THE TROUBLE WITH WOMEN

Women are each other’s worst enemies. Too many times in the workplace I’ve found them to be scheming, backstabbing and cruel; acting out their insecurities on their female counterparts and trying to bring them down in the most conniving ways imaginable.

The kind of women I’m talking about are so insecure that they expend every last scrap of their energy on sniffing out women who are seemingly confident, attractive and intelligent; then aim to bring down their ‘enemy’, with unscrupulous yet subtle tactics of sheer spite, to their own pitiful depths.

We’ve all met women (and in some cases men) like this. But for some reason, women have the edge. Only women are prepared to go to the lengths they do, in order to try and gain the upper hand. Being a woman myself, it does concern me that there are so many who are willing to tar our entire sex with the bitch brush – but let me assure you, the day I become like this is the day I’ll expect to be strangled with my own hair.

In my mid twenties I took a job dealing with the marketing and PR for a small company where the head office was staffed entirely by women. I sensed undertones of bitching from certain colleagues right from the start, but that’s life. I tried not to make it into a big deal. There were whisperings behind my back and sniggers when I left the room, some of which I naively put down to coincidence, but really I knew it wasn’t a coincidence.

What were they laughing at? Did I have bird shit in my hair, toilet paper stuck to my shoe or ‘whore’ written on a post-it note and stuck to my back?

It was none of the above – the answer occurred to me like an epiphany one day.

I pulled into the cap park on a warm, summer morning with the top down on my BMW, wearing a big pair of Jackie O shades and a black dress. A few members of staff had been standing outside in the carpark chatting until they saw me, then they just glared and started whispering to each other. The dress wasn’t anything special – black, sleeveless, a high cut neck and belted but it was tight and a good three inches above the knee. It’s what I like to call business-like but flattering. No tights, spray-tanned skin, long hair down and (this seemingly being the straw that broke the jealous camel’s back…) a beautiful pair of beige open toe stiletto heels, with statement bows on the front.

The whole of that day, women just stared at the lower half of my body like I’d sprouted a third leg or hadn’t shaved the other two for 6 months. Despite having heard no compliments on the shoes or anything else, I considered it flattery and thought no more of it, until at 4.45pm, the HR Manager (a few years younger than me but infinitely more of a cunt) escorted me into the boardroom.

In an unnecessarily over the top display of her authority, she sat me down and told me not to wear the shoes again, or any like it, as the heels were damaging the parquet wood floors of the Victorian building. A fair point, I conceded, and apologetically (but resentfully) vowed never to wear another stilettoed shoe to work.

The following morning, I dutifully arrived to work in a pair of flat ballet pumps. Minutes later, the HR Manager (aka the Shoe Police) arrived, click-clacking her way across the parquet floor in a pair of red stilettos. I hadn’t imagined she would even own a pair of red stilettos and if it weren’t for how much of a V sign it was, I might have been pleased for her! This was the moment my steady demise began, because from that moment on, not being the subordinate type, I saw this as a game – a form of amusement in the name of female one-upmanship.

So in an act of defiance, I began keeping a pair of red stilettos in my car, so that every day, if the Shoe Police wore hers, I’d put mine on. This lasted until one of the Company Directors called me into her office to raise the same concern about the floor. At which point, I wasted no time in dragging the Shoe Police down with me.

Unsurprisingly, her choice of shoes had gone unnoticed. The focus was all on me. Still being in a probationary period and needing the job, I caved in and went shopping for some less offensive heels that would still give me some posture. Taking advantage of the thicker summery heels that were in fashion at the time, I bought three new pairs just for work. (Parquet floors are a work of art, after all.)

I’d managed almost a full week of wearing my new shoes in rotation, by the time I got called into the same Director’s office again. This time, my shoes were banned on Health and Safety grounds. And whilst I sat there in a lovely coral blouse and a pencil skirt – I was told about a mysterious company policy which appeared on none of my contracts or documents, a policy that stipulates no colour should be worn to work. Black, grey and white and conservative styles only were permitted, in what she called ‘corporate dress code’, and if skirts or dresses were to be worn, they should always be accompanied by black tights. (Funnily enough, this didn’t seem to apply to anyone but me. There were red jumpers, bright tribal print dresses and powder blue blouses all around, not to mention bare legs.)

My hackles raised. It was an obvious case of victimisation. After fighting the ridiculousness of her request for well over half an hour, I left the office completely dumbstruck. Was I dreaming this? Or was it a hoax – a joke at my expense? Maybe after a few days, they’d all shout – ‘Not really – we’re just winding you up!!’

Now at this point I’d like to remind you – there were no men working for this company. Not a single whiff of testosterone. So I couldn’t even blame this pointless attempt at trying to de-feminise me, on grounds of them trying to win male attention. For the life of me, I couldn’t work out what their agenda was. I was just too naive.

Two days later, I was summoned to the Managing Director’s office, to meet with her and the other aforementioned Director. The meeting, under the guise of a ‘performance review’, seemed strangely unplanned and I was led in, wearing a bland get-up of black trousers, a camel coloured cardigan and some flat shoes – which in their words, made me look ‘lovely’.

Patronising cunts, I thought as I sat down, prepared to finally talk about my contribution to the company, which under the shadow of my dress code debacle, had gone completely unnoticed.

Alas – there was no mention of work. Oh no. The Managing Director had got wind of what she called, ‘the unrest caused among staff members, relating to dress codes’. There had been several complaints and ruffled feathers caused by my chosen outfits and I was given a verbal and literal dressing down, for my part in the matter.

