts, they" -- the Times notes AnimalPlanetarily-- "prefer their own kind," targeting other women over 70 percent of the time. (Source: The Workplace Bullying Institute, which, you'll forgive me, sounds like the place where bullies go for board certification.)

"In the name of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem," wails the piece, "what is going on here?"

Sorry, but this article makes me want to go out and give someone an atomic wedgie.

While it's passed off as "news" -- this time, natch, something about the recession making people extra ornery -- this supposedly revelatory mean-girls meme gets trotted out at least annually, hung on any news hook handy. (Cf., The Devil Wears Prada, etc. etc.) My lovely personal assistant, Miss Lexis Nexis, easily found me numerous examples of essentially the same story, starting in 1997.

Back in 2000, I had a bit of a bad breakup with a women's company we'll call Moxygen Edia. Frequently, when people heard the gory deets, they'd say, "Really? I'm so surprised that would happen at a women's company." Me, I'm so tired of the expectation that women = nice and feminism = "sisterhood" and of this "Sorry, Steinem!" surprise when the opposite is reported to be the case.

'Cause you know what? Roughly half of people are women, and at least one-third people are assholes. So yeah, at some point, ladies -- mathematically speaking -- you're bound to work with a beeyotch. That's the unfortunate reality of the workplace, not some sad failure of feminism.

The piece, rightly, does mention the unrealistic, and unresolvable, expectations of women in leadership roles: "If women business leaders act consistent with gender stereotypes, they are considered too soft," the research group Catalyst has found. "If they go against gender stereotypes, they are considered too tough."

But they're always good for a headline, huh? We might not like that bully at work, but in the popular imagination, she'll always have a job: the manager who backstabs her way to the middle, the bitch who boils the bunny in the office coffeepot. Call me "nurturing," but I'd rather read more about what people are doing to make workplaces nicer for everyone.