Picture this situation: A young woman in the workplace faces a group of more senior women who constantly torment her, both covertly and overtly. She’s shunned, denied opportunities, whispered about and outright slandered. Going to work makes her anxious and depressed. Quitting will leave her financially destitute and destroy her career.
And there’s nobody to ask for help.
Online boutiques, blogging and other “online businesses” are fast becoming the work of choice for women, especially those with young children at home. It’s estimated that 40% of Australian businesses are “entrepreneurial parents” with the a sizable percentage being women aged 35-44*. It’s empowering. Leveraging free platforms like Facebook to generate an income with little to no start-up funding and using only networking skills and tenacity – building something yourself and watching it make a real difference to your career or family. So why are some entrepreneurs feeling dis-empowered?
Bitches and bullies are everywhere
I have been guilty of it. I think if we’re honest with ourselves, most women have at one time or another made another woman feel bad for no good reason. Everyone feels vulnerable from time to time and some of us play it like we’re back at school…being mean. But for most of us, we have the good sense to stop the moment we realise we’re doing it, and the character to feel bad about doing it. Not these girls. They’re the girls who never grew out of high school cliques, who only feel better when someone else feels worse. Whether it’s the “Lorna Jane” set at the school gates or the old-school-feminist manager who thinks feminism is about being sexist, bullying doesn’t magically stop when you get your senior certificate. The difference with bloggers and online business owners is, there’s nobody to tell. There’s no HR department ready to whip out a law book and the overdressed “yummy mummies” at drop off can’t actually render your family destitute. There’s no teacher ruthlessly enforcing the cyber-bullying policy. While business people have always “gone it alone” this is the first generation of business owners who rely so heavily on social networking to thrive.
The blogger’s opinion
I sat listening to a blogger cry about an unsavoury experience she endured at the hands of a pack of bitch bloggers. She’d express an opinion, not a particularly controversial one, but one that didn’t comply with the “sanctimummy” set of values. Six bloggers had gathered together to harass her on a popular “bitch forum” that is reserved especially for bloggers. (I wish bitch forums like this would just get off my internet!) They left hateful messages on her blog, posted in numerous Facebook groups and bombarded her Facebook wall with nastiness. All because she expressed her opinion, on her blog. Any blogger worth their salt will “brace herself” for some negative feedback from a controversial blog post, but when does it become cyber bullying?
Characteristics of a Bully-Mama
Bully-Mamas aren’t that different to the mainstream workplace bully or the teenaged cyber bully but for a few additional traits. Like most bullies, the motives are the same; peer acceptance, jealousy, revenge, entertainment and dominance.
Workplace Bullying Characteristics
- Manipulation through seduction. The bully may build a friendship based on “favours” or some form of emotional or financial promise. The bully then makes the delivery of that promise dependant on her emotional or social needs.
- Prone to tantrums. Bullies tend to throw tantrums in the form of emotional outbursts that intimidate or threaten those around them
- Political Gamesmanship – the grown up term for being “mean girls”. A bully aligns herself with a “clique” and undermines anyone who doesn’t fully comply with the clique’s agenda. She subtly undermines the self-worth of people around her, to bolster her general position and her position within the clique. She attracts women who “follow” and alienates anyone unwilling to follow.
- Deliberately causes misinterpretation. She will manipulate truths and ridicule others for then basing opinions on such truths. She undermines the way that others run their blog or business, causing them to feel like a failure.
- Wears down victims. Over time, a bully may slowly, passively wears down a victim to the point where the victim “just gives in”. In the workplace, this may be quitting her job but when it’s her own business and her business success is tied up in networking, it may mean giving up a whole career.
Cyber Bully Characteristics
- Use of social platforms to ridicule. There is no worse example of bitchiness than participation in groups and forums that are solely focused on undermining others. These are ideal breeding grounds for bullying behaviour and they’re thriving.
- Emotional/Social Blackmail: Like the mean girl cheerleader, the Bully-Mama wants your opinion to match hers and for you to submit to her demands. When you don’t, she’ll punish you, emotionally. Bully-mamas don’t have the financial leverage of a boss, they have the emotional leverage of a social media leader. Emotional blackmail then plays on our natural instinct to be “part of the pack” and fear of social isolation. This is especially prevalent on social platforms as they are, by their very nature, gigantic social hierarchies.
The Unique Culture of Co-operation
This is unique to mama-bullying. Our generation of women in business, and women in online business especially, has created a new business trend – the trend of co-operation and mutual support. “Help a sister out” is at the core of our business culture. We should be proud of this. It’s a move away from the world of greed is good and every individual out for themselves that has become the norm in business since the 1980s – we are rewriting the rule book. The backlash over Domain Name Gate demonstrated just how much unfair play hits a nerve in our co-operative community culture. Victims of Mama-Bullying are made to feel like they’re an outcast from the entire business culture, not just one group. The greatest irony of the story of my blogger friend is that while she sobbed on the phone, I sat reading the nasty comments on forums and in Facebook groups. I clicked through to one of the bully’s own Facebook page, where she had “gone orange” for the National Day of Action Against Bullying. To me, this says that she didn’t recognise that bullying isn’t just something found on the playground, in the workplace or on a teenager’s Twitter profile – it extends into the land of grown-ups too – and is rife amongst good-karma “mummy business and bloggers”.
*Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics