Harem queens in the corporate world
I recently came across a New York Times article about shitty behaviors that our society often associates with the female gender. It’s about the stupid, catty, bitchy behavior that makes for an entertaining evening in a film like Bridesmaids, but that actually wastes an enormous amount of emotional energy and gives the female gender a bad name. The choice paragraph, in my opinion, is this one (emphasis mine):
There are two main theories of why women are competitive in indirectly aggressive ways. Evolutionary psychology, which uses natural selection to explain our modern behaviors, says that women need to protect themselves (read: their wombs) from physical harm, so indirect aggression keeps us safe while lowering the stock of other women.
Feminist psychology chalks up this indirect aggression to internalizing the patriarchy. As Noam Shpancer writes in Psychology Today, “As women come to consider being prized by men their ultimate source of strength, worth, achievement and identity, they are compelled to battle other women for the prize.” In short: When our value is tied to the people who can impregnate us, we turn on each other.
女权心理学家把这笔账算到父权制的内化头上。正如Noam Shpancer 在《今日心理学（Psychology Today）》上写的：“当女人需要男人的奖励来获得她们终极的力量、价值、成就和身份认同时，她们就被迫同其他女人开战来争取这份奖励。”简而言之，当我们的价值与那些能让我们受孕的人绑在一起时，我们只好彼此反目。
“Indirect aggression” is the author’s more-polite term for passive aggression, and here’s what I take out of the article. I’ll withhold personal comment, so please don’t get offended just yet. From the article:
- women, in a system where their value is attractiveness as assessed by men, work to undermine each other.
- women generally prefer passive aggression over overt conflict.
- women exhibit an especial and envious hatred toward highly attractive women, that is divorced from the reality of that person.
- 女人会对富有吸引力的女人表现出强烈的嫉妒心，不管这个有吸引力的女人实际状况如何。 Is this true of “women”? Well, it’s true of some women, and not of others.
Now, I want to talk about these horrible patterns of behavior: passive-aggression, cattiness, sabotage, bitchiness. I’ve seen a lot of this stuff in my decade in the software career. And, here’s the thing… most of the worst offenders have been men.
In my personal opinion, malicious social aggressions are not especially gendered. Women may be two to three years ahead in this game during high school and college, because they’re farther along (in general) when it comes to social development, but corporate executives’ cattiness makes high-school cheerleader drama look innocent in comparison.
That humans perceive certain styles of aggression as being gendered is, however, telling. Stereotypically “male” aggression’s virtue is that it is short-lived and honest; its vice is that it’s brutal and often disproportionate (and if it leads to violence, its effects can be permanent).
For a contrast, the “female” aggression has the virtue of precision, but the vice of being dishonest, long-lived, and cancerous. In reality, we observe all classes of aggression in all genders of people, so why do we have this need to create a gendered correlation? I think the answer is, and I’m going to have to define this word (lest it be useless) patriarchy.
What is patriarchy? I’m going to use it to mean a society in which women are largely blocked from holding official power, and in which male dominance (often backed by threat of physical harm, whether delivered personally or through a military) is the prevailing force in determining which men get power.
A large number of men, for the record, lose in a truly patriarchal society, because the high-status men take the lion’s share of the rewards and sexual attention and the rest get very little. The extreme of patriarchy is a polygynous society in which high-status men are afforded large numbers of “wives”, most of whom experience the status of chattel slaves.
Patriarchy is morally reprehensible and it is good that our society is beginning to reject it, but it’s important to acknowledge its probable normalcy in our evolutionary frame. Men are physically stronger than women, and humans are not naturally monogamous, and there is a general observed tendency in humans to desire to “possess” others, at least in terms of their sexuality. That this would lead to a world, speaking of most of human history, in which powerful men owning harems isn’t surprising. In that lens, it seems inevitable.
What is this supposedly “female” pattern of “indirect” social aggression all about? Well, it’s about polygynous patriarchy. In a monogamous society, children usually inherit the social status of the parents. If it’s a monogamous patriarchy, the status of the father will be weighted more heavily. In a polygynous patriarchy, the warlord or chieftain with 20 wives might have 150 children, so having a high-status father isn’t enough to confer social status to the children, because there are just too many alpha-brats to give that status and wealth to everyone.
Often, the children with the best chance of inheriting the father’s wealth, status and connections are those born to the most favored wives. If a woman achieves that status, her children will be heirs, and the other womens’ children will be labelled bastards. Obviously, a woman who is in a harem has an evolutionary incentive to want to be that favored wife.
Passive aggression works well for a woman in a harem who is campaigning to become queen of the harem. Let’s consider how this contest works:
- fitness or “performance” or “merit” will be judged by an owner who is largely distant from the day-to-day operations (e.g. division of labor) within the harem.
- overt violence against a potentially superior competitor will be judged as destruction of the owner’s property, and punished. It will also fail to make the target appear less fit, from an evolutionary perspective.
- however, emotional cruelty, abuses of power, and other “indirect” aggressions will cause a targeted competitor to become discouraged, stressed-out, or depressed, and therefore appear less healthy (that is, less fit) to the owner-husband.
- 然而，感情上的残酷、玩弄权术或其他“间接”攻击行为却能导致目标竞争者变得气馁、备受压力或抑郁，进而在男主人眼里变得更不健康（因而适应性较低）。 What is an aspiring harem queen going to do? She can’t gain her status through physical dominance, as men in such societies often did, because provable harm to other women will cause her to lose favor with the man who ultimately selects the winner.
Anyway, physical injury doesn’t make a woman look genetically unhealthy, and is therefore less likely to sway the opinion of the owner/husband (if we assume that he’s also acting under evolutionary imperative); while the long-term effect of emotional violence (and stress) will make the target appear sickly and suggest genetic inferiority.
