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Women & Power: Would We Be As Good Running The World As We Think?

Or would we find whole new ways to screw it up?




I’ve been on a WKRP in Cincinnati kick lately.


A running gag of the late 70s, early 80s TV show was badly-dressed skanky sales manager Herb Tarlek, who chased beautiful receptionist Jennifer Marlowe around the office. Today, such nonsense wouldn’t be tolerated but forty-five years ago office sexual harassment was quite the norm. I myself worked with a Herb Tarlek in radio, except he was the news director.


I got to pondering female power poorly wielded after one episode which offered a twist: Program director Andy Travis finds himself romantically targeted by evil station owner Mrs. Carlson, mother of the station manager. Mrs. Carlson is played to diabolical, whiskey-voiced perfection by the late showgirl and movie actress Carol Bruce.


The episode is so good I watched it again the following night to more closely scrutinize the dynamics between the two, not to mention their acting.


Gary Sandy (Andy) was phenomenal. I don’t know much about reverse professional sexual harassment, but having experienced the usual kind myself, Sandy nailed it.


It starts with news director Les Nessman spreading the rumor Andy is dating Mrs. Carlson; he insists they’re not, but something is off in the way he responds. If it’s just business, as he only sort of insists, he’d be a lot more relaxed and forthcoming. But his answers are tight and uncomfortable; something is wrong.


It unfolds he’s been meeting with her, hat extended, for money to buy a new transmitter. Somehow or other she finagles him into going out to dinner and plies him with martinis at her mansion. Events spiral out of control the way they often do for women. Andy’s in his thirties but he’s little better than a twenty-something female ingenue with Mrs. Carlson, a much older woman with a penchant for cruelty who enjoys being seen in public with an attractive man with ‘good hair’ and ‘good teeth’.


Andy reminded me of me in my early twenties, dealing with my own Herb Tarlek (a married boss), and another married co-worker with whom I slid into a weird situation because I was too young and naive to realize that young single women simply can’t ‘be friends’ with an older married man. I was also harassed more seriously by a boss outside of radio. Just imagine being in the car when he puts his hand on your leg and wants to know if you’re available for dinner sometime. And oh, his wife is the president of the company.


The dynamics between an increasingly uncomfortable Andy and Mrs. Carlson are quite similar to how it unfolds for women. It never got as critical for me as it did for Andy but I particularly watched his reactions as Mrs. Carlson preyed on him, cat-and-mouse. With his facial expressions and stony, sometimes downcast eyes, I recognized the mild paralysis when you’re entirely out of your element with someone who holds power over you.


I recognized a man who mistook an older woman’s early predations for ‘doing business’, as Herb Tarlek the sales manager did—wining and dining his clients. Except Mrs. Carlson was footing the date bills while grooming Andy to be her lover, and when she grasps his arm at one point while her son is in the room and tight-grinned commands Andy to “Please drop back later this evening,” the live studio audience audibly gasps.


I’ll bet a lot of women felt the same chill I did. I never was in quite that kind of a cobra clutch but I might have been had my Herb Tarlek not gotten fired the same week I was hired. The boss in the car ended our shared rides when he tried to kiss me as he dropped me off in the parking lot for my car.




Mrs. Carlson knows exactly what she’s doing, the way the supremely entitled Mad Men were, the way Demi Moore’s character did while sexually harassing Michael Douglas’s character and then filing a false sexual harassment claim against him post-rejection in 1994’s Disclosure, based on a true story.


As Douglas’s lawyer observes to Moore’s character: “Ms. Johnson, the only thing you have proven is that a woman in power can be every bit as abusive as a man!”

 

Twelve years after an AIDS joke about South Africa launched the era of ‘cancel culture’, women have proven conclusively that when women dominate, the blood still flows, if more figuratively.


I’ve watched the evolution of women in politics and the workplace for over forty years, particularly on the Web. We really have come a long way, baby. The early corporate Web was pretty Wonder Bread and phallocratic, but then (white) female faces infiltrated website leadership links—stereotypically clustered in traditionally female corporate HR, communications and marketing.

Then the male faces got darker.


Then they got a little more chicky. And even darker-chicky. Now I see more female presidents, CEOs and CFOs. A ton of women run their own businesses, often in female-traditional companies—cosmetics, wellness and healthcare, marketing agencies. But female faces lead technology, manufacturing and automotive too (we did lean in, Sheryl Sandberg!)


In politics, I experienced the same headrush many feminists did during the 2018 Blue Wave, a mega-backlash against the Pussygrabber-Elect. I was exhilarated to see the new Squad, led by a Hispanic New York bartender, all of whom I now excoriate for being Cheerleaders for the Trans-Patriarchy.


I’m not sure what glimpse of female power robotic Hillary Clinton offered, given how intensely self-protective she was, never giving Republicans the tongue-lashing or fifty they deserved. I expect her handlers told her it would kill her chances.


The road not taken.


Cancel culture, exemplifed by the current yay-for-Hamas campus ‘protests’ (against what, exactly, free speech? Peace? Anti-Islamofascism?) offers a preview. It’s Mean Girls female, and female aggression centers on relationship and isolation. Mean girls remove a rival or a friend with ostracism who has fallen out of favour, turning her into a social pariah. Boys and men don’t understand because they don’t work that way. Relationships are extremely important to females, and we’ll do anything, including subordinating our own desires, to preserve relationships. I was reminded of this in the WKRP episode in which shy journalism graduate Bailey Quarters applies for the news director assistant job, which threatens and angers chauvinist Les Nessman; rather than standing up to him, she backs down, saying she doesn’t want the job, inviting Andy’s wrath as he ‘went to bat’ for her with Mr. Carlson.


