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by Cathy Vandewater | March 08, 2012


Today's the 101st annual International Women's Day, and it couldn't come at a more relevant time.
Recent birth control legislation controversies have already raised women's rights to the forefront of the public consciousness, but it was Rush Limbaugh's statements about Sandra Fluke, who testified on the issue at a Democratic hearing, that are causing huge stir.
Labeling her a "prostitute" for her pro-birth control insurance coverage statements, Limbaugh caught a firestorm of public criticism for his derogatory, sexist, and widely offensive comments on Fluke, not just as a political figure, but as a woman and person.
President Obama took issue with the events and called Fluke to thank her for her courage and citizenship, and reassure her that's she'd done right to speak up, despite criticism. He then took his show of support for women's issues a step further by offering to speak at Barnard (a women's school affiliated with Columbia) for the school's commencement--drawing a heap of criticism from Columbia students.
The ironic--and sad--response to the choice has been a surge of Columbia women taking to school blogs and messaged boards to protest Obama's choice. And they're using language as crass as Limbaugh's and worse.
As the Daily Beast reports, "Using terms like "feminazis" and calling Barnard “Barnyard,” commenters said the school was just a back door to Columbia, and its students deserved neither Obama as a speaker nor affiliation with the university as a whole."
Another commenter wrote, "Try using your Daddy's hard-earned cash in a respectable way if you want to be an ACTUAL role model for Women... Unlike Barnyard financial leeches, I have NO intention of pursuing a Mrs. Degree. I came here to make myself successful, not try to plead at the knees of a Columbia boy to marry her."
So what's exactly is going on here? What would cause women to attack eachother with sexist remarks Rush Limbaugh would make?
Why should women at an affiliated school be so upset to see other women recieve a privelege? Is it not a victory for everyone, for women to receive a recognition or a leg up?
We may not have answers to those questions today, even as we celebrate a day of women's awareness. But below is a piece Vault's previously run on the phenomen of "Queen Bees"--highly successful women who isolate themselves from other members of their gender, or behave in anti-social ways towards them--that might provide some insight as to why, 101 years into celebrating International's Women's Day, we're still competing, and fighting dirty.
Published: Friday, June 24, 2011

A study at Leiden University in the Netherlands suggests that "difficult, male-dominated" environments may be the source of "Queen Bee" female bosses who distance themselves from other women.

An online questionnaire taken by 63 senior women in law enforcement asked the participants to rate how important their gender was at work, and how well they identified with other women in their field, and then write about either a negative encounter with gender biases at work, or a time when they felt their gender was a non-issue.

The results: those who identified with other women at the workplace were more likely to express a desire to help other women facing gender biases. Those who considered themselves to be "different" from other women or have a "masculine" style of leadership were less likely to want to give a leg up to other members of their group—and much more likely to match the "queen bee personality" profile.

Though it's possible that queen bees' tenacity gets them ahead and into leadership roles, it's also important to look at a system where women feel they have to act against type to get ahead. "Masculine" attributes are perceived to be well-liked by male higher ups, so it seems women are using each other as foils rather than as partners in an attempt to stand out.

Pop culture, unfortunately, perpetuates that mentality. Working Girl, The Devil Wears Prada, Disclosure—they all showcase ruthless women as the only professionally successful ones. These characters schmooze, flirt, and spar with men while seamlessly putting down, cheating, and shoving other women out of the way. Then there are films like Bad Teacher (in which glamorous but evil Cameron Diaz sleeps and manipulates her way to job security) that are not only devoid of positive female role models, they reinforce the stereotype that attractive successful women are the worst villains, always using sex and manipulation, never to be trusted.

Ladies—there has to be a better way. But some experts are claiming it's out of our hands until the workplace becomes more gender blind. Says Belle Derks, a scientist on the study, " "If you simply put women at higher positions without doing anything about gender bias in the organization, these women will be forced to distance themselves from the group."

She believes that in sink or swim environments, everybody puts themselves first—but it's not a flattering look on women, who have been socialized to play nice. The result is either passive aggressive behavior (where women put a nice face on competitiveness, a la Sigourney Weaver) or straightforward aggressiveness (Meryl Streep) which women especially despise as a betrayal to the group. vBut is it, really? Should women be expected to be "loyal to the group" in the first place?

"If you set women up this way, so they have to choose between their opportunities and the opportunities of the group, some women will choose themselves," says Derks. "Why should you choose your group? Men don't have to."

Point taken.

--Cathy Vandewater,

Read More:
Size Discrimination Weighs More Heavily on Women
Gender vs. Pay: 10 Worst Industries for Women
Do We Prefer Male Bosses? Your Morning Meeting—Discouraging to Women?
Tips for Women Working to Get Ahead in Business
Are Wall Street Women's Networks Killing Women's Chances of Rising to CEO?


Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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