Embracing sisterhood and the queen bees
Sisterhood. I first came across this idea of ‘sisterhood’ in patriarchy when I was at a talk on Rethinking Feminism. The panel had today's foremost feminist advocates including Turkish author Elif Shafak, famous for her Ted talk on the Politics of Fiction. She espoused the values of sisterhood in today’s ever growing patriarchal society, especially in her native Turkey. And while it might be less prevalent in the western world, it still exists.
The Queen Bees. In an article in The New York Times, Sheryl Sandberg (and Adam Grant) wrote about how “cat fights” and the “Queen Bee” phenomena has been stereotyped in movies, especially those depicting high school life in the US (remember Mean Girls?). She wrote about the myth of the catty woman, how women are viewed as the worst bosses at the workplace. By both women and men, equally.
The first boss I ever had was/is a woman. She was tough. She was unfair. And to my 22-year-old mind, she was bipolar in her treatment of her team. But she treated everyone, both the male and female members of her team in the same manner. Since then, I’ve had a mixture of male and female bosses, and very rarey have I encountered an encouraging female boss. And much to my dismay, some have even been sexist towards women. A subject that is hardly touched upon. We hear about women who have struggled through years of male patriarchy at the workplace, who’ve had to work twice as hard to be heard half as much by the senior management. We hear about these “hardened” women who have to appear tough else they won’t be taken seriously by their male team members. And we even hear about how some women bosses prefer their female teammates to the male ones - a direct result of years of inequality.
But on the other end of the spectrum is the sexist female boss. One who is blatantly sexist, not towards the men in the team, but towards the women. Some of my women bosses have fitted every myth I’d like to debunk. But instead of debunking this myth, it's more important to ask a different question: assuming Queen Bees do exist, how to deal with them? Surely sisterhood can take the sting out of the Queen Bee?
In her talk Elif Shafak spoke about how in the old days (in Turkey), the daughters of the house would suffer at the hands of their husband’s mothers, grandmothers, and aunts. How instead of learning from their mistakes, and make their own daughters in law feel welcome when the time came, they did the same. Instead of educating and treating the next generation right, they inflicted the same pain - and thus a cycle was born.
And in that she expounds the idea of sisterhood. How important it is for women to stay together, fight for equal pay, equal opportunities, band together for the best and the worst of times - especially when the wave of patriarchy hits us all.
Patriarchy and sexism aren’t biological concepts. Ambitious women may see other similarly ambitious women as a threat. But by embracing sisterhood, they allow each other to grow together. Let’s embrace the catty boss, the Queen Bee, the one outlier in the workplace that give women bosses a bad name everywhere. Let’s tell her that other women aren’t a threat to her position or status in the office, or indeed, in her life. And more importantly, let’s not become afraid to include men in the conversation. It’s not difficult to be a feminist. All you need is to see both men and women with the same lens.
Illustration: (@ambivalentlyyours) is an anonymous feminist artist from Montreal who explores "feminist convictions by embracing ambivalent emotions".
Words: Divya navigates life through good books, good food, and with a notebook and pen always by her side.