I came up with the concept of Swamp Wars about two years ago. It stemmed from my work experiences and for a while I thought it was unique to my industry because we have so many classic Alligator Slayers. But as I wrote this series of articles (Swamp Wars and The Rachel Letter) the national political conventions were held and politics fills the “news” media. Over the past year, I’ve seen huge similarities between what I experienced at work and what I see happening in our politics. I am now convinced that Swamp Wars is more than just my unique work experience – it is part of our society. Swamp Wars is a recent phenomenon and something women need to understand because it is having a significant impact on our ability to advance at work.
How did Swamp Wars start? My theory (I would like to hear others) is that for centuries men had their hierarchy set – they knew the rules that determined who amongst them was the Alpha, the Beta, etc… on down the line. It was simple. But then women entered the workplace. Suddenly women – who according to pecking order lore – were at the very bottom, below all Omega men – could now be in charge – a woman could assume the Alpha position. That made men question the traditional pecking order – if women can rise to the top, then why can’t a man who is in the middle of the pecking order also rise to the top??
Advancing women in business and society opened the door for men to redefine the characteristics that were needed to get to the top -we opened the door for men to redefine their Alpha characteristics – we opened the door for Swamp Wars.
So now it isn’t just women who are changing their personal views, men are too. And while women have been looking at themselves, we didn’t notice the significant changes that were going on within the male ranks. While we have been working to establish ourselves against a 1950’s male image, men changed that image and we haven’t adjusted our behavior to the new Swamp Wars phenomenon.
The result – we have been sidelined.
The Invisibility of Women
Swamp Wars has three basic characteristics:
• There is a need for a Male Hero or Victor
• Men work from polar extremes where the other side is vilified – creating Heroes and Villains
• Women are side-lined and feel invisible or insignificant
In my article How to use the Rachel Letter To End Swamp Wars I talk about the projects where, in spite of my position and responsibilities, I felt invisible – there was all this commotion going on around me that I had no part in. I didn’t know what started it and I felt like I missed an important meeting where a controversy erupted that was now affecting me and my ability to do my job. The reality was that there was no one triggering event, it was merely men jockeying for status between themselves.
I bet there are a lot of other women who are experiencing the same thing. Earlier this year, I think all women felt invisible as male politicians argued amongst themselves about contraceptives and abortion. How many women felt like waving their hands “Helloooo, you’re talking about something that affects me. Don’t I get a say in this?! What about want I think? Hellooo.”
Did you feel like a pawn?
And even though a few women did get to speak on the subject, women did not take it over. We did not push the men aside and say “We will lead this discussion – this is OUR subject! WE will let you know what we want, what we want to do.”
Are we really satisfied with just a few women speaking on behalf of all of us? Is that really empowering? I don’t think so. Empowerment is taking over, leading and controlling what affects us. It is about us controlling our destiny.
That feeling of invisibility, of being left out, that most of us had is what we need to be aware of at work. It is happening there too.
When the moderators of the Presidential debates were announced there was celebration that Candy Crowley was going to be a moderator. A woman was getting the opportunity – the media industry can proclaim it promotes women just as much as men. But then I heard Carol Simmons (a former news anchor in NYC) comment on it. She said – notice which debate Candy got – she got the Townhall format. Unlike the other two debates where the moderator formulates the questions, Candy does not get to develop and ask her own questions. Her job is simply to pass around the microphone. So while her male colleagues get to act as true journalists/interviewers/moderators, Candy’s role is a more like a talk show host. Carol’s point was clear – even in the “liberal media” women may seem to be gaining equal standing, but upon closer examination, it’s not as true as we would like to believe.
I want to watch this debate, I want to watch the dynamics of this debate. I want to see how Candy handles herself and how much control she takes. Oh, and how both Romney and Obama treat her. This should be interesting!
(Post Debate Update: Candy did a great job. I listened to an interview where she said she made the decision to stand during the debate because she thought that if she sat, Obama and Romney would see themselves as being able to dominate her. Candy undestood she needed to assert herself – she was not going to sit on the sidelines. And yes I heard criticism of her – she didn’t act like a talk show host – she got too involved. I think she was a great role model for women!)
So take a look around your workplace. Are you really on the team or are you in the bleachers? Or are you really just a cheerleader rooting for your guys?
