Do Women Sabotage Each Other At Work? Maybe, But Sexism is the Real Problem

Everyone familiar with the film Mean Girls (or for that matter, who has ever been a high school girl) knows the depth of the Machiavellian politics of adolescent girls. However, psychiatrist Peggy Drexler argues that this mean girl behavior continues into the workforce, as women who are "queen bees" treat other women in the workforce poorly in order to maintain their own career prospects. While this might be the case, the culture of the workforce has far more to do with the success and failures of all women, rather than being simply perpetuated by lone high-powered women.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of Drexler’s argument is the assumption that women would create a "professional sisterhood" that would a build a community to support each other. Such an essentializing argument, assuming that women possess innate capacities to validate and affirm each other on the job, distracts from a more complex understanding of the larger challenges that impede women from succeeding in the workplace. Women are no more likely to create a supporting and loving work environment than their male counterparts, and such an assumption comes from a flawed perspective on women’s place in the workforce. 

Drexler’s argument, while not necessarily a mischaracterization of women’s relationship with each other in the workplace, does not address the tensions facing women in the workplace . More damaging still is the implicit assumption that the greatest challenges in feminism today lie in the boardroom of the business world when, far more alarming is the increasing number of women in low wage, unstable employment, leading to the related increase of the number of women in poverty. While we should watch for the ways that power dynamics in the workforce can create unpleasant environments for workers, feminists face bigger challenges to the economic and workforce stability of women than Mean Girls style office politics.