There I sat for a good hour, being told that my unwillingness to conform was being duly noted and that I was completely out of order for pointing out that on the day I was ‘dressed inappropriately’ in a black pencil dress, the MD had an even shorter red dress on. (With no tights.) I stood my ground as calmly as I could, but the anger and tension building inside me was causing me to shake – I felt like I might explode and drip down the walls leaving angry red streaks of blood.

“What about my work?” I demanded. “Is it not even worth a mention? Because that kind of feedback would be more relevant!”

“We can’t fault your work,” they told me calmly, without even a flinch or an awkward glance at the floor, owing to the irony and sheer stupidity of the situation. “You’re doing a fantastic job.”

I almost burst out laughing. After realising I’d have no chance of keeping my job unless I kept my mouth firmly shut and agreed to wear whatever dowdy attire they wanted me to, I was finally allowed to go home.

That night I consumed a whole bottle of wine to calm my nerves. I was being humiliated, they were trying to rob me of my personality, my individuality, my style, everything that made me feel attractive. They wanted me to fade into the background and wouldn’t stop harassing me until I did. I’m ashamed to admit that they made me feel this bad, but I cried. A lot. Perhaps out of frustration more than self pity.

The next day, I woke up even more defiant and chose the most beautiful grey pencil dress to wear. I reasoned that it was a conservative colour, but it was well above the knee and tight enough to make me wiggle instead of walk. It had neat  cap sleeves and was flattering in every way possible, especially when accessorized with an over-sized S&M style belt and some kitten heels. It was my version of a massive ‘fuck you’.

I was subject to the usual glares but I rose above it. Before I left that day, I placed a letter on the Managing Director’s desk, telling her in the politest way possible, everything I should have said in the last meeting, had I been allowed to get a word in edgeways.

I pointed out the obvious victimisation that was going on and the hurt I felt about being forced to be someone I’m not. I appealed to her better nature – that she would try and see beyond whatever was pissing her off about the way I look. I agreed to dress down slightly – albeit not to the frumpy level they were expecting. I asked that they might cause less fuss about my clothes and concentrate a bit more on my work and what I could do better. Finally, I signed off by saying that I’d really love for myself and everyone to be able to put this whole matter behind us and start again, because despite everything, I was enjoying my work.

That would be the last time I’d ever leave a dint in their shitty parquet floor. The following day, the Shoe Police used me having precancerous cells lasered off my cervix and the day off work, to sack me over the phone.

No mention of “How are you?” or “How did you get on at the hospital?” She got straight down to business. They’d decided to terminate my contract with immediate effect, due to what she called ‘irreconcilable differences’.

“Don’t come back on Monday,” she told me, “We’ll pay you a week’s notice.” I started to protest but the line had gone dead. Being in a probationary period, there wasn’t a single thing I could do. No HR lawyer would waste their time, no tribunal would have heard my case.

I should add (although it ought to be irrelevant), that in order to get the job in the first place, I dressed down for the interview.

A fatal error in hindsight, but I’d worked around enough women to know that being glamorous doesn’t endear women to you in a real life scenario. These women will be the first to swoon over Hello! Magazine and comment on how utterly gorgeous Angelina Jolie’s looking at the moment, but she’s far enough removed to not be a threat. Put an attractive woman in their place of work and they’ll act as though you’ve covered her in Anthrax.

Because of that, I knew I’d never have got the job if I’d dressed up to my usual standard. I reasoned with myself, that once they got to know me it would be ok to look fabulous. But I was wrong. This is not Keeping up with the Kardashians. It is never OK to look fabulous in a group of women and maintain the sisterhood. I certainly wasn’t prepared for how much I would enrage them by being myself.

It was an experiment that went the way I always knew it would.

It’s the most unfortunate scenario to find yourself in, when all around you, you hear talk of achieving equality, removing the glass ceiling and giving women the support and opportunities that they deserve in the workplace. The idea of women clawing each other down and waging a venomous war on other women for no apparent reason, is not befitting of an agenda for fairness. How can women expect men to step aside for them when they can’t even be gracious or tolerant towards each other?

I find it incredible to think that with all the struggles women have been through and still go through, they go to such lengths to hold each other back more than men would ever do. If women were more supportive of each other in the workplace, I believe it would have a positive effect not only on the pay gap but on the measly number of women sitting at board level. Many of the women I’ve worked with over the years wouldn’t share their place on the board with another woman – they’d do their damnedest to keep them as far away as possible because they’d be seen as a threat instead of an ally.

Have men done this to women? Is this the effect of years of subordination and being patronised, made to fight for every opportunity and scrap that falls from the men’s club at the top?

Is there still a fear that opportunities don’t come around very often and so when they do, women think they have to kick everyone else off the ladder on the way up?

And where looks are concerned, is it so ingrained within the female psyche that their man might leave them for another, that their modus operandi among other women whom they perceive to be attractive is – ‘attack on sight’?

It’s no surprise that many of the most confident and ambitious women find it hard to work with other women.

Don’t get me wrong, in my career there have been some male cunts along the way just as there have been a few women who have restored my faith in my fellow kind, but a give me a ‘male cunt’ over a ‘female cunt’ any day of the week. It’s easy to blindside the men, who think your only purpose in life is to titillate them and look pretty.

At least they’re grateful for you being attractive! And they’re never going to stop you from wearing heels.

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