In the pantheon of awful bosses one is likely to experience over the course of nearly 30 years of employment, the top honours, in my case, belong to two women. The first one was a mustachioed German lady whose zest for life and love for humanity never registered above 0. The other was a frosty blonde American prone to despondency and generally lacking in the support department. The German happened to me in my late 20s, so I grinned and bore it until I got out. The second was only a few years ago and, by that point, I had learnt to use my big mouth and, mostly respectfully, I struck back. She was the one who ended up leaving. In both cases, I am quite certain, I used the “bitch” label with not an ounce of restraint.
My favorite boss was also a woman, someone with a big personality who never stinted on her support and always believed in me even when I had my own doubts. Somewhere in the middle, there was a coterie of men, more or less liked, more or less respected. From some I learnt, from others I learnt what not to do and, up and down the corporate world, I witnessed women being held back, downright mistreated but also fostered and treated as equal.
Through it all, I tried to do right by my feminist principles of gender equality. I never had a preference as to working with one gender or the other (or anything in between), just a generic allergy to assholes. Which brings me to two seemingly unrelated stories that dominated the American media last week.
At the risk of being highly unpopular, I was ticked off by the media uproar at the sudden firing of Jill Abramson from her editor position at the New York Times.
The only doubt we shouldn’t have on the matter is that it was handled poorly and with very little dignity for an editor who, and I speak as a long time New York Times reader, was a wonderful journalist and steered the paper through some great stories during her brief 2 year tenure (although I still have a gripe as to how the Times handled the Edward Snowden story).
Her appointment represented a beacon of hope for all women in a still male dominated industry but the gender card was too quickly drawn upon the leaking of the news of her firing. Rumours about pay inequality, discordance in the newsroom, poor leadership all built up to one conclusion: Ms. Abramson was the victim of double standards. She was labelled “pushy” when a man was “just doing his job”. All this uproar within hours of the announcement, and from people with no direct knowledge of what really happened, who didn’t hesitate in making Ms. Abramson the sacrificial lamb of gender inequality.
What if, instead, she was just a lousy boss? What if Arthur Sulzberger Jr. just didn’t like her much, irrespective of her gender? What if he realized he had made a mistake and it should have been Dean Baquet from the start to hold the job, instead of flanking her, leading to discontent? As majority owner of a privately held newspaper, it’s his prerogative to get rid of management he doesn’t get along with. He certainly could have done it with more style and equanimity, or just made better choices to begin with, but to jump to the conclusions that most please us, as women, feels wrong to me.
It’s not that I am not aware of how much there is still to be accomplished to reach gender (and race) equality, and I am not immune to the symbology of women in unprecedented positions of power (Hillary Clinton’s possible Presidential nomination comes to mind) but I think sometimes we get so caught up in the game that fairness and balance get lost in the wake.
In fact, I am so aware of how much there is still to do that I was also ticked off by actress Shailene Woodley’s comments that she is not a feminist “because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance”.
This idiotic statement proves two things:
- if you are 22, you should not opine out loud, and certainly not on the record, on matters you absolutely know nothing about. In her defense, most 22 year olds are not asked to comment publicly on anything so they don’t have to make a public display of the fact they don’t know their ass from their elbow.
- But, more worrisome, this statement is proof that, between 1990 and the noughts, feminism has managed to become a dirty label some young women feel the need to distance themselves from.
So, for our younger sisters out there, let’s clear up the matter.
You can be a feminist and wear a bra, shave your legs and keep on loving men with all your might, all the while making sure you are treated equally, recompensed equally and afforded the same opportunities. All of you who grew up thinking you could become whatever you wanted to be have the F word to thank for, and all those women who walked in harder shoes than yours.
But, as Marcel Proust reminds us: “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”
Getting off my soapbox now.