31 January 2009
NEWS - Bullying: Secret Women's Business
It's the corporate stereotype - the ruthless alpha male. But is the real bullying going on among the women in the office? Shelley Gare investigates in The Weekend Australian Magazine.
Here is an extract:
A few months ago, I heard a horrible story. A young features editor had been working in a magazine office where one of the higher-ups had taken a dislike to her. The superior deliberately started excluding her colleague from the information loop. She organised office drinks or lunches but didn’t include the young editor. Others would be invited with an admonishing shush: don’t tell you-know-who.
The young woman, whose desk was placed so that her back faced the office, used to sit at her computer and silently weep, thinking no one could see her. She sat there for another six months.
When I first heard this tale, I felt terribly sorry for this young woman. I was repelled by the cruelty and that it had happened in a workplace supposedly devoted to helping women enjoy being women.
But there was also a tiny bit of me that thought … well, she was an adult. It was a few women being immature, but she had her job. All she had to do was get through each weekday
until 6pm and then she’d have her real life waiting for her at home. How hard could it have been?
FEW women can be as upfront in their bullying of their sisters as Queen Elizabeth I of England. Faced with a younger, more beautiful rival, Mary Queen of Scots, who also had a claim to the throne of England, Elizabeth simply had her cousin’s head chopped off. It was lethal. Direct.
By comparison, when adult women bully each other, they are mostly indirect. They use weapons that are hard to detect and that leave wounds invisible to the eye. The adjectives psychologists and bullying experts use to describe such shadowy methods are “covert”, “subtle” and “manipulative”.
The tactics are ostracism, exclusion, spreading rumours and playing favourites. Information is withheld; secrets are kept; a victim’s contributions – to either a conversation or a workplace – are ignored. It’s bullying by stealth.
“Aggression in men tends to be worn much more clearly,” says Dan Auerbach, a Sydney-based analytic psychotherapist. “But those subtle expressions of dislike between women make it much harder to fi ght back, and harder for other people to see what’s going on.”
But talking about the kind of bullying that can go on between adult women turns out to be secret women’s business, a no-go area, in spite of the fact that every woman to whom I spoke for this story knows it happens and knows how devastating it can be. It’s the last great taboo, as Anthea Paul, author of the best-selling Girlosophy series, puts it.