Power as Taboo

by jdeena

This topic has come up frequently in my life as of late; whether at school or in my daily conversations: women in power. Now, you might be wondering what I mean by this, as we see women holding very powerful positions in large corporations and even running countries. However, there is still the so-called “glass ceiling” that limits the progress of women. We are still less paid than men. In my poly sci class last week we talked about the perception of women in politics. Women, when in power, tend to get the reputation of a bitch. She is cold-hearted for leaving her children to pursue her own selfish desires, she is masculine because she adopts the image of strength and resilience in order for her to fit in with the men she works with. Even her husband is judged (if she is married) for allowing his wife to upstage him with her political position.

What century is this?! There should be no reservations about women in power, and yet we see it all the time. Let’s look at one of the most powerful women in politics today: Hilary Clinton. What did people say about her when Bill cheated? When she showed no classic response (crying, shrieking, demanding divorce) they called her cold. When she began to pursue her political career, they called her masculine, pushy, and aggressive. Let’s look at a very successful female entertainment mogul: Oprah. She started from nothing and worked her way up into a media tycoon. Yet when her relationships were revealed, they always claimed she was the “man” in the relationship because she made more money and held more power in the public eye.

What is it about our society that has women in this box? And the funny thing is; it is mostly women that are pointing out these “flaws” in other women. Whether that stems from jealousy or judgement, it is there. Men, however, also add to this perception by speaking out against these women in power. You all know where I am headed with this.

Arab men have a very profound issue with women in power. I have experienced this firsthand. When I was a manager for Best Buy in Allen Park, Michigan (right outside Dearborn), I employed many Arabs. At one point, I had three Arab guys working for me. It was apparent from the start that they were uncomfortable being managed by a female, but especially an ARAB female. I would assign tasks that would go unfinished. I was actually told by one of the guys when I assigned him to clean before a store visit from our area manager, that I would be better at the cleaning since- after all- I’m a female. There was no fear of repercussions when he stated this, as if he felt he had the RIGHT to say it. Needless to say, he was disciplined accordingly.

When I became a corporate trainer for Best Buy and was traveling to different states to train employees, I saw it again. I had a mix of different guys in each class, yet for some reason (while a lot of the guys had an issue I was a female) it was the Arab guys that had the most trouble accepting it. They would make comments to undermine my authority and competency, and through an activity we did, when they found out my age, made comments on the fact that I was still single because I was so career focused. They had no reservations expressing their distaste for my choices in life. I am very content in who I am so their comments never bothered me. But it was interesting to see their point of view.

Not only did I experience it in my job, but I did in my personal life as well. When I was engaged 3 years ago, I was still trying to pursue my career at Best Buy. I was working to become a manager or supervisor. When I expressed this to my partner, he made it clear that he did not want me to achieve that, and in fact, he wanted me to drop to part-time work only so that I was available to do my wifely duties such as cooking and cleaning at home. He insisted I drop out of any extra-curricular activities I was involved in such as volunteer organizations through work. Looking back, I can see now this must have stemmed from his insecurities and need to control me.

So what does this all mean? It means that men will forever be intimidated by strong women in power. That is why we still have a glass ceiling; that is why women like Margaret Thatcher were looked at like a monster while in power. If a woman makes more money than her husband, the man is seen as emasculated. I had a discussion yesterday with an Arab guy, and we were talking about a female doctor whose husband is not a doctor. He laughed at the fact that this non Arab male had ALLOWED his wife to have a better paying job than him. According to this Arab guy, the wife would one day use her status and power to throw it in her husband’s face that SHE is the bread winner. I responded that MEN throw it in women’s faces all the time, yet somehow THAT is acceptable? I just don’t get this double standard. God willing, when I get my degree and move overseas, I don’t want a guy to feel intimidated or turned off by the fact that I have a secure and successful career. In fact, I’d hope he would be PROUD of that fact.

Is there a way to change the perception of women in power? If everyone allowed women to be themselves, then maybe, yes. However, women feel the need to prove themselves daily, whether they are CEO, PhD, manager, or teacher. If a woman’s role exudes power, men and other women will have a problem with it, and although some may say that words are harmless, they can continue to perpetuate that double standard. A woman can be successful and powerful and still respected. So to all the women out there who have heard “no” over and over again, don’t stop what you are doing. Keep reaching for your goals because it is the truest form of expressing who you are.