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Negative Intra-gender Relations between Women: Friendship, Competition and Female Misogyny

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Sharon MavinORCiD



Broadbridge and Simpson (2011) note that key aspects of gendered management and organization may be increasingly difficult to detect, arguing for research to “reveal” (Lewis and Simpson, 2010) hidden aspects of gender and the processes of concealment within norms, practices and values. Negative relations between women in organizations have been highlighted in different arenas since the 1960s (e.g. Abramson, 1975; Goldberg, 1968; Legge, 1987; Nicolson, 1996; Staines et al., 1973) but remain under researched in management and organization studies. The following chapter offers an initial conceptual framework of women’s negative intra-gender relations. The framework aims to “reveal” some of the hidden aspects of gender in organizations and to contribute to a greater understanding of how gendered organizing contexts facilitates negative relations between women, and how such relations emerge through everyday organizing. In developing the framework we draw upon research from evolutionary and social psychology, sociology, management and organization studies. Specifically we draw upon women doing gender well (in congruence with sex category), while simultaneously doing gender differently (Mavin and Grandy, 2011); gendered contexts; homophily (Lazarsfeld and Merton, 1954) and homosociality (Gruenfeld and Tiedens, 2005); women’s intra-gender competition (Campbell, 2004) and processes of female misogyny (Mavin, 2006 a, b). Our contribution focuses upon revealing hidden forms of gender in action in organizations and highlights how gendered organizing processes which impact upon women’s experiences and advancement, are entangled with, and influenced by, women’s social relationships at work. To raise women’s negative intra-relations at work can be to speak the unspeakable, almost a feminist taboo, which poses risk to the speaker(s). Drawing attention to women’s negative intra-gender relations in organizations also risks the reduction of the problem to individual women, rather than problematizing social relations. Negative intra-gender relations between women at work was highlighted as a challenge to women’s progress by Mavin (2006 a, b; 2008), contributing to the maintenance of the gendered status quo and hegemonic masculinity (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005) in organizations. We have argued elsewhere (Mavin and Williams, forthcoming; Mavin and Grandy, 2012; Mavin, 2008) that senior women in management and leadership face an oxymoron; they face expectations of positive solidarity behaviours from other women and requirements to take up the “women in management mantle” on behalf of women in the organization, whilst in parallel they are negatively evaluated for performing masculinities, through the use of Queen Bee label (Abramson, 1975; Staines et al., 1973). Solidarity or sisterhood behaviours (Mavin, 2006a) between women are often seen as positive enablers. As numbers swell, it is suggested women are more likely to form allegiances, coalitions and affect the culture of the organization (Kanter, 1977). However, women perceived as Queen Bees are argued to disassociate themselves from their gender to survive and thrive in masculine work contexts (Derks et al., 2011). Individual women as Queen Bees, are then positioned as “the problem;” perceived as unsupportive of other women and interpreted as attempting to hold on to power (Mavin, 2008). We contend that solidarity behaviour expectations and Queen Bee evaluations are examples of women’s negative intra-gender relations facilitated within gendered contexts and gendered orders within organizations. The complexities women experience within gendered contexts, facilitate a chasm in social relations between women that requires exploration (Mavin and Williams, forthcoming). As women move into senior positions they disrupt gendered expectations and embedded gender stereotypes supporting associations of management as male and men as managers and “bosses,” to which both men and women might negatively respond (Mavin, 2006 a, b). The possibility of negative intra-relations between women can form in horizontal, as well as in vertical relationships between women at work (Gutek et al., 1988). These problematic relations, possibly impacted by low gender demography (Ely, 1994), further contribute to gendered organizations and constrain opportunities for women to be “otherwise”. Women’s intra-gender competition and processes of female misogyny (Mavin, 2006, a, b) are further aspects of social relations between women at work, so that contrary to gender stereotypes, women are often not friends and do not always cooperate or support each other, regardless of their hierarchical positioning. Rather women can be hostile towards women and in particular women in senior positions. Chesler (2001: 2) contends women ‘…do not like, trust, respect or find their [other women] statements to be credible. To the extent that women are oppressed, we have also internalized the prevailing misogynist ideology which we uphold both in order to survive and in order to improve our own individual positions vis-à-vis all other women.’ Gutek et al. (1988) argue that women’s long history as a subordinate group has resulted in women learning to survive in a world structured by the dominant group’s definitions, rules, rewards and punishments, and therefore ‘the only realistic response of many women to such overwhelming institutionally based macro-manipulation is micro-manipulation, the use of interpersonal behaviours and practices to influence, if not control the balance of power’ (Lipman-Blumen, 1984: 30). However, theoretical development of this argument has been limited. Organizations have been characterised by patterns of interaction which (whether intentionally and unintentionally formed) contribute to homogenous group structures, of which gender is one dimension (Gruenfeld and Tiedens, 2005). Such constructed patterns shore up social homogeneity and hierarchical structures and are argued to contribute to organizational members’ sense of security (Camussi and Leccardi, 2005; Gruenfeld and Tiedens, 2005; Kanter, 1977). Homophily (the social process of friendship) (Lazarsfeld and Merton, 1954) and homosociality (a general orientation to associate with people like oneself) (Gruenfeld and Tiedens, 2005), have contributed to research investigating the gendered experiences of those in management positions through a focus upon social capital and network theory (e.g. Benschop, 2009). However a specific focus on friendship as a social process and intra-gender friendships has been lacking. In theorizing women’s negative intra-gender relations, we draw upon an assumption that within work organizations and in senior positions, men experience greater opportunities for, and relationships with, others (men) and that this impacts positively on their experiences (Collinson and Hearn, 2005), whilst women’s work place homophilous friendships and homosocial relations with other women, are problematic and remain under researched. Further, we integrate discussions on intra-gender competition and female misogyny (Mavin, 2006, a) to illuminate the difficulties that women may experience in accepting intra-gender differences. In turn, this facilitates a greater understanding of how women negotiate organization and management within the prevailing patriarchal social order (Mavin, 2006 a, b; 2008). The chapter begins by outlining our understanding of gender and gendered contexts facilitating negative relations between women. This is followed by a discussion of homophily (Lazarsfeld and Merton, 1954), homosociality (Gruenfeld and Tiedens, 2005), and women’s intra-gender competition and female misogyny (Mavin, 2006 a, b). The conceptual framework of women’s negative intra-gender relations is summarised, to consider how negative relations between women manifest and impact on women’s potential, followed by emerging questions offered to frame future research.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mavin S, Williams J, Grandy G

Editor(s): Kumra S; Simpson R; Burke RJ

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: The Oxford Handbook of Gender in Organizations

Year: 2014

Print publication date: 12/03/2014

Online publication date: 12/12/2013

Acceptance date: 08/01/2013

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Place Published: Oxford


DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199658213.013.010

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9780199658213