Being a “difficult woman”

By Caitlin Kelly

IMG_20160805_095003468_HDR

Well-behaved women seldom make history — Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 1976

The photo above is me, age 37, fencing at nationals, among the women who made U.S. sports history by being the first to fence saber at that level.

Loved this recent column by stroppy British business journo Lucy Kellaway, initially published in the Financial Times:

Being difficult at work is not generally thought to be a good thing. On Amazon there are 1,387 titles on how to deal with difficult people, including Since Strangling Isn’t an Option. I failed to find a single volume called What to do When the Difficult Person is Me. Or How to be Difficult and Influence People.

As a columnist, being difficult is part of the job – if you do not enjoy sometimes getting up the noses of readers, you are too bland to be any good. Indeed, as a journalist, being personally difficult can serve you rather well. I can think of one or two writers who are so impossible their text is never tampered with. Their words invariably command pride of place because no editor can face the fuss that would result from doing otherwise.

Being difficult has other advantages too. It means that people tend not to lean on you for small favours. As one of the most important tricks to survival in the corporate world is to avoid grunt work, this makes it a powerful weapon. Being difficult also means you are likely to be better at getting your own way. It is a balancing act – you must be difficult enough to insist that things are done as you see fit, without being so difficult that people refuse to work with you.

In my first ever newspaper job, at 26, for the national daily Globe & Mail, I won that moniker as well.

I like it.

I’ve been reading Roxane Gay’s book of essays, Bad Feminist, in which she ponders the problem of being likable, of needing and wanting to be likable — and how playing along with the status quo so often weakens us as women.

“Even from a young age I understood that when a girl in unlikable, a girl is a problem. I also understood that I wasn’t being intentionally mean. I was being honest (admittedly without tact), and I was being human. It is either a blessing or curse that those are rarely likable qualities in a woman.

Women who stand up for themselves, and others, are often labeled “difficult” — as in non-pliable, not sufficiently obedient or deferential or polite or, worst of all, just not very “nice.”

Not friendly.

As though these were the most crucial attributes a woman can offer to the world.

A must-read book for every woman who wants to remain alive, safe and free from criminal predation is The Gift of Fear.

I was given it by a man I dated in 1998 — a con man, a convicted criminal I discovered had served time in Chicago and moved to New York where he found fresh victims, which included me. Being a lot more difficult would have kept me safe from him, but I was lonely, isolated and vulnerable to sustained attention.

This smart, tough book, written by a security expert, makes very clear that our wish to be seen as kind or welcoming, as unthreatening, can kill us.

Of course, no one wants to work with or live with or marry or be friends with someone who’s always a frosty bitch or a draaaaaaama queen or queen bee.

You can be “difficult” and still be someone people love deeply and respect the hell out of — it just might be a much smaller circle.

When I meet a woman, or hear about one whose accomplishments I admire, I rarely care if she is or was a likable person.

Better she be passionate, compassionate, principled, intelligent, articulate, active, connected, courageous.

As resistance to Donald Trump grows, one American writer credits women with reinvigorating the left.

From New York magazine:

Women, with women of color at front and center, can be the engines of new progressive activism in all arenas. It’s a rebuke to the theory floated by some on the left that there is a disjunction between “identity politics” and politics, a rebuke to those who suggested in the wake of Trump’s electoral win that the future lies in moving away from divisive “social issues” and identity-framed movements and back to economic policies.

What this event did, on the most massive scale we have seen in this country, is reaffirm what has always been true: The impact of identity bias has always been economic, and economic issues have always most powerfully disadvantaged those who experience identity bias. Or to put it another way: Women’s rights are human rights.

It takes guts and determination to fight oppression.

To ask for the job.

To speak truth to power.

To ask for a raise.

To leave a crappy marriage.

To stand up to a bully, even one who’s not talking to you. (Bitch!)

To challenge the status quo.

It also takes having some money in the bank, a fuck-you fund to pay the bills when the boss decides you’re just too annoying.

It’s difficult.

Are you a difficult woman?

How’s that working out for you?

When Corporate Kings Go Public — Beware, Meg And Carly!

A fake copy of the Financial Times is pictured...
Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

Are you familiar with Lucy Kellaway? She’s a much-respected British journo at the Financial Times, whose column on management is a must-read.

She recently tore a wildly successful British businessman a new one, devoting an entire column (ouch!) to his inane pomposity in publishing a book of his “rules”:

Ray Dalio is deluded, insensitive, emotionally illiterate, simplistic, breathtakingly smug, weird and plain wrong.

Harsh words, but I know the founder of one of the world’s most successful hedge funds will welcome them. The Bridgewater chief has just made a list of his top 300 rules for life and number 31 is to write down the weaknesses of others. Number 11 is never to say anything about a person you would not say to them directly, while number 22 is to “get over” fretting about whether comments are positive or negative. All that matters in Dalioland is whether they are accurate or inaccurate.

These rules are contained in the most curious management document I have ever come across. Simply entitled “Principles”, it is being handed out to staff at Bridgewater to help them be as successful as their boss. It is also being passed gleefully from pillar to post on the internet.

I love her taking the piss out of this guy, who probably earns more in the time it took me to post this than I’ll make in my lifetime. Tant pis.

Jack Welch is one of many ex-CEOs who write best-selling books, persuaded  — like this guy — their bons mots are going to transform our miserable lives. If you read business books, and I do, occasionally — as hungry as anyone for smart, helpful advice — you know how many of them are deeply, annoyingly, self-righteously dull, stupid and eagerly swallowed up by people who use “impact” as a verb or say things like “This robust suite of products is mission-critical”.

Just because you’ve “created shareholder value” and made big fat profits for your company doesn’t mean your in-house brilliance will translate to the rest of the world, who are not actually breathlessly awaiting your next PowerPoint. (A lesson Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, both corporate legends now entering the bare-knuckled fray of politics, are learning as well.)

It can come as a terrible shock when those who are not your underlings find your “wisdom” risible.

Which business book did you find a total waste of cash?

Any one you did like?