The Devil Wears Prada

From Ice Queen to Cheerleader: Ten terrible stereotypes about powerful women

Elizabeth Bromstein|

What comes to mind when you think of a powerful woman? A ball-buster? An ice queen?

Forbes magazine did a round up this week of the 10 worst stereotypes about powerful women. The hypothesis is that women in positions of power are assessed based on tired gender stereotypes, while powerful men are assumed to have more well-rounded personalities.

To compile the list, Forbes’ Jenna Goudreau asked some powerful women, including IMF chief Christine Lagarde and Jill Abramson of the New York Times, to share their least favourite stereotypes about powerful women.

The top ten were:

No. 1: Ice Queen.

      She’s ruthless, like magazine editor Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada” (based on Anna Wintour of Vogue), totally lacking in sympathy and, of course, cold as ice.

No. 2: Single and Lonely. She had to sacrifice family and love to get to the corner office.

No. 3: Tough. She’s pugnacious and unsentimental, a fighter. Not that different from the Ice Queen, but one can still be hard as nails and gregarious.

No. 4: Weak. The opposite of tough.

No. 5: Masculine. Men are traditionally those who hold positions of power, ergo, women in positions of power must be manly.

No. 6: Conniving. The path to the corner office is littered with corpses that were stabbed in the back with stiletto heels. This likely also covers sleeping your way to the top.

No. 7: Emotional. Those pesky hormones make us prone to teary breakdowns and irrational outbursts.

No. 8: Angry. “Anger is a sign of status in men, but when women show anger they are viewed as less competent,” Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women told Forbes.

No. 9: A Token. Forbes says women hold just 16% of corporate board seats and are often regarded as results of affirmative action.

No. 10: A Cheerleader. Rather than a coach or quarterback. Is it just me or does this list read like a list of stereotypes of stereotypes? Ha.

I’ve asked myself if I judge in the same way, and I guess I do to a certain degree, but certainly not any more so than I judge powerful men, whom, for example, I usually judge incapable of keeping their little CEOs in their pants (I can’t help it, blame “Mad Men” and this person I recently met who works at a private clinic and told me that the majority of the clinic’s clients are married executives coming back from business trips and getting tested for STIs because they got their Willies all wet. Oh, and blame Bill Clinton too. Blech.).

I also think a handful of powerful women out there are often far too eager to live up to these clichés. Streep’s “Devil Wears Prada” character was, as far as I understand it, based on copious anecdotal evidence about Wintour, her real life counterpart. And recently ousted Yahoo! CEO Carol Barthes was notorious for her volatility and foul mouth. It doesn’t help.

So, I did some very scientific research (asked my friends) to find out whether people think women are unfairly judged in this manner and whether they think they do it themselves.

One female doctor said she thinks powerful women are stereotyped, “perhaps because they are relatively new to culture and therefore hard to classify properly.” Another woman agreed but added, “but I think most people make the same snap judgements about men.” That was echoed by an astute female, who noted, “I think powerful men are judged equally. I’m thinking Power Geeks/Underdog Weakling types like Bill Gates, Cowboys like Warren Buffett, etc.”

A very good point, that last one.

And obviously, the new generation currently moving into the workforce will have more developed opinions of powerful women than the generation before it and the one after that, even more so.

Is this a problem? Do you think women are judged in terms of stereotypes and do you make the same judgements yourself?


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