I bet a black man would have fought harder in a similar situation, because men are more inclined to stick up for what they want.


It’s a huge psychological weakness for women to care so much about

relationships. It harms our ability to negotiate with men and gives power to nastier women who seek to destroy rivals’ lives and reputations.


A world in which women ruled would likely result in fewer wars, but a higher suicide rate.


I do believe men and women in integrated power offer us the best of all possible worlds. I truly believe we both have unique, sex-based gifts, talents, and thought processes that complement each other. Men’s resourcefulness, courage, logical thinking, motivation and competitive drive to win has driven human civilization for thousands of years; their huge mistake was in subordinating the other half of the human race and wasting their incredible brain power.


Women’s penchant for compassion, grace, solidarity, courtesy, consideration, empathy, and helping others to ‘save face’ are talents men should cultivate more. A strictly stereotypical male existence, as exemplified by ‘men’s rights’ activist Andrew Tate and the cardboard wannabe NFT action hero Donald Trump are toxic and harmful to men. It’s landed one in jail and the only reason the other probably won’t be is because he’s an ex-President, and maybe the next one.


Ostracizing others from the morally bankrupt fundamentalist ‘social justice’ religion is nothing less than a traditionalist medieval witch hunt wielded by females as feline as the description ‘catty’ suggests—evil creatures prone to torturing weaker ones for fun just like their animal counterparts.


I shudder to think of what a Matriarchy would look like.


When women began ‘invading’ male workspaces in the WKRP era, books counseled them on how to be more like men: Games Your Mother Never Taught You was a bestseller. I remember it advised women to have suits tailored with inside pockets so they didn’t need to carry around a purse. They were also counseled to communicate like men, to speak in sports and war metaphors. “We’re going to hit a home run with this account!” “Let’s get to the war room and create a battle plan!” If you wanted to succeed in business, be more like men.


It was good advice for the times, but this ain’t 1985 anymore.


According to Statistics Canada, women’s participation in the workforce is 61% with 9.6 million women employed in Canada in September 2023. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “57.4 percent of all [U.S.] women participated in the labor force,” in 2019.


Women are far under-represented as CEOs and I’m not sure we’ll ever achieve equity because many women do value family and relationships over business success. While some men are threatened by societal ‘feminization’, I think we still need more feminine values, not less. But not to the exclusion of male values and perspectives. Men just get shit done in a way women often can’t—we haven’t learned yet.


Women in corporate power can certainly abuse it. What’s interesting about the dynamics of abuse is how remarkably similar they look. I don’t know if men set the evolutionary standards for abuse, but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s more of a human neuro-structure. What I do know from growing up female is the politics of personal destruction on the relationship level are all-too-familiar in cancel culture, with a similar desire to destroy.


Narcissism plays a huge role in power abuse, and research on sex differences reveals not much narcissistic sex difference. Men tend to score a little higher but not appreciably; we ladies can admit shamefacedly that we’ve at least achieved equity there. Victims, male or female, react remarkably similarly: They’re afraid to report abuse, they’re not sure what they did wrong. Men on the business end of sexual harassment find themselves without the lengthy history of female shared experience to guide them. Women are quick to blame the victim just as men are: At one point Mrs. Carlson tells her son, when he confronts her about Andy, “All of this is in Mr. Travis’s head.” In the real world one New York law firm speaks specifically to men being harassed by women. “…There are a growing number of cases arising out of men reporting that they have been sexually harassed by women. Sexual harassment of men by women is actionable in New York City. You should not be embarrassed to come forward. Sexual harassment often arises out of the abuse of power rather than sexual desire.”


Sound familiar, ladies?


When I ponder women in power, one thing I’ve maintained since college is: Humans suck, universally. I genuinely mean it. No humans are more bigoted than any other; it’s a tribalist conceit that ‘we’ are better than ‘they’.


We’re not. October 7th has unleashed the hate and bigotry the left has always harbored just as Charlottesville unleashed it on the right. The campus protests across North America show a preponderance of women; a Washington Times opinion writer notes that college campuses are more female than they were decades ago; male students predominated in the ‘60s and ‘70s because there were fewer women; now the tables have flipped. And female protesters have demonstrated they can meet men head-to-head in calling for the genocide of others and in old-school right-wing-style antisemitism. The writer also speculates that Hamas finds it easy to emotionally manipulate women with particularly strategic social media promotions that the Jews are child-killers. Granted some children have died in the ongoing war but the death toll numbers, which come primarily from Hamas, a/k/a ‘Gazan health authorities’, keep insisting that one-third of the dead are children; and ‘child’ also includes young terrorists or anyone else Hamas deems useful to include. And the overall numbers have been revised down by others who aren’t ‘Gazan health authorities’.


Who knew? Women can be trained as terrorists just as good commonplace men were once trained to run German death camps. If the campus protests aren’t brought under control, women may well lead actual pogroms.


Women have become abusers, terrorist promoters, and terrorism deniers in the wake of October 7th. We still have a long way to go, baby.


One day I may write my sort of response to The Handmaid’s Tale, in which women run the world in the future to the detriment of men, whom they’ve learned to control. It’s been rattling around my brain for thirty years; maybe that will become my post-retirement project.


In the meantime, I keep remembering Nancy Pelosi, who dominated Donald Trump for four years and was ready to attack domestic terrorists with her killer stilletto heels on January 6th. At age 80.


I want to be Nancy, not Hillary, when I grow up! Now that’s the future of female power.



Did you like this post? Would you like to see more? I lean left of center, but not so far over my brains fall out. Subscribe to my Substack newsletter Grow Some Labia so you never miss a damn thing!

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