Women Don’t Fear Power. Power Fears Women.
Reading yesterday about the abrupt firing of Jill Abramson, the first woman at the New York Times, along with the resignation of Le Monde’s Natalie Nougayrède, was like watching a ripple of misogyny move through the air in slow motion. Similar, in fact, to watching the slow, then fast, build to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s removal from office. There’s no way to examine these situations and ask, “Do women fear power and success?” Instead, the question is, “Why are powerful and successful women so feared?”
In their former positions, both Abramson and Nougayrède were notable firsts. Abramson was the first woman to head the New York Times and Nougayrède the first to be both editor-in-chief and director at Le Monde. Both women, whose tenures have been prematurely cut short, are paying the price for our very gendered ideas about power and leadership. Because they are women with power, all Abramson and Nougayrède had to do in the morning to be disruptive was get out of bed.
They are counter-cultural by definition. Both are experienced, accomplished, powerful, strong-willed, assertive, decisive and display-likeable or not- leadership qualities. Both were in the isolated position that most women with authority find themselves in. Both were navigating the high pressures of their professional lives while simultaneously challenging everyone’s - their employees’, their employer’s, the media’s - embedded notions of gendered behavior: from their “brusque,” “pushy” and “aggressive” dispositions, speech patterns, body language, ambition, confidence and more. The active coping that women leaders do in their work is qualitatively different and, frankly more onerous than their male peers, whom they are most frequently told they should simply emulate to get ahead.