Ah, the old boys club, also known as the old-white-cis-hetero-male club. A typical place of work for some, and hell in a cubicle for others. A place where 99% of all North Americans must endure the ever present effects of the patriarchy. For women, a place where they must be a girl in a boy's club. ...Or do they?
Decide if you want to/are able to conform.
Before anything else, you have to ask yourself: “Do I actually want to be a part of the boys club? Do I want to kowtow to the dominant paradigm?” If you do, that’s not a bad thing and no one should admonish you for this decision. In the words of Gloria Steinem, “don’t blame the girl for playing the only game there is.” In fact, many powerful women have consciously chosen to ‘play the game’ in order to rise to the top in their careers.
While many women have chosen to adopt certain techniques to survive in the old boys club that so often dominates corporate life, most women do not have the privilege of financial security that would allow them to reject patriarchal corporations. Most women go to their jobs in order to feed themselves and/or their families. This includes women of colour, trans women and other marginalized groups of women.
Tips for Surviving the Old Boys Club.
Whether you choose to conform or feel as though you must, here are some tips for making the workplace a little bit better.
1. Start a Girl Gang.
If you are lucky enough to have other women in your workplace, befriend them. This is important. In the wild west of the corporate world, everyone needs a posse. And as a woman, it is even more crucial to have a girl gang. This crew of women (or even just one female comrade) is important for two reasons: so you can commiserate and so you can have each other’s backs.
If a woman in the office isn’t your cup of tea (aka she is a poop face) you need to try to at least be on friendly terms with her. Men in the office may pit women against each other, establishing a competitive environment, for their entertainment. So try to befriend that woman and find common ground. She is not where your negative energy should be directed.
2. Don’t get Sucked into the Boys Club.
This is more common than you think, as women often love to brag about ‘being one of the guys.’ These women believe that if they truly conform to the club they can be a card carrying member. They can be the ‘token woman’ in the boys club because the office bros say they are ‘actually cool.’
Unfortunately, you can never actually be a part of the boys club. The things about a boys club is, you have to be a boy. No matter how well you play by the rules and no matter how strictly you enforce the rules, you will always be a woman.
Besides, while it’s understandable to want to fit in, why do you want to be a part of something so discriminatory? It is one thing to be friendly, even friends, with your co-workers, but it is shooting yourself in the foot to exclude other women from membership in any group. Resist being a part of a club that is dedicated to preserving its own privilege at your expense.
3. Call Out the Crap.
When someone does something wrong, speak up when you can. There are countless reasons why women may feel they can’t call people out on their bullshit (precarious work conditions, financial insecurity, unsafe work environment, etc.), but if you feel safe and capable, then SAY something. Things don’t change when people are silent; things change when people speak out.
Calling someone out on their crap is important because either a) they don’t know they have done something wrong, or b) they are bigots that need to learn their oppressive behaviour will not be tolerated. Either way, it’s ideal to engage with them if possible. Perhaps John is unaware he keeps interrupting you in the office – letting him know that this is a common occurrence may put an end to it! Or confront Steve when he steals your brilliant idea. If he knows he can’t get away with it, maybe he will think twice before doing it next time.
4. Don’t Minimize Yourself.
If you are awesome, then be awesome. Be the best you can possibly be, whatever that means to you. Don't apologize for being assertive, passionate and forward. These traits are revered in men, and the only way they will ever be celebrated in women is if we own them. If you are a valuable employee, acknowledge this, be proud of this, and show this.
5. Get an Outlet.
The boys club will be infuriating. I guarantee it. All jobs can get you down, and having a job where people underestimate, undermine or under appreciate you can be even more difficult. So how do you cope? Any way that makes you feel better. Go for a walk at lunch to clear your head. Punch it out at boxing class after work. Bitch about the office bros with your best friends over dinner. Do what you need to do.
How to Reject the Patriarchal Domain and What to do Next.
While most women must conform and other women choose to conform, it is not the only option. If you have the privilege, as a woman you don’t necessarily have to play by their rules. The other option, though more extreme, is to actively reject the boys club (aka 99% percent of our institutions).
How does this work? What does rejecting patriarchal workplaces look like?
It can look like anything you want it to, within limits, but general it involves taking the road less travelled. It involves an uphill battle and often great uncertainty.
Some women start their own all female law firm. Other women choose to work in female dominated workplaces (for example – as a midwife or in non-profit organizations). Some choose to work for themselves (though they may still face patriarchy within certain corporate realms). Other women find crazy progressive places to work (think Patagonia!).
Bottom line – rejecting the old boys club is a feminist’s dream (or the dream of any woman who is fed up with workplace bigotry). If you have the privilege and the drive to reject the dominant paradigm in corporate North America, the world is your empowered oyster.