About Pet Sins Webzine
Skip navigation and go to main content
Pet Sins January 2011

The token minority who wants to remain the token minority

T, a woman in middle management, is always going on and on to her friends about the challenges of being 'the only female' on the management team and always having to prove herself among men. But in fact, T has created this situation by choice. She had opportunities to work in larger, more professionally-challenging corporate environments where she would have female superiors and many strong female peers - people she could ask to be a mentor, or at least learn from at a peer level. But she avoided such situations, preferring to seek out a mediocre professional environment in which there were no women who could outshine her. She admitted privately that she was "not sure if [she] could handle" being in a team where she is not the "#1 woman".

Well, there are always those individuals who need to be at the top at all costs. But T is not one of them. She prides herself on outperforming most of the men, but expresses respect for, and even subservience to, individual males whose capabilities she considered superior to hers. She accepted the individual men's 'superiority' and seemed to have no desire to challenge or surpass them. T could tolerate patronizing and even harassing attitudes from male peers and superiors, and in fact does not even see such conduct as inappropriate or condescending. But while she can feel warmly towards men who surpass her, she cannot tolerate even the thought of working with other females who exceed her in ability.

This is a clear case of a woman applying double standards in favor of men. Her complaints of being "the only female" were just part of an act, though perhaps an unconscious one. T has envisioned herself as a trailblazing pioneer (when in fact she was hardly unique or novel, as far as her gender and moderate achievements were concerned), saw the workplace as a stage on which she should be the diva, and deliberately chose an environment devoid of other women of her rank or higher.

Unfortunately, T is the typical case of an oppressed minority who has internalized her oppression, accepted the status quo, found herself a place of some 'importance' in the gender hierarchy, and then tried her best to defend that hierarchy so that she could retain her 'special status' as the 'gatekeeper', supposedly viewed by the men as the 'best' woman, and above whom other women should not rise.

Without a hint of irony, T openly considers herself a feminist, claiming to have a noble desire to improve the opportunities of other female professionals. At one point, she appointed herself as the mentor of a young female new hire. But her attitude towards the other woman was bossy and even at times verbally abusive. By the observation of uninvolved third parties, T conducted herself as a 'benevolent dictator'. She seemed to have sincere interest in developing her mentee's skills, but at the same time, she subconsciously wanted to keep the junior female staff in her place by verbally beating her down at the slightest provocation. Perhaps she was using the 'keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer' strategy. If she lets that young woman's career develop independently of her influence, that other woman could perhaps surpass her in the corporate hierarchy one day. By setting herself up as a gatekeeper, she could control the other woman's access to opportunity while pretending to support 'diversity' in the workplace.

T claimed credit for putting in recommendations for the promotions of a couple of junior female workers, and perhaps she did honestly wish to help them. But the true test of her (overly inflated) claim of being a champion of other women in her industry is whether she is willing to help newer, more talented women to surpass her. This seems unlikely, seeing that T, consciously or not, blocks out the possibility of any woman who is getting more attention than her or considered better than her in some way. When coworkers talk about a man who has made some achievements in her field, T is willing to join in the conversation and put in praise where it is due. But when coworkers talk about a woman who performs brilliantly in the same industry, T completely tunes out of the conversation and acts as if she hadn't heard anything at all. The only time she mentions other women positively is when they write her glowing testimonials.

In T's world, other women exist only to prop up her ego, whether as clients who praise her, or as subordinates she can revel in her superior position to, or as mentees to which she can play 'savior'. In other words, it is all about her. Even the help she gives others is intended to boost her self-image and make her look good. The women who surpass her are conveniently avoided or simply treated as invisible. T is not willing to play second fiddle to another woman but is willing to play second fiddle to a man. T would tolerate a dominating attitude from a man, but would not tolerate anything even vaguely approaching that coming from a woman.

T repeatedly boasted about her 'feminist' acts, but she is actually very sexist against women, more so than many men. If she had never made claims of having good intentions towards other women, she would just have been another user and hater of other women, but having made that claim, she set herself up to be both hater and a hypocrite. It is always sad when a bigot imagines herself enlightened. Intentionally or not, she propagates the same kind of discrimination that she claims that she is fighting. Unfortunately many of us well-meaning humans fall into that trap, because we don't understand ourselves as much as we should.