The woman in Guyland becomes the people-whisperer, the self-decoder for the men around her. She’ll validate, inspire, and elevate, at a cost to her own position and self.
She’ll become necessary to an individual or a set of individuals, but not organizationally significant. She will not be irreplaceable, instrumental, or essential to the institution.
She will offer examples rather than issue imperatives. She will urge, press, and clamor for change rather than insisting.
She will, in other words, be expendable.
She will remain on the outskirts rather than commanding the interior and be told that she should celebrate her outlier status.
She will seek the pivotal rather than the overriding decision and be convinced that they are of equal importance.
She will be the essence of one aspect of the institution, but essential to nothing within it. She will be an exception to the rule, and the rule will be something she will never make. She might be applauded as a pillar of the community and this is supposed to divert her attention away from the fact that she is not the mainspring or the cornerstone.
There is rarely only one pillar on which the entire edifice relies. She is conductive rather than consequential and she is conspicuous without being eminent. We inhabit the development of our own expertise in order to facilitate the development of a secret sense of superiority or specialness that is as corrosive as a lie.
Her grandiosity is not enough to cover her shame and the fantasy that she will be regarded as a princess does not truly mitigate the fact that she works like a chambermaid.
At a certain point, she comes to realize that repeating past triumphs does not guarantee success in the future. She fears to appear overpowering and therefore shameful. This won’t change until the emphasis in the phrase “human race” shifts from the second word back to the first, where it belongs.
It’s not that women condemn other women, but there is a certain amount of glee in being able to sneer. We look for split seams and loose buttons, proof of sluttishness and degrading habits, the soft edges of a slob, overeating, overreacting. That’s what we need to overcome, eradicate, and dissolve.
What Margaret Atwood calls “the metallic sense of rivalry in air” when you’re singled out as an exception by a man, commended, blessed as “one of the boys” with protective coloration, is a way to remain a living trophy, the one example of an endangered species.
The ingénue—the woman who separates herself from other women or who is cut from the herd by a senior male—stays at her job until she can’t work by simply relying on her charms anymore, and leaves with a wildly inflated notion of herself.
She has contempt for women and, by extension, no respect for herself.
When women stop having an unspoken contempt and devaluation of others who are like us but not quite up to our standards we will begin to move from the need for approval from male mentors to a need for recognition by other women in positions of authority, understanding that we are like them and that they can be of help to us.
Your rival is not necessarily your enemy, and your enemy is not necessarily your rival. If someone is in awe of you, they can’t see you for who you are. Girls are encouraged to rely on looks, charm, and personality, the unstable trifecta of femininity.
When you’re marinated in flattery it’s difficult to tell what’s the real flavor and what’s merely seasoning.
Women feel both better than and not good enough for anything we can do.
It’s not our fragility we need to trade on, but our strength.