When Sarah Palin was selected as the Vice President nominee, it may have seemed that women were again being advanced but my first reaction was “OMG they went for a cheerleader!” I didn’t think she was selected for any reason other than she was a woman and her job was to shake her pom-poms and gain attention for McCain. She was not supposed to upstage McCain. After the election she should have faded back into obscurity. But she didn’t.
Like her or not, you have to give Sarah Palin credit for not remaining a cheerleader, for not disappearing into the Alaskan tundra – she made herself someone the establishment had to deal with and recognize. She was not afraid to get off the sidelines and say “Boys you are going to deal with the Hockey mom!”
March Into Centerfield
I often picture Swamp Wars as a sporting match – taking place on a large sports field. Each team is protecting their end of the field. Along the sidelines are the cheerleaders and the bleachers are filled with opposing fans. But here is the difference from most sports – the two sides never actually engage each other. Instead they stand in their end zones taunting each other and working their fans into a frenzy. It is as if they each secretly know that playing the game will not result in a victor or a hero – playing the game will result in a stalemate. Resolution and advancement can only be achieved through compromise and working together. Compromise will be disappointing to each team who was promised that their team would raise them up to victor status and elevate them above the other side. Cheering fans full of enthusiasm will now only feel a letdown. Therefore, to keep their power and their fans, each team must maintain the illusion that they actually can emerge as the victor.
Therefore, the center of the field remains empty.
What women need to do is recognize the futility of the game. They must recognize the need for resolution. They must come out of the bleachers, come off the sidelines and march into the center of the field.
To a lot of women that may seem scary – being in the middle between two groups of men – what if they both coming charging towards the center? Is that a possibility? Yes it is. Both sides can join together to or somehow maneuver to drive the women off so they can keep the game going on their terms.
But always remember – you don’t engage in their games!! You change the game! You play by your rules. That was the point of the Rachel letter – I was able to take back my power on my terms and in a way the men could not counter. It is that type of out-of –the-box thinking women need to employ. You don’t have to do things the way men do. You don’t have to do things the way it has always been done. You don’t have to follow “rules” that push women to the sidelines or into the bleachers.
Remember your goal is always to move men out of the Blue zone and into the Purple areas.
In the political discussion over contraceptives and abortion, did women really take back their power? Or did we just join our teams at their end of the field? I often think that it would have been so cool for Michele Obama to call Ann Romney and set up their own hearing to discuss the issues. At the end of their meeting they would hold a joint press conference and tell the men how women have decided to deal with the issues. That would have been amazing and would have set the media buzzing!
Think about it. Why couldn’t they do that?? Why do you think they couldn’t? Think about “the rules” that say they couldn’t, think about who and what would be upset and why. Who and what are they protecting by not taking such bold action?
Are they each so locked into being cheerleaders for their husbands that they can’t step out of that role and assume the role of a woman first? Are they both inadvertently subordinating being a woman to being a cheerleader for their husbands?
If an issue that is so intensely personal to women is not enough for them to leave the sidelines and march into the center of the field then what is?
As women we have to figure out what is keeping us on the sidelines. If you are looking at a situation and afraid to place yourself in the middle of two opposing teams, then you need to change your perspective and your attitude. You need to stop seeing the situation from the same perspective as the men. You need to come up with a way to deal with the situation that is different than what the men would come up with. You have to throw them out of their comfort zone and work from your own. That is the only way you can take back the control over a situation that should be yours to control.
Empowered women are not cheerleaders and do not sit in the bleachers – they march onto the field and take control of their destiny.
Additional Reading Suggestion – Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else by Chrystia Freeland
What her concept is that today there is the belieft that the successful businessman is the Hero and the driver of our society:
There has always been some gap between rich and poor in this country, but in the last few decades what it means to be rich has changed dramatically. Alarmingly, the greatest income gap is not between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, but within the wealthiest 1 percent of our nation–as the merely wealthy are left behind by the rapidly expanding fortunes of the new global super-rich. Forget the 1 percent; Plutocrats proves that it is the wealthiest 0.1 percent who are outpacing the rest of us at break-neck speed.
What’s changed is more than numbers. Today, most colossal fortunes are new, not inherited–amassed by perceptive businessmen who see themselves as deserving victors in a cut-throat international competition. As a transglobal class of successful professionals, today’s self-made oligarchs often feel they have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home. Bringing together the economics and psychology of these new super-rich, Plutocrats puts us inside a league very much of its own, with its own rules.
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