Women are nice about as often as men
Let me tell you about women bosses. They can be female dogs. While women rise to dizzy heights in government and business, which we applaud, they can also bring the behaviour of their domestic life to the office. Husbands and kids put up with their quirks because they have no choice. Subordinates are supposed to hack it because – let’s be kind – women are nice. And better. We’ve been told.
It would indeed be nice if that were so. MP Maggie Barry and Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell would not have drawn complaints over their managerial style, and men would not be caged and used as bait for a man-eating leopard in India’s Gujarat. A healthy dose of female power is evidently being exerted there.
The truth is, women are nice about as often as men are. Which is to say that while male bosses may make dumb sexual remarks, make passes at you, or yell at and threaten you, female bosses will engage in epic passive aggression, blame you for their mistakes, and sulk and stomp about like petulant children.
‘‘You!’’ the massively bosomed elderly woman in charge of the cash register used to shout at me long ago across the dining-room of Wellington’s Grand Hotel, ‘‘You have a stupid face!’’ Spellbound by her enormous bosom in its massive uplift bra, men gave her the tips that were our due, as waitresses, for scurrying around with their food like scared rabbits. She knew the power of a tight jumper and pearls, and I knew the type. Bullies.
Assistant headmistresses were the bullies of secondary schools in my day, trusted to discipline the girls. ‘‘You’re not the sort of girl I want in my school!’’ one barked at me after seeing a boy hug me in the corridor. There was no point in explaining the boy, a friend, was gay. Women in those roles, invariably unmarried, detested – oh, hints of sexuality, traces of lipstick, and youth itself.
Another monster would demand I meet in her office, berate me, and reduce me to tears for her own grim kicks. It was never clear what I’d done to offend her.
Hospital matrons, I heard, were up to similar antics with trainee nurses, who they could bully night and day, since trainees lived in hostels attached to hospitals. Virginity back then was guarded by such female mastiffs, who bared their fangs at the whiff of male testosterone, and snarled.
I worked for a woman who gave me an anxiety attack every time the phone rang. I still panic, a little less with time, expecting her rapid-patter blast. Questions would be barked at me, all difficult to answer on the spot, involving hours of work before they could be answered. Praise she handed out thinly, but competition with colleagues was encouraged by praising them lavishly. She liked to have us all off balance.
She had many good qualities, but because she was tough on herself she was ruthless with staff, so it was hard to like her. The effect is compounded when they expect you to collect their dry cleaning or fetch their morning coffee.
Claiming perfectionism is no excuse, and is unpleasantly boastful anyway, as in, ‘‘I only bully people because I have high standards’’ – as if noone else does. People are more likely to quietly undermine you than admire you for that attitude.
With #MeToo the year’s big event in human relations, women bosses have to expect the same scrutiny as men. They should bear in mind that dominatrixes may make good money, but not everyone craves the lash.