Women are nice about as of­ten as men

The Press - - Opinion - Rose­mary McLeod

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.

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