In the modern world, harems mostly don’t exist. There is some harem-queen behavior in American high schools and colleges, related to the severe desirability differential between the men and the women at that age, and the intense competition (for women trying to attract the few unusually mature men) that this creates.
18-year-old women are physically attractive to men of all ages; 18-year-old men are attractive to… no one they can legally date. So I suspect there is some incentive for harem queen behavior, given how few desirable men there are in those ghettos for adolescents that we call schools.
Of course, the men become more desirable and mature as they grow up, and the women seem to grow out of any harem-type behavior, and given that the teenage years are a period in which everyone’s pretty fucked up, I’m going to guess that the overall behavior of women isn’t any worse than that of men. The movies give us adolescent “mean girls” for entertainment’s sake, but I don’t think that such meanness is gendered.
Let’s jump away from adolescent drama (it’s not that interesting) and focus on the corporate world. The parallels are shocking.
- corporate competitors strive for a “favored subordinate” status, because the odds, for a person not born into it, of joining the ownership class are only slightly better than those of a woman in the neolithic era becoming a man.
- fitness or “performance” is judged by parties who are distant from the action and oblivious to day-to-day operations and any emotional or political drama that might be going on. They are about as capable of assessing individual merit as neolithic harem-owning men were at assessing genetic health among their wives.
- like attractive women in pre-monogamous societies’ harems, people who threaten to out-perform the others draw undesirable attention and adversity within the harem. They’re sometimes singled out and set up to fail.
- obvious interference with a potentially superior competitor’s performance (much less physical harm against that person) will push the perpetrator out of favor, as “The Company” will view that as damage to its own property.
- non-obvious (from the owner’s perspective) interference or aggression toward a potentially superior competitor can degrade that person’s apparent performance and is therefore the weapon of choice.
- 因此对潜在优势竞争者（对公司所有者）不明显又能损害他的方式也就成了可选的武器。 Corporate executives can be understood, then, as successful harem queens. Under this lens, the entire corporate world makes sense. The CEO isn’t the alpha male, but the champion bitch.
So who’s the alpha male? Well, it’s arguably “The Company” or “shareholders” or rich people or “capital”. We’ve personified Mammon, and then gone a step further. We’ve created an alpha male more powerful than any actual human can be. As I’ve said before, that’s not a corporate “person” but a god.
Worse yet, this alpha male isn’t one corporate “person”/god but the whole professional system, a supreme and supremely intangible meta-god among the myriad corrupt gods that our socioeconomic system has made.
One could imagine, in a corrupt and slowly declining religious order, harem-queen behavior among the priesthood, and that’s basically what we have within the secular priesthood of corporatism. This kind of shitty behavior, clearly, was never limited to women. And now we have a society that runs on it.
Tyler Durden, in Fight Club, lamented that “We’re a generation of men raised by women”. Now, Fight Club was on to something. The male gender in the U.S. is failing and has been failing for some time. (It’s even worse in societies that are more thoroughly corporatized. Look up Japan’s salaryman culture and then read up on its hikikomori and “herbivore men”.)
There is a toxic something in many advanced societies that has been emasculating men over the past forty years. But it is not that we were “raised by women” (I’ve seen neither evidence of declining paternal involvement, nor that increasing maternal influence is detrimental) and it’s not the fault of feminism.
It’s the fault of corporatism. We’ve created a society that requires us to believe that our richest people are “alpha males”, when they are actually champion harem queens– preening private-sector social climbers. This has spawned a generation of men who are far too concerned with others’ opinions of them (and of the schools they went to, and of the jobs they held) and mostly unable to succeed on their own or think for themselves.
One might make the counterargument that the macho-subordinate “bro” culture that is observed in some corporate environments (such as most Silicon Valley startups) is, to the contrary of my argument, excessively masculine. Actually, it’s just stupidly masculine. There’s a lot of posturing going on in it, and women are justified to find that posturing threatening, but it’s just another form of the harem-queen game.
The difference, in the young macho-subordinate culture, is whom these wannabe harem-queen men are whoring themselves out to. In the adult corporate world, their target is the amorphous nondescript alpha-male-figure (i.e. the invisible ultra-powerful humanoid that evolves into a god) known as “capital”.
A seasoned corporate executive knows that his job isn’t to slut it up for a specific manager or CEO but to make himself maximally attractive to the system itself, and that system’s god persona is too aloof for it to be assigned a definite gender, so it does not suffice to appease one presumed aspect of it. Consequently, it demands an appearance that is bland, inoffensive, and neutrally toned.
On the other hand, the macho-subordinate brogrammers haven’t figured out yet that they should focus on their attractiveness to a larger system rather than their immediate bosses. They’re still powdering themselves for the visual delight of, say, a 30-year-old and invariably male founder. This drives them not toward the manicured, soft-faced look of the corporate executive, but toward the absurdity of the frat boy who exhibits the worst traits of masculinity in caricature, but whose membership in such a pointless, groupthink-driven organization shows his desperate need for approval. Therefore, the macho-subordinate brogrammer culture of Silicon Valley does not refute my claim that corporate competition is a harem-queen dynamic; rather, it supports it.
Right now, the world is run mostly by cowardly, talentless, champion harem queens angling for approval from that invisible god we call “capital”. That’s unfortunate, and my view is that it has to end. In order to get this far, human society had to overcome many challenges, and it seems that the 21st century is destined to bring us more challenges (e.g. climate change, religious radicalism, economic inequality and petroleum depletion) and I don’t think that we can handle a single one of them with the business leadership that we’ve got.
So who should be running the world? To be honest, there are some men whom I consider supremely qualified, and there are some women whom I consider supremely qualified. Gender, to me, is irrelevant. However, we need independent thinkers, and this means that the harem-queen world (for which, many of the worst offenders are men) has got to go.