I’ve been thinking further about some of the issues I touched on in Degrees of Feminism. In particular, what do I think should be private and what public about women’s monthy cycles.
The current status, in my workplace, is that it is all private, but that some people feel that it is an acceptable topic for speculation. By that, I mean that I do not announce where I am in my cycle, and simply ensure that there is a pocket somewhere about me as I go to the ladies’ room when I have something to carry there. But my colleagues often say things about other women – even to me – like “Maybe she’s stroppy because it’s that time of the month.”
These comments are unanswerable without being marked down as a humourless bitch. I try to dismiss them by asking what a given bloke’s excuse is then, but often get “Maybe it’s his wife.” It goes without saying that none of this raises the speaker in my esteem. I am also fairly sure that several of my colleagues could make a shrewd guess about where I am in my cycle, and that they probably say similar things about me behind my back that they do about other women in front of me. It’s a humiliating thought.
The problem is that there is no reciprocity. Men are as prone to hormone-driven irrationality as women, but the consequences are very different. A man who gets aggressive because of testosterone poisoning is seen as competitive and strong, and gets promotions, company cars, and a seat in the executive dining room. A woman who gets aggressive because of oestrogen poisoning is seen as stroppy and unreliable and gets a glass ceiling and sneers behind her back.
But the masculine flavour of hormone poisoning is just as destructive as the feminine variety. The (overwhelmingly male) management team of the company I work for seems to spend all its time and energy in an endless struggle for position. Important decisions are chronically deferred, priority calls are made poorly and later reversed, and status is counted more than quality. The few women who make it to that level are as vicious as the men (that’s how they make it there). It’s a waste, and an infuriating one, to the people whose work lives it affects. I often suspect that that’s half-deliberate, that these men’s feelings of power are enhanced by their ability to waste so many people’s time. It’s a form of conspicuous consumption.
So if that’s the problem, what is the desired solution?
Well, to horribly misquote Martin Luthor King, I have a dream that my children will one day live in a world where they will not be judged by the shape of their genitals but by the content of their character. I want Alex and Fiona to work in an environment where women’s PMT and men’s overcompetitiveness are both grounds for apology. It should be acknowledged that these things occur, but that they are not the norm, not rewarded behaviour.
Chances? Low, since the power structures are populated by people who have got where they are by using their testosterone-fuelled aggression. But men elected to office ended up sharing the vote, so perhaps it is not impossible.