Bitches & Ballbusters: The Gendering of Bad Bosses

Tuesday, 19 Desember 2017 - 15:18:58 WIB
By : Bruce Emond | Category: Gender & Sexuality - 863 hits
During my career, I have stood on all rungs of the office ladder, from pencil-sharpening teenage intern, eager beaver 20-something chomping at the bit to get ahead in journalism, and eventually becoming the power that be as the head of various editorial sections. Now, rather unceremoniously, as fate would have it, I find myself almost starting again from scratch as a newbie in an unexplored work environment.

As it is, when I started my descent down the ladder, I encountered supervisors who were people I found difficult to deal with. One was a take-no-prisoners go-getter who, you imagined, had probably left a trail of Jimmy Choo heel marks in many a back. She was like Sigourney Weaver’s deliciously manipulative and self-serving character in the 1980s’ movie Working Girl, only out for herself, irrational, unreasonable and strident with her subordinates, but a political shenanigans maestro with her own bosses.  She was given to forlornly declaring from her ivory tower of an office that only she cared about the company, although, naturally, she would invoke the name of teamwork whenever needed.

As is always the case, she had a posse of assistant-cum-flatterers to keep her on an even keel, but even the fawning brownnosers could not quiet the ire of “Shelly” when she spotted an offending jar of mustard on a desk and took it as a personal affront.

“You know I HATE mustard,” she snipped as she stomped back to her office (names have been changed to protect innocent condiments).  She had clearly only heard the first part of the late Sundanese singer and talk-show host Kang Ebet Kadarusman’s statement that it’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice.

Then there was “Betty”, who juggled her and everyone else’s schedule so that she was in the running to become an unofficial work-from-home employee: woe betide anyone who questioned her efforts to build a better relationship with her pillow. As she was liable to come down with anything and everything – she somehow missed catching bird flu, but probably had taken time off just in case – I came to believe that an array of antibiotics was probably a suitable birthday present.

Here in the UK, I literally stumbled upon a job in my small seaside town in a communications company. It was owned by a wealthy middle-aged woman who had once worked in Britain’s media central and built up her own business from her bedroom. Everything was fine and dandy in our office interactions when I was a once-a-week freelancer but she showed her true colors when I became (briefly) a full-time employee.
 

I knew full well that their unprofessional behaviour was not simply attributable to their sex and gender, it was about who they were as people and their character flaws and insecurities.


Everybody who disagreed with her was a nob or a c*&$ - the latter a word so base and vicious in reducing women to their genitalia – and while no great brains, she had obviously learned a thing or two from colonial administrative systems in dividing and conquering her employees by pitting one against the other. If employees were having a chat, suddenly “Samantha” would appear, vaping and wide-eyed from paranoid curiosity, like one of those flying ninjas from schlock Hong Kong movies, pressing them to find out what was going on.

Knowing full well that I was gay, she bemoaned the fact that the town was “becoming too gay” for her liking and, as portly me carried my plate up to eat lunch at my desk one day, she inquired, “You’re not eating again, are you?”

Finally, as she launched into another huffy tirade, I told her to get lost and walked out the door.

Now, all three of the above gems of humanity are women. Some friends and colleagues would often point that out to me as they listened to my complaints, as if to say that meltdowns and histrionics were only to be expected from “more emotional” women. One, I recall, even referred to the “scourge of PMS”, which was to rest his case that women were bound to be on the warpath during their periods. But it was not only men who upheld the female boss stereotype; there were plenty of women who also vouched that they disliked having one because of their supposed more subjective decisions and behaviour.

I must admit that, like the boxer in Simon and Garfunkel’s song, this poor boy took some comfort in the female boss-means-trouble stereotyping. It was convenient to do. But to do that did them and me a disservice. I knew full well that their unprofessional behaviour was not simply attributable to their sex and gender, it was about who they were as people and their character flaws and insecurities.

Shelly was driven to succeed at any cost because she was vain and self-centered, Betty was selfish and lazy, and Samantha is saddled by so much baggage that it’s surprising that she can hold herself up from the weight of it all.

In fact, I have also had excellent bosses who were women, beginning with the brilliant supervisor when I did part-time work at my campus communications office, who nurtured my talents and supported me. I have also had truly awful male bosses, from an almost Machiavellian character who preyed on anxieties and vulnerabilities to stay on top, to a slick willy (pun intended) whose predatory behaviour over many years and to many different women shows that Harvey Weinstein is no singularly western phenomenon.

If I am honest – and I have to be or everything I wrote will ring hollow – then I must also own up to the fact that there were times when I was a supervisor that I could also be manipulative, overbearing and controlling. Many times. I wanted things my way, was driven by the need to succeed and was often stressed out and temperamental, acting accordingly high-handed to the people I worked with. I put the need to perform for the bosses ahead of taking care of my direct subordinates, even when the demands were unreasonable. I hope that this untoward behaviour was mitigated somewhat by my compassion, concern for employee welfare in other respects and my own commitment to the job, but it does not excuse it or negate the fact that it happened.

 

We have, thankfully, banished many of the demeaning stereotypes of women in the home and society in many parts of the world, but in the workplace they persist, whether they range from the angry or emotionally overwrought female leader to the whispers that a powerful woman must have slept her way to the top. 


When we focus on the gender of an unprofessional boss, then we let the people who should really be taking care of employee interests –
managers and HR departments – off the hook. I’ve seen too many times when these two parties shirk their duties and responsibilities, and let truly unprofessional behaviour continue because they feel it is in their best interests to support the important people in the office. Sometimes, they are in bed, in every sense, with the people they should be monitoring and ensuring do not run roughshod over less powerful employees, who feel they are powerless to take any course of action in their defence. Of course, the result is bad bosses behaving badly with impunity and, I believe, allows the sexual harassment and abuses that we saw with Weinstein flourish on a smaller but no less important scale around the world.

I am proud that in the United Kingdom, my new home after leaving Indonesia, we have women in power in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They hopefully are judged on their performance in office, not on their bra size or photogenic quotient. We have, thankfully, banished many of the demeaning stereotypes of women in the home and society in many parts of the world, but in the workplace they persist, whether they range from the angry or emotionally overwrought female leader to the whispers that a powerful woman must have slept her way to the top.

Deep down, we know that bad, vainglorious, me-me-me bosses come from all genders, races and creeds. We see it in plain sight every morning when we open our Twitter feed to read the latest unstrung tweets from the septuagenarian in the White House. While we may not be able to stand up to him, we do have to be prepared to stand up and be counted against unprofessional behaviour, beginning with ensuring that proper courses of action are in place for the welfare of employees, both male and female, in the office. For bad bosses, whatever their gender, can only get away with their bad behaviour when we let them.

As to those former bosses, male and female, I want to express a heartfelt, "Bye, Felicia."

Longtime Indonesia resident Bruce Emond lives in a small seaside town in Kent, England. He misses rendang and real tempe penyet, but eats mustard whenever he wants.
 

Got an opinion on this issue? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below.

Related Articles
COMMENTS
P.R. | 29 Desember 2017 | 07:23:25 WIB
THANK YOU for this excellent article!













Weekly Top 5