It’s Time To Kill Off The Queen Bee

As a study claims women discriminate against female colleagues to become ‘queen bee’, Polly Dunbar asks when we’ll stop using such reductive labels

Emily Blunt

by Grazia |

Researchers at the University of Arizona have a lot to answer for. A new study conducted there claims that ‘queen bee’ syndrome makes some women treat other women badly in order to climb the ladder at work. Apparently, women consistently reported higher levels of ‘incivility’ from their female colleagues than from men. We put each other down, ignore one another in meetings and make condescending comments. Which is... well, really unhelpful. And not in the way you might initially think. Like most people I know, I’ve experienced ‘incivility’ – AKA rudeness – from female colleagues and bosses. (Plenty from men, too – far more, actually.) But is using an insulting, infantilising label to perpetuate the damaging stereotype that women undermine one another at work going to benefit us? I don’t think so.

The report’s authors say companies can learn from their findings and try to make workplace interactions more ‘positive and supportive’. Instead, it risks handing employers a convenient get-out-of-jail-free card to whip out when women accuse them of discrimination: ‘It’s not our fault you’re not doing as well as men; it’s because you’re sabotaging each other.’ It plays into the hands of every sexist bore who’s ever rolled their eyes and sighed, ‘God, women are so weird to one another’ as if that’s the real reason for millennia of male supremacy.

But on a deeper level, it also illustrates the double standards society continues to set for us. Women’s relationships with one another are scrutinised in a way men’s rarely are. In the pursuit of success, men are expected to be competitive with their colleagues. The language used about them is starkly different. A competitive man is focused, determined; usually dominant. A competitive woman is a ‘queen bee’, a term coined by psychologists in the ’70s which should have died with that decade. It suggests bossiness and bitchiness: the power diva scheming her way to the top.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe women should support one another wherever possible. But there’s a pressure for us to behave impeccably that just doesn’t exist for men. We’re expected to be instant BFFs with every woman we encounter, acting with only the purest, most encouraging of motives at all times, never making a fuss or challenging anyone. We’re supposed to listen, nurture, lift up, mentor.

The moment our behaviour’s deemed to have fallen short, we’re painted as hard-faced harridans, trampling all over rivals to ensure our supremacy. Just look at Meghan and Kate: two women who appear to get along perfectly well. But because they haven’t been photographed skipping hand-in-hand together on a shopping trip, it follows – totally logically – that they must be locked in a bitter war to determine who’s the most stylish/smart/popular. In other words, the queen bee.

If some women are discriminating against others, we need to examine the reasons why that might be the case and address those (just a guess, but it’s probably linked to the limited opportunities available to women). What we don’t need is to label successful women with terms

that imply a group of females can’t sit in the same room without it descending into a stiletto-wielding bitch fight. It’s time to send the queen bee back to the hive

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