The Professional Pecking Order: I used to belong to a professional Hellenic women’s networking organization. Their mission was to bring professional women together for mentorship, empowerment, and advancement through networking event. Let me add that it was for Greek women in particular, thus adding the element of cultural unity. So, I went to the meetings, sipping wine and popping a few olives, chit chatting, trying to get connected. What I found after a few events, either subtly or blatantly, the ugly monster of women’s nagging undercutting and competitiveness kept rearing its head again and again. What it became was a professional pecking order that acted on puffing status for those women who competed more ruthlessly to gain power and money.
These women did not come together to be supportive of each other. They came to size up against each other to see where they fit in the professional pecking order. They come to show off the bright peacock feathers of their success to one another, exchange business cards, and have a nice day. They measure success in dollars and cents, period. Those whose salaries or profits do not measure in the millions are made to feel “unsuccessful.” Only those who conform to the cut-throat entrepreneurial flair that makes this country great are deemed successful. Those other, more traditional professions, nursing, teaching, administrative, well, they are not as successful as those who can kick ass in the board room. Those who choose to forego careers in finance, law, corporate business, but dedicate time to raising families, nurturing others, and building homes—they are less than successful. Sorry to say, I am “unsuccessful.” Because I have chosen a less demanding route in order to have the time to dedicate to my artistic pursuits and raise two girls, I am considered “unambitious”, not as driven, and probably less intelligent.
There is nothing wrong with a woman with drive. There is nothing wrong with making millions and millions. There is nothing wrong with pushing yourself to live up to the standards of success that the American economy demands. But there is something wrong when you judge members of your own tribe just because they choose to follow a road with other values and standards for success. Not everyone measures success in terms of money and power. What I object to is when professional women exclude certain professions because they are not as valuable as others. Sorry, some of us are not born to be entrepreneurs. Some of us don’t buy into the type of culture that competitive business practices mold high-powered executives and leaders of industry into. That does not make a nurse, a mother, a humanitarian less successful than a CEO.
Could it be that professional women have ingested the values of the male hierarchical structure to become tyrannically competitive with each other? Are these high-powered professional women, even with perfectly manicured fingers and Channel bags, just female versions of brutal, power-hungry male CEOs who will step on anyone to get to the top? Can you become a high-powered professional woman without stabbing stilettos into the backs of others on your climb to the top? Can a professional woman become successful by adhering to the more feminine values of cooperation, nurturance, egalitarianism?
Here is a case in point that the president of this same professional women’s organization herself related to me over a “get-to-know-you coffee.” When I asked her how the organization deals with the fact that there might be competition masked under the guise of cooperation, she admitted it is regrettable but it had to work around it. She brought up the story of a young lady, a recent transplant from Greece, who had cultivated a “mentorship” relationship with one of the long-standing members. This woman was promised a job or other guidance to help her in her transition to a new country with all the challenges that comes with that ordeal. After several months, that young woman called the president and confessed her disappointment that this was not the kind of cooperation she had expected from another woman because her mentor had transformed her a glorified babysitter and a go-fer errand-girl. I find this typical of the corrosive nature of female relationships. I found this whole meeting ironic as the president made it a point to harp on how we should not pay attention to those who do not want to support us but use us for their personal gain. But I couldn’t feel “used’ because the reason she had invited me out for a coffee was just to pick my head for possible speakers for her organization as I too was in the business of showcasing dynamic, successful women of Hellenic descent. That’s coming from the head of a professional women’s networking association that is supposed to mutually support and empower women in the same cultural group.
In another instance I remember meeting up with a woman I met through this same professional women’s network. She was trying to promote her image consulting business by trying to cooperate on a professional imaging project. She had been a former model and had started her own business focusing on women’s need to craft a professional brand through their image. She showed me a spread of makeovers, women who looked to me passing well to ones that after her magic looked, well, a bit like models. I took issue with this a bit, stating, “Isn’t it more important for a woman to showcase her products, her expertise, her knowledge?” But she insisted, “Your face, your look, is as important as your product because people connect the brand to you.” She had a point. But a little later in the conversation she showed me a makeover shot, pointed to the before picture stating, “She looks like a teacher, here,” and the after, “Now she is a powerful CEO.” She obviously did not know that I moonlighted as a teacher.
What I find again and again is that Greek women’s intrinsic insecurities, egoism, whatever brings out the worst in them, make them act in ways that belittles, excludes, sabotages other women. They perpetuate the stereotypes of misogyny and the tropes that go along with them, “You can never trust a woman.” At least not a Greek woman. It is hard to splice culture from sex and gender. But I will say this, I do not feel the same way when I participate in female networking meetings with my non-Greek cohorts. I have been able to connect and trust other women who are working to better their lot by bettering every other women’s lot as well.
As much as I have supported Hellenic women in their struggle for equality, I find they are their worst enemy. I am at the point of giving up my hope for a Hellenic feminist utopia. Until we break that culture of egoism, pernicious competition, and unhealthy exclusivity, we have no hope in coming to the aid of our sisters.
I would love to hear someone show how my claims in this post are wrong.