Sexism is not “surprising.” It is, however, stupid.

This week, the UK’s Daily Mail reported on the results of a new survey about gender and workplace leadership. The paper called the main finding, that men are overwhelmingly seen as better bosses, “surprising.”

I’m not surprised. The fact that most people, even women, would rather work under a man than under a woman, is well-established. Perhaps what the Daily Mail really ought to have found surprising were the reasons respondents to this poll gave for preferring male bosses. They included:

  • Men have “no time of the month”
  • Women “spend too long worrying about their appearance”
  • Women are “unreasonable”

Welcome to 1810, folks, where women are too vain, hysterical and premenstrual to lead!

Seriously, though, while some of these reasons are totally absurd and make me wonder exactly what century these people are from, there’s nothing new or surprising about the sentiment that women make bad bosses. In fact, a recent study by Catalyst, an NYC-based research and consulting group that focuses on improving workplace diversity and increasing the number of women business leaders worldwide, addresses the roots of this perception. The study identifies the “double-bind dilemma” for women in leadership, which is this: culturally, when we picture a boss, we picture a man. And culturally, when we picture a woman, we don’t picture a boss. So, women bosses are breaking two sets of rules – our rules about what it means to be a boss, and our rules about what it means to be a woman.

This means that no matter how a woman leader behaves, she will catch heat for it. If she’s gentle, or nurturing, if she “takes care,” as Catalyst researchers put it, she catches heat for being a bad boss. If she’s authoritative, or commanding, if she “takes charge,” she catches heat for being a bad woman. It’s a double-bind, a no-win situation.

With that in mind, take a look at those explanations offered by the survey respondents. Those are all “womanly” traits – vanity, hysteria, a tendency to bleed from one’s uterus.  But look at some of the other top reasons offered:

  • Women are “too competitive”
  • Women are “sharp-tongued”
  • Men are “less interested in office politics”

When women bosses act like women, they’re criticized. When they act like bosses, they’re criticized. It’s an impossible situation, and the only way to improve it is to get more women into leadership positions, so that “boss” and “woman” are no longer mutually exclusive.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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