Jessica Dorrell: Women Making Women Look Bad

Posted on April 17, 2012

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Writing in Sports Illustrated, Christianne Harder explains how Jessica Dorrell’s actions have had an immediate negative impact on women working in the highly competitive, male-dominated field of football.  Dorrell is the 25-year-old woman who Arkansas Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino hired as his new Student-Athlete Development Coordinator, bypassing 158 other candidates for the position.  And then, less than one month later, came the motorcycle accident that drew back the curtain on the extramarital affair between the two.  Surprise, surprise.  Belatedly, it was noted that her qualifications were not as good as other applicants for the job, and her hiring was inappropriately fast-tracked to boot.   Can we say:  sleeping your way to the top?

Christianne Harder is absolutely correct that Dorrell’s actions hurt women working in football, but there are many other ways, large and small, that some women’s actions hurt other women professionally.  Office gossip and cliques, painting every slight as an offense against women, filing sex-harassment charges or equal-opportunity complaints vindictively or frivolously, or making demands for preferential treatment:  yes, all that and more goes on, and every time it does, men and women alike might find the thought crossing their minds that women just don’t make great employees.  What am I basing this on?  My own experience.

Like Harder, I always made very, very certain to avoid any hint of impropriety.  But I did know quite a few women who were not so strict with themselves or their behavior.   And when male colleagues were uncomfortable lunching with me, as Harder describes, because of “what people might think,” I cursed every woman who went before me in the workplace, got in bed with her boss, and poisoned the atmosphere for the serious, professional women who came after her.  When men didn’t want a female co-worker or subordinate because of past experiences with anything ranging from bitchiness to child-rearing distractions, I cursed my own gender.  Before even going into some interviews, the odds were stacked against me because of what other women had done, and there was not much I could do to counter the perception that I might not be a good investment.   Looking back on all of the women I have known in my profession, I know, rationally, that the competent, serious women far outnumber the miscreants; yet the miscreants stand out in my mind because I know what they have cost me, just as Harder knows what Dorrell has cost her.

I know that some men are just chauvinists.  That they grew up that way and arrived in the workplace already equipped with misogynistic views.  But I fault women like Dorrell for confirming those views and adding to them.  Meanwhile, women like Harder have no way to compensate for that prejudice, because they are already making a superhuman effort to keep their behavior beyond all reproach.  There is no way to be even more discreet, more poised, more professional.  So the only way to “compensate” is… to lose.

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