Woot! Talk about timely. Matt Weiner batted one out of the park last night with Mad Men. He encapsulated in one episode what many woman go through in the working world every day. Quick summary: Peggy Olson is the creative for an ad for Burger Chef. Through a series of unfortunate events, Don, her former boss, now works for her. Pete, the sales guy, says that when it comes time to give the presentation to the client, he thinks Don should give the presentation, not Peggy. That’s because Don is the voice of authority, Peggy brings the emotion. She’s the woman and therefore the Mom voice.
Fans who have followed this show since the beginning must have snorted their G&T through their noses at that statement. Peggy deliberately rejected motherhood because she “wanted other things”. But it’s not the motherhood/emotional part of Pete’s stupid assessment that’s important. It’s that Peggy is NOT the voice of authority, even though she’s capable, bright and in charge of the strategy.
This is what Jill Abramson and other powerful women have been facing. No matter what their title says, they are ultimately not the voices of authority. Some dude is. In Abramson’s case, it was her publisher. Sulzberger has recently come out saying that it wasn’t gender that forced Abramson out but her management style. Well, of course! She was probably just crazy enough to believe that when it came to management decisions, she would get the final say because she was the executive editor. Instead, I’m guessing that every decision she made was questioned. If everything was going well, it was because she had talented people working for her. If a decision went wrong, it was a zillion times worse because she was the agent who made it happen.
Hey, Pinch or Punch, or whatever your silly nickname is, we have seen this play before. Her authority is only relevant when it turns out wrong. If everything is going right, she doesn’t get any credit at all. How many times have I been to presentations where a guy talks and he’s given praise and helpful suggestions. He even gets to finish. But when a woman gets up to talk, it’s perfectly Ok to talk over her, force her to explicitly detail every decision and calculation, and then point out the flaws bit by bit until the end can’t come too quickly, if she’s allowed to finish at all. I’ve even seen male underlings do the dirty work of tearing into a female rival’s work with the ferocity of a Rottweiler while the rest of us sat in stunned silence. It’s rude, vicious and serves to strip a woman of all authority. She can’t help but question herself. What crime did she commit to merit such a public dressing down? There’s no reason for it except competition. And they do it because it works.
So, yeah, it’s very simple to make every management failure to look like the biggest mistake in the world if you train enough eyes on it, don’t hold back on the disrespectful criticism and don’t stop the nasty criticism once it starts. Men are allowed to make mistake after mistake. Their mistakes don’t count unless the company or top brass is embarrassed, like Howell Raines embarrassed the NYTimes by hiring and promoting Jayson Blair. But a woman is NEVER allowed to make mistakes because her authority is already so shaky that anything that goes wrong doesn’t look like a learning experience but a catastrophic failure. That’s a perfect way to inhibit creativity. Just drop a house on someone the minute they take a risk and get it wrong.
But back to Peggy and Don. Don was her mentor. Yes, yes, this is fiction. But in last night’s episode, he turns up at her office and gives her, not the answer to ad, but something far more important. He helped her believe in herself and her instincts again. He gave her the support she needed. In the last scene, she has the confidence to go on and do it her way.
Now, it’s just a TV show, fergawdssakes, but come on, guys, we’re fricking half the population and it’s the twenty first century already. Mentor your female colleagues and when the challenges to her authority start flying (and they will), stand up for them. Is that so much to ask? Otherwise, you might end up with this guy:
Instead of this woman (who everyone now seems to want desperately):
Yeah, that went well.
Speaking of Hillary, now that Tim Geithner is out with his book featuring himself as the savior of the global financial system while the rest of us, you know, suffer in the name of shareholder value, let’s look back to the time when one of the presidential candidates proposed saving the homeowners (as authors Atif Mian and Amir Sufi assert was a missed opportunity):
So there you have it, folks. We saved the banks but doomed the economy and many unemployed peoples’ careers due to what may turn out to be an insufficient number of Penis Years.
Now, I realize that there are going to be some bloggers on the left that will roll their eyes and laugh and insist that it was a lot more complicated than that. I will not deny that many of them were victims of a stellar campaign that convinced them to vote against their own best interests and that campaign should be a textbook case of a social psychology experiment in situational influence that we should all study. But when it comes right down to it, penis years had a lot to do with it. We are condemned to suffer by a bunch of dicks.