• Wed, Aug 8 2012

Bullish Life: Towards a Monstrous Regiment of Women

I swear, this crazy flier from 1998 is burned into my soul. I was reminded of it when I read a post on TheGrindstone informing me that there exists an all-women MBA program. I clicked on some links. Every article about Simmons College that was not on the Simmons College website was followed by nasty – fucking nasty – comments from men. (Try the Wall Street Journal piece, for instance.

Here’s what the “monstrous regiment of women” looks like at the Simmons MBA program: There’s a lot of focus on nonprofit work and sustainability. They have a new green building. They examine case studies of women business leaders; in fact, b-school professors at Harvard have borrowed these case studies. It’s cool if you’re part-time: most of the students are, because they have other obligations. You can get a joint MBA/MSW (that’s a Masters of Social Work).

Oh, those monstrous women! THEY CASTRATE WEAK MEN.

I must admit, the idea of an all-women MBA program appeals to me for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. None of the men in my career circle are sexist in any way I can tell. (This is particular to New York; when I was running a company in Virginia, asshats abounded).

But regular MBA programs attract what I might call extreme male personalities. And they certainly attract people who have no ambitions in life other than pushing money around (I have bundled your mortgage with 10,000 others and sold it to the Chinese, muhahaha!) and creating no value whatsoever. I mean, most jobs don’t really make the world a better place, but I’m not especially excited to meet those people

I don’t think that women are automatically morally better than men. But I do think that people who choose to go to business school are already a self-selecting population, and that women who choose to go to women’s colleges are not representative of all women, and that women who choose to go to an all-women’s business school are a fucking interesting bunch of people, at the very least. Were I going to go to business school, I’d want a business school where douchebag comments are called out immediately by students who articulately point out that racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and classism are all intertwined. I want a douchebag-free business school.

The nasty comments garnered by articles about Simmons mainly fall into two categories: the legitimate (if insultingly expressed) view that women who attend an all-women business program will not be prepared to do business with men, and random, virulent misogyny apparently typed key-by-key with a penis that couldn’t find anyone nearby to rape.

I’m not copying the really nasty stuff (something about how women are trying to be men so much that they need to have test-tube babies?) But quoth one, more moderate commenter – who wasn’t trying to be sexist:

“In my MBA program there was no ‘Male Leadership’ per se. Just leadership by the most able for a particular task.”

The “per se” is really key there. Does this really make you want to go to this guy’s MBA program? It’s like saying, “Why fix inner-city public schools? Those kids don’t go to college anyway.” FOREHEAD HITTING GROUND, REPEATEDLY.

So, allow me to circle back around to careers, and mention that Sara Blakely – founder of Spanx – is a billionaire.

She’s also the youngest self-made female billionaire. She started her company with $5,000, while working full-time. From Forbes: “She owns 100% of her private company, has zero debt, has never taken outside investment and hasn’t spent a nickel on advertising.”

Unlike certain “women-owned” fashion businesses where some man is pulling the strings behind the scenes: not so, in this case. Of the 125 Spanx staffers, only 16 are men. The CEO’s name is Laurie Ann Goldman. When Blakely was engaged to her now-husband, she had to sit him down for a special talk: her company didn’t just make millions – it made hundreds of millions. He started crying: “I was just so happy for her.” (He now goes around happily telling the press that Blakely is “50% Lucille Ball, 50% Einstein.”)

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  • zanbrody

    I have so many thoughts about this article, I don’t think I can even articulate one particularly well.

    More and more I am realizing that my thoughts on feminism and women in business vs. men in business are going to remain ever fluid.

    I feel like instead of forming set opinions, I’m currently most interested in examining the lives of women I admire and trying to dissect what it is about them that I’m drawn to hold in high regard.

    So, thank you–here is another article full of women to appreciate/contemplate!!

  • Susan

    Agreed with everything you said, Jen. My trepidation about all-women MBA programs is the worry that it will reinforce the stereotype that women are not at all interested in making money and instead want to focus on social issues and aren’t interested in competing with men. I worry that this will be the end result even though the thought is a good one.

  • sexist

    You say, this female billionaire is quirky in a way JUST LIKE MALE billionaires are, but that she demonstrates that you don’t have to run your career like a man. You say you don’t think women are morally better, but that effectively women who choose to only interact with women are.
    Don’t get me wrong. I think you are making a good point. I hope it won’t put me in the “dick-typing” category when I point out, that I wouldn’t know of any possibility to have a purely male MBA, which seems oddly unbalanced. But what I’m actually trying to point out is, that even negating clichés, you (or I for that matter) can’t help but remain in the framework of this particular bias. As long as we need to have special female MBAs, we’re not even close to where we should be. “Separate but equal” has never really done the trick, it seems.

    • a woman

      to sexist–
      I think part of the point here is that MBAs started out as degrees for males only. The point of the program Jen mentioned is no different than that of a women’s undergraduate college–part of which is to give young women the opportunity to learn while surrounded by positive female role models. In considering the fact that higher education has a history of excluding women, it becomes apparent that the point of such schools/programs is not to exclude men, rather to encourage women in fields and professions that are historically male-dominated. The hope is that these women will then join the professional world better off for their unique educational experience and be well-situated to succeed at their jobs. When enough time has passed that women holding high positions in these fields is commonplace and inequalities (such as gender-based salary discrepancies) no longer pose a problem, then these programs may no longer be needed. Until then, please do not criticize women’s education programs simply because of the seeming “unbalance” that the boy’s club isn’t still the boy’s club.

  • Tania

    I’m currently in business school, and I do think an all-woman MBA isn’t a bad thing. I think the reason it’s different than an all-man MBA program is that in our culture, unless you live under a rock in the literal sense you still get extremely gendered messages everywhere. On TV, in music, in movies – you’re still getting shades of male dominance. Whereas a dude in an all-male MBA program would be getting all those same messages from media without any female presence at school to mitigate the bro-messages.

    I mean, there is a reason that frat boys have that reputation for being, well, frat boys – the immersion in an all-male culture can bring out the worst in a lot of guys, even those who didn’t start out as wearers of Axe body spray.