Some study somewhere argues that women bosses get less respect from male subordinates than men bosses do. That’s probably not the first such study and it probably won’t be the last. The study, or at least the news account that summarizes the study, reflects my own experience fairly well, but perhaps for reasons different from what the study suggestions.

For most jobs I’ve had, my immediate supervisors have been mostly women. In the private sector jobs, as you moved up the food chain to middle management and upper middle management, the demographics grew increasingly male while in academia, I’ve noticed that women tend to predominate more higher up on the food chain. But in most cases, my supervisors in most jobs have been women.

I’ve noticed that I probably do treat them differently than I would male bosses. It’s not necessarily that I don’t show them respect, or that I show them less respect. I think I do show them respect (although I’m open to considering whether that’s just a self-imposed illusion). But I act differently. I’m probably more….confident? assertive?….when dealing with female superiors than I likely would be if dealing with male superiors. Something that from a male boss I’d probably interpret as an order, from a female boss I’m probably more likely to interpret as a suggestion.

I believe–but I have no real evidence, just my impressions–that I still enjoy special consideration as a male employee, even though my current workplace is dominated by women at all levels. At meetings, for example, I’ve noticed that my (by a large majority female) coworkers tend to be much more quiet and attentive when I speak. I’ve also noticed an unfortunate tendency on my part to choose to interrupt people. Therefore, I try not to speak that much.

I’ve also noticed that library patrons sometimes heed what I say more than they do what my female colleagues say, even though I don’t outrank them. I can be jovial and lackadaisical with the patrons and they take me seriously, whereas my female colleagues sometimes have to act much more sternly and come off as (…well you know the word…) in order to get the same respect.

With very few exceptions, I don’t run into anything that makes me self-conscious about “being a man in a woman’s environment.” The exception is the sometimes sexist language or jokes I’ll occasionally hear from people in authority against men. I’m not arguing that that type of banter is “just as bad as” misogynistic language. In fact, it happens rarely, much more rarely than I imagine what women in some/most workplaces have to experience. (In fact, I’m thinking only of one instance in particular.) But it bothers me nonetheless.

The study I linked to above, or at least the description of the study, posits something it calls “precarious manhood theory,” or the notion that

manhood is ‘elusive’ and ‘tenuous’. In other words, manhood is not something that is guaranteed to be achieved with age, nor is it guaranteed to remain. Instead, men must continuously prove their manhood.

I won’t discount that, but it doesn’t seem to be my personal experience. And I think that explanation neglects another, plausible explanation. Namely, supervisor/employee relationships are inherently conflictive. Apparent disrespect is often the employee staking his or her own advantage against their bosses. When the supervisor is female and the employee is male, gender privilege undoubtedly works as one of the tools the employee can use. That’s probably sexism–and misogynistic sexism–at work, but it seems more complicated than these studies, or at least popular summaries of such studies, acknowledge.

Don’t get me wrong. Even though I think there’s more at work here than sexism and even though in some cases I might be less inclined to rush to judge the worker than others might be, I’m no longer the knee-jerk, Marxist-leaning laborite I used to see myself as. I no longer believe that the worker is right just because he/she is a worker, and I believe showing less respect to female bosses just because they’re female is wrong.

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2 Responses to Misogyny works in mysterious ways

  1. Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

    It’s not necessarily that I don’t show them respect, or that I show them less respect.

    It’s funny how you ponder how much respect you “show” to your female bosses. I read that to mean that you don’t actually respect them and are just pretending.

    I still enjoy special consideration as a male employee, even though my current workplace is dominated by women at all levels (emphasis added)

    You say “even though” as if this isn’t commonplace. I would argue that generally speaking, when men do women’s work for a living, those men enjoy special consideration at work. Like if they don’t show as much patience or deference to a client, they will get a benefit of the doubt that a woman is less likely to get.

    If you leave the campuses of the Ivy League and the Seven Sisters, and you asked the co-eds if they would rather have a man boss or a woman boss, I would say over 2/3rds would rather have a man boss. If you ask women aged 18-35 who are in the workplace if they would rather have a man boss or a woman boss, I would say over 3/4ths would rather have a man boss.

    Furthermore, most misogyny in the workplace is at the hands of women rather than men. No one will hate a woman more or do more to try to harm her career than another woman.

  2. trumwill says:

    I’ve not really had a female boss (insert joke about wife here). My wife has certainly had problems with subordinates in the past, though. Especially when male and Mormon.

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