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					        If you can‟t say something           NICE
   WOMEN‟S POWER DYNAMICS IN ORGANIZATIONS:
         REVISING THE UNWRITTEN RULES

  Women are supposed to be sisterly, to „relate to one another‟.
    Feeling angry or hostile toward another can be scary for
anyone, but especially for a woman: Since the female role is to
prize and nurture relationships, she doesn‟t want to be regarded
 as hampering those relationships. She does not feel entitled to
         express her anger. So, what does she do with it?
        -leora Tanenbaum, CATFIGHT: Women & Competition (2002)
                                 <>
If Alice has offended Betty, Betty will tell Carolyn and Diane
about it-but in such a way as to enlist Carolyn and Diane
against Alice, by persuading them that Alice has indeed, not
only unfairly offended Betty, but offended Carolyn and Diane
as well. Of course, Alice might have done no such thing. Betty
will “carefully manage” how she presents the “past” events. She
will do so in order to gain the support of a clique imbued with
“righteous indignation,” which will then assist Betty in any
future confrontation with Alice or in a decision to shun Alice.
Betty must accomplish this without appearing to intend to.
          -Phyllis Chesler, Woman‟s Inhumanity to Woman (2001)


                 Holly Elissa Bruno, MA, JD
               BRUNO DURATURO Consulting
              35 Gates Road        Sterling, MA 01564
                      hollyelissab@attbi.com
                       hollyelissabruno.com
                            978-563-1174


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    THE PROMISE OF SISTERHOOD
Women‟s praise for our ability to work together, reads like a Hallmark
card: Women make the world a better place for children and families.
Women wage peace, not war. Women are gentle. Women love
unconditionally. Women are divine sisters.

If women ruled the nations, would we have wars? Many of us think not.
Wellesley College‟s Stone Center scholars have extolled the relational,
collaborative strength of women in Women‟s Growth in Connection.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman in Herland, (1915) envisioned a thriving,
green, competition-free utopian society of women only. Women are
perceived to be expert at forming bonds of deep intimacy:

  EVERY THING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT COMMUNICATION, I‟VE LEARNED
                               FROM OTHER WOMEN:
Clear, simple words
Open minds
Mutual commitment to understand
Mutual commitment to be understood
Unambiguous meaning
Non-judgmental words and tone
Integrity of intention
Congruence of verbal language and body language
Articulate, authentic expression
Timely, appropriate feedback
Intent to listen and learn
Ongoing clarification and re-clarification
Nondefensive attitude
   -BJ Gallagher, Everything I need to know, I learned from other women (2002)

This is the promise of sisterhood: SHARED POWER, ACCEPTANCE,
EQUITY. Women bond to build inclusive communities. Women practice
“power with”, not “power over”. Organizations become “one big family”.




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            “IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING”
“The fact that someone is a woman does not mean that she likes, trusts, or
       works well with other women”              -Phyllis Chesler

When a group (like women) is denied power, group members create
indirect ways of exercising power. Covert power dynamics emerge.
Unwritten, controlling codes are passed down through rites of initiation.
Mothers, for example, tell daughters: “if you can‟t say something nice
about someone, don‟t say it at all”. Meanwhile, daughters learn at
mothers‟ knees to gossip about and shun other girls. The recent
videotaping of mid-western high school girls‟ abusive initiation rites,
revealed the anger beneath the surface of niceness.

Recent research on women working with women reveals that sisterhood is
as rife with negativity as it is with support. There is a “cost of admission”
to be accepted in women‟s organizations: don‟t stand out. When I ask
women to complete this sentence: “When women work with women______”, I
hear the indirect, often destructive, dynamics we use against each other.
Subordinate group members learn it is less dangerous to sabotage each
other than it is to confront the dominant group.

We women use gossip, shunning, and vacuuming to wrest power away
from other women and to isolate them from community support:

      *GOSSIP: INTENDING TO SULLY ANOTHER WOMAN‟S
      REPUTATION, BY TALKING “BEHIND HER BACK”.
      *SHUNNING: EXILING ANOTHER WOMAN BY NEITHER
      ACKNOWLEDGING NOR SUPPORTING HER.
      *VACUUMING: SUCKING THE “JUICE” OUT OF A WOMAN BY USE OF
      CONSTANT, OVERWELMING NEEDINESS/GUILT.

