A nurse practitioner was describing her interaction with the attorney of one of our patients. “I’ve known Dan a long time. We have a good rapport. He’s an alpha male, so if you just stroke his ego, you can wrap him around your finger and get him to do whatever you want.” The women present at the table – that is, everyone but me – smiled and laughed just a bit. Additional context may be pertinent: she ranks the other females, is older, and presides over them to a certain extent. The man she was speaking about is younger than her as well. A younger woman might be more reluctant to make the statement.
I reflected that a male could not make any similar statement about a female coworker* without getting in big trouble, perhaps even fired. On that basis, it seemed I should be offended by the statement.
But I’m not. I might be offended if he had been someone I know and like, but the offense taken would be more a product of believing that it was unfair to put him in that category, not that such things should never be said in professional company. Paradoxically, I think that license to insult is a statement of continuing male power**. Punching up is allowed, and it’s a statement of up-ness.
*Males may be able to say such things about other males, females about females, though I think the rules are tricky and the whole thing best avoided. There are also context rules about what you can say at meeting versus what you might say privately to each individual one-on-one.
**Not so complimentary that it was said in my presence though. Ouch. As Wally says in “Dilbert,” trying to get out of the line of Alice’s fire on the topic of men having all the power in the company “Those are other men.”
Related: as OT’s, social workers, and nurses are large categories of my co-workers, I am very used to being in largely female environments. Doctors, psychologists, and MHW’s are more 50/50. Having worked more regularly on a geriatric unit this past year has been a bit surprising. The staff is even more predominantly female. The greater intensity of female culture is more than I expected. Looking back, I have been in such situations a few times over my career, where the ratio of females to males around the table is more like 5:1 than 2:1. I have seen very occasional situations where the men slightly outnumbered the women on a team, up to a max of 2:1. I have not been on a team that was consistently 5:1 male. When people are sick or on vacation the coverage might make the table that uneven for a few days, but not more.
Based on that small sample size, I suggest that teams that are 2:1 female are only a bit different from teams that are 50/50 or 2:1 male. It’s noticeable, but not obvious. The differences in individual personalities rather than category differences are much more meaningful. But a team that is 5:1 female is very different from one that is 2:1. The light conversation is very different, the style of argument and advocacy for one decision over another is different. Things that should be reported are more likely to not be formally acknowledged, but become topics for gossip instead.
I suspect that teams which are 5:1 male may also be quite different from those that are 2:1.