The most interesting thing about the New York Times article on female bullies in the workplace . . . is how interesting it apparently is. Four days after it appeared on line and three days after the print edition, it's still among the ten most E-mailed articles on the entire Times site. Every other article in the top ten (as I write this on Wednesday evening) appeared the print edition today or yesterday.
Here's the article's starting point:
It’s probably no surprise that most of [workplace] bullies are men, as a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, an advocacy group, makes clear. But a good 40 percent of bullies are women. And at least the male bullies take an egalitarian approach, mowing down men and women pretty much in equal measure. The women appear to prefer their own kind, choosing other women as targets more than 70 percent of the time.
"We've got enough obstacles"
Out of all the news that's fit to print, what is it that people find so fascinating about that? It's different for different people, as the article suggests:
- It's surprising to some, since bullying is "antithetical to the way that we are supposed to behave to other women" (said Peggy Klaus, an executive coach in California).
- It's familiar to others, who "will nod in instant recognition" when female bullying is mentioned.
- It's challenging to feminists: "How can women break through the glass ceiling if they are ducking verbal blows from other women in cubicles, hallways and conference rooms?"
- It shows how vulnerable women feel in the workplace, according to Canadian researchers cited as finding "that some women may sabotage one another because they feel that helping their female co-workers could jeopardize their own careers."
- It shows how women's behavior is misunderstood, to those who think the perception of female bullies is "stereotyping and women are only perceived as being overly aggressive".
- It may suggest we're redefining bullying itself, or at least that's how I reacted to the question used in one cited survey to define it: "Over the last 12 months, have you regularly: been glared at in a hostile manner, been given the silent treatment, been treated in a rude or disrespectful manner, or had others fail to deny false rumors about you?" (I'm almost as nice in person as I am in this blog, but I have to admit I glare from time to time.)
- Some find it sexist that we're even asking the question, and "will point out that people of both sexes can misbehave."
- Some just sigh: “We’ve got enough obstacles; we don’t need to pile on any more.”
The article doesn't mention the iconic fascination of a catfight, but that has to be part of it too.
I don't know which of these factors is most meaningful, or which way they will cut, in a case where gender is an issue or, as important, where it's simply something jurors will notice. (As they will if you're a woman, or your client or your expert is, or your opponent is.) What's clear is that whatever importance you thought gender had in your case, you might be underestimating it. In any given few days, the Times has some amazing articles. But this is the one people are still sending each other.
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(Photo by Tommy Jørgensen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tommyhj/346075714; license details there.)