Women who are the object of these tactics feel demoralized,
excommunicated, even “marked for life”. We get the message: being
different is a punishable crime.



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Learned indirectness and fear of anger paralyze us. We avoid conflict at
great cost. When women disagree, we deny or bury our differences; we
“repress and deny knowledge of our own prejudices…partly because
women want to accept everyone” (Chesler). Since 80% of ECE leaders
prefer to avoid conflict (Bruno & Copeland, “If the director isn‟t direct, can
the team have direction?”, 1999), we lack processes for surfacing and
working through conflicts.

Teresa Bernandez‟ research showed that African-American, Hispanic-
American, and white-American women need to first find ways to test our
anger on “less conflicted grounds” before we can “advance to the
exploration of prejudice”. Bernandez notes, a woman who “takes this issue
upon herself, before the group is ready runs the risk of being ostracized
by black and white alike.” Without a process for working through our
everyday differences, our ability to partner is shackled, despite white
women‟s optimism about forming such partnerships (Bruno, 2002).

Another unwritten rule is to deny we have the capacity to harm another
woman. Anger, especially for white, middle-class women is not
acceptable. Yet, we have resentments, and biases about others. When we
act on these resentments indirectly (gossip, shunning, vacuuming), we
harm women. Denial that we have the capacity, desire, or experience of
injuring another woman, makes it easier to forget what we have done.

    WOMEN MAY USE THE POWER OF A GROUP TO CONTROL,
    HUMILIATE, OR EJECT ITS MEMBERS, AS WELL AS THOSE
      WHOM THEY DO NOT ACCEPT AS MEMBERS. –Chesler

Although I find it painful to explore these stiffling, unwritten rules of
women‟s dynamics, and my complicity in them, I trust: “The only way
out is through.” Fewer African-American women, than Latina‟s and
anglo‟s, conform to the expectation of “niceness”, (Mary Williams
Burgher in Peggy Ornstein‟s School Girls and the Confidene Gap,
(1994). Black women‟s practice of measuring “self-worth through
strength of character and a tenacious sense of self”, (Burgher) stands as
a model for us. Being AUTHENTIC is more liberating than being NICE.


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             REWRITING UNWRITTEN RULES

Our first step in building more effective learning communities is to
acknowledge that women are fully human. We are a mix of ambitious,
laid back, loving, resentful, proud and fearful. Yes, we are competitive.
Yes, we get hopping mad.

Covert power dynamics have been passed down to us. We have learned our
lessons well. Now comes the time to unlearn what we learned about the
exercise of power. We can choose: continue our practices of indirect access
to power, or create and practice direct ways of exercising power?

Out of wariness, Phyllis Chesler took 21 years to write Woman‟s
inhumanity to woman”. Other authors warned Chesler: “Women will
attack you pretty viciously for telling this truth”. Messengers do get
shot. Women who choose to champion change of our unwritten rules will
face isolation.

I invite us to use this knowledge for a more productive end: claim our
power to name, directly express, and work with/through our “negative”
feelings (e.g. anger, jealousy) together. Chesler recommends these steps:

       HUMBLY ACCEPT THAT CHANGE IS A PROCESS
       ACKNOWLEDGE, DO NOT DENY, THE TRUTH
       BECOME STRONG
       BECOME STRONG ENOUGH TO TAKE CRITICISM
       LEARN TO ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT; LEARN TO MOVE
        ON IF YOU DON‟T GET WHAT YOU WANT
       DO NOT GOSSIP
       NO WOMAN IS PERFECT; APOLOGIZE WHEN YOU‟VE
        MADE A MISTAKE AND THEN MOVE ON
       TREAT WOMEN RESPECTFULLY

Living in shadows is intriguing; nonetheless, growth requires the sun.
Imagine our unlimited power to change the world by being direct.



                                                                              5
INDIRECT WAYS to HAVE POWER
 OVER another woman & still appear
             “nice”:


GOSSIP-intending to harm another
 woman‟s reputation, by “talking behind
 her back”.


SHUNNING-exiling/isolating another
 woman by failing to acknowledge,
 support, or interact with her.


VACUUMING-sucking the “juice” out
 of a woman by constant, overwhelming
 neediness and/or guilting.




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