Just hours after Olivia Nuzzi published a supposedly scathing tell-all about interning for Anthony Weiner’s mayoral campaign, Weiner’s communications director unleashed a vicious rant of expletives about Nuzzi. Barbara Morgan called the former intern a “slutbag,” “twat,” and “cunt.” For instance:
“Fucking slutbag. Nice fucking glamour shot on the cover of the Daily News. Man, see if you ever get a job in this town again.”
There are two issues this incident raises. One is about the degree to which crass immorality pervades not just Weiner but his entire campaign operation and public life. After all, it’s one thing for “Carlos Danger” to write, in the course of sexting, "Would you let me hold your hair while you gagged on my cock?” That’s unpleasant enough for many New York voters to contend with. It’s another thing altogether when Weiner translates this sort of I-should-be-able-to-fucking-do-whatever-I-want kind of attitude into public life.
The second issue, though, extends far beyond the minutia of the Weiner train wreck into the much-debated dynamic between women bosses and their employees in the workplace. “Oh, women bosses are the worst!” a friend said to me when we were discussing this story. “But not me,” she quickly clarified—noting that she, too, is a boss and probably a pretty awesome one. Indeed, in my own life my greatest mentors and supporters have been the women I’ve worked for. Still, most every woman in the workforce knows the particular sting that can only come from another woman—that sense of solidarity as you’re pressed in together beneath the glass ceiling shattered with excruciating precision in the way only another sister can do. In general, it just hurts more when another woman calls you a “cunt.”
Some of the research on women bosses backs this up. Women who have female bosses report more headaches and anxiety than those with male bosses. Studies show 70 percent of the time female bosses target their anger at other women—as opposed to male bosses who pick on everyone more equally. And female bosses are generally considered “less likable." On the other hand, women are better mentors—especially of other women—and those who do mentor are more successful. And women in businesses with higher percentages of female executives generally face a smaller wage gap than women working elsewhere.
Meanwhile, successful women in the workplace have their own pitfalls to deal with. While we might think that women lower on the totem pole are more likely to be subject to sexual harassment, research suggests otherwise—that top women executives, especially those perceived to be more assertive and independent, are more often harassed. Another study found that the presence of a women in executive positions actually reduces the probability that women will occupy other top positions in the same company.
Maybe instead of envisioning women’s economic advancement as the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits” the more appropriate metaphor is “Survivor." After all, we still live in a patriarchal society where there is only so much room made for women at the top—thus the sense, part real and part perpetuated by perception, that women have to fight one another for the rarified air. This leads to a sense of loneliness at the top of the lady pyramid.
Of course, suggesting that women have no choice but to compete with and claw over one another to get power is as disempowering as suggesting that women have no place in power to begin with. Despite all the social and structural impediments to equal opportunity for women in America and worldwide, we still have a personal choice—to lean in and, perhaps, with (to extend Sheryl Sandberg) and to work to mentor and support the women (and feminist men) around us.
And yes, at times, that includes giving firm but fair criticism—an important part of being a boss and mentor. But instead, Weiner’s communications director Barbara Morgan provided a perfect example of how to be not constructive but catty and reinforce the centuries of sexism and stereotypes we should all be fighting to topple. Once again, the Weiner campaign helps drag America into a cesspool.