Quick, Hide The Knives

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Two articles in the New York Times and the
Atlantic Monthly describe new research that unearths the phenomena of women’s
so-called “indirect aggression.” 

Unfortunately, the findings are described in
distinctly negative terms.  “The
Evolution of Bitchiness
,” is the Atlantic’s title. “A Cold War Fought by Women” is the slightly
less derogatory title chosen by the Times. 
These august publications are two of the oldest,
WASPiest, Harvard-est publications in the nation, devoured by our educated financial
elite.  By definition, their readers
already understand that it is normal for women to be “aggressive.” Most of them
are highly aggressive themselves; they must be in order to have reached the
educational and income pinnacles that define 99.9% of Atlantic and Times
readers.
Why the reluctance to embrace women’s “aggression” and
competitive drive? Women are human. Humans are inherently competitive, which occasionally
means acting aggressively towards other humans to thrive and sometimes merely
to survive. Are we, as a country, forever stuck on the impossible ideal of woman
as soft to the touch, perpetually smiley, IQ-impaired, and rosily perfumed?
Does anyone really think Hillary Clinton, because she is
female, beamed and spritzed L’Air Du Temps after conceding her presidential
ambitions to Barack Obama?  After
delivering her June 7, 2008 public concession speech at The National Building
Museum in Washington, DC did she go home to Bill and Chelsea, and graciously remark that losing that
bitterly fought, hugely expensive public popularity contest stung less because she’s
a woman? 
How can the very publications that breathlessly report on
each hint of a 2016 Clinton campaign, still cast aspersions – by association —
that the steely, determined Clinton core driving her to the White House also
makes her a bitch?
This mind-numbing paradox also gets winched onto
women who seek the upper echelons of American businesses, law firms, and
non-profit agencies. We bemoan women’s lack of leadership, ambition and
negotiating skills (see Sheryl Sandburg, Lean In). The same erudite
publications that label aggressive women “cold” and “bitchy” frequently lambaste
the low number of women in C-suites: in 2012, women held 14.3 percent of
Executive Officer positions at Fortune 500 companies and 8.1 percent of
Executive Officer top earner positions.
How can women fight gloriously and at time viciously for
these career brass rings, if our culture refuses to champion – or even admit —
female drive and ambition? 
I grew up alongside fiercely athletic, brainy women – varsity
athletes, Ivy League honors grads. There was very little L’Air Du Temps in our
house.  After going to Harvard myself, I
worked at Fortune 500 companies and the New York publishing industry. 
Yet despite these high-octane playing fields, I found
only one that rejoiced in women’s ambition: Wharton business school from 1990
to 1992.  The admissions department that
accepted me, the professors who taught and graded me, my 800 classmates, and
the recruiters who trolled the University of Pennsylvania for MBAs to make
money for their businesses, all delighted in female students’ individual
desires to get the highest grade in Macroeconomics, to be the first name on the
McKinsey interview list, to get the highest number of job offers.
Most wonderfully and certainly not coincidentally, this
environment fostered friendships and alliances among women.  There was no need to disguise or sublimate
one’s ambition. Thus there was very little backstabbing or erasing of a female
classmate’s name on the Procter & Gamble reception list.  The competition, elegant or ugly, was all bracingly
open air.
During these two years at Wharton, I endured an
unattractive, public dissolution of my first marriage.  Did a single female classmate gossip behind
my back? Let it slip to a recruiter that I was leaving a man who had physically
abused me? Bully me at the Thursday pub nights?
Not a one.
Instead, two friends abandoned their holidays to help me
recover from a vicious beating.  Others
ran interference among my classmates as word spread.  I left Wharton with a divorce decree, a
family court protection order, five sterling job offers, and a life raft of
female colleagues.
Behind the highfalutin blindfold of eminent,
research-based allegations of a cold war among us bitchy, cutthroat women lies yet
another ho-hum attempt to gaslight the female population about our true selves,
to goad us into doubting our finest traits, to undermine our sisters, mothers,
co-workers, daughters, leaders, and political candidates. The only real difference between male
and female aggression?  When men display
aggression, they are called leaders.  We
women?  We just get called b*tches.
But that doesn’t
mean you can’t own your ambition, audacity, tenacity and aggressiveness. The
human race wouldn’t be here if we girls weren’t tough, determined, assertive
and self-confident. We’d just all be better off if our culture encouraged competing
in the open, and if we women recognized life is far better off with a few tough
broads in your dorm, your living room, and your corner office.

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