Rejecting Narrative That Does Not Serve Us: "Catty Women"
Updated: Jan 29
I joined a Clubhouse room recently about supporting women in S.T.E.M. I was there as a listener and the room had only women in it.
A brave soul opened her mic and expressed an interest in making a career move into Tech. She asked the group if it was worth it - if it was worth it to dive into a new space where she knew she would face gender bias. Is the the emotional labor too much?
Several people offered various takes on dealing with it, self care, and a general sentiment of it being worthwhile to pursue your interests or passions.
One woman in the room took the opportunity to expound on her poor experiences with other women, both in the academic and the Tech work settings.
...in a virtual room full of women who showed up to have a discussion about supporting one another.
One day, I was visiting an office with my then-boss to attend a series of meetings. I was there primarily to listen and learn. But I was also invited to share perspective if I had something relevant from my group.
At one point, walking down the hall, a woman I had never met blocked my path. She demanded to know, "Who are you? What are you doing here? And what exactly is your role?"
I answered this as gently as I was able, but clearly, not getting off to a great start.
She turned out to be a client-manager in one of the meetings. At the beginning of the meeting, she proceeded to ask me the same questions again, this time in front of colleagues and my boss.
Then, after I had answered these questions again, she insinuated that the only reason my boss was working with me was because I was young and/or attractive. The insult is a bit hazy to me, but that was her gist. Delivered with the venom you probably imagined.
And my boss, being the quintessential leader that he is, calmly explained my credential, why I was there, what we all would be working on that day... and that if this woman had a problem, she could address it with him outside of the meeting.
This event coincided with a time when I was running a small women's career support group that would meet about once a month by teleconference. On our next call, I recounted the story I just shared with you.
What I want to convey next is what one woman in the group shared with me. This is paraphrasing - my best recollection, not a direct quote.
Well, you have to think about where she's coming from. She's older than you and she's been in this business a long time. She's put up with a lot of sh*t. What's happening now is that she's seeing her peers be forced into retirement and she has to be some combination of frustrated and scared. She's also very likely jealous of you. She perceives you as getting support and attention as a young professional that she probably feels she never got...
She didn't make an excuse for this woman's behavior. She did give me context to understand her, and her actions more clearly.
The group I had created, just like the group that came together in that Clubhouse room, came together to support one another.
When I decided to create space to bring together supportive women, suddenly I found myself meeting and being supported by amazing, inspiring women.
This isn't to say that the experiences of the Clubhouse woman, or you, for that matter, aren't legitimate. They definitely are. But bad experiences don't translate to the entire population.
It's worth asking yourself - What am I doing to attract the people I truly want into my life?
It's also worth asking - Am I clinging to a story that no longer serves me?
It could be a narrative you learned in childhood. Or it could be one you wrote from experiences.
It is difficult to challenge our own beliefs. One thing you could try is choosing to replace a story in your mind for one week. Ask yourself - how might I behave to cultivate a different experience in the world... and just see what happens.
In this specific case, it might be - if I choose to live with the belief that there are lots of supportive women to find, tap into, and network with, how might the world look different? How might I behave differently to create such a world? Then, assess at the end of the week - Am I better living with this new narrative?
The narrative I was taught (and could substantiate from experience if I wanted to) about "catty" women... it never served me.
When I chose to replace it with a new narrative about inspiring, supportive women, my world changed.
Follow me on Clubhouse at @MelButcher