Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Unhappiness of the Alpha Female

Apparently, New York Magazine didn’t get the memo. Just when Sheryl Sandberg is trying to ban the word “bossy,” the better to allow women to lean in and to fulfill their potential by becoming corporate executives, New York has offered up a series of case vignettes about Los Angeles women who leaned in and achieved extraordinary success in the entertainment business.

They, like Sandberg herself, have every right to garner as much success as they can. And yet, according to Gavin Polone, being an alpha female comes with a price.

Polone opens his article starkly:

Behind every super-successful woman in the entertainment business is a man she resents too much to fuck. This is an overstatement but one that often rings true for many of my female friends. Part of the experience of being an adult is listening to complaints by those close to you about their romantic partners. Given how many women producers, executives, talent representatives, etc., are top earners in the entertainment industry (women virtually control cable TV, for example), I find I am privy to the inner workings of many relationships where women are the breadwinners. And in so many of them, those women are aggrieved about the situation in which they find themselves.

Strikingly, these alpha females have dysfunctional marriages and relationships. In nearly all cases, the man in question is less successful, has less status and resents his wife’s success. The women are bitter and contemptuous of their slacker husbands. 

Apparently, the role reversal has opened a floodgate of mutual recrimination and negative emotion. It doesn’t seem especially useful to blame either party for the absence of sexual desire.

Take the case of Lucy:

 Her hard work has paid for most of their way of life, while he has pursued a speculative career as an entrepreneur. Given that she always made more than he did, I asked if she didn’t see her present state of bitterness coming. “It didn’t become a problem until we had kids,” she said. “That’s when the resentment starts. I’m in a one-down situation, sitting in an office with a breast pump trying to talk on the phone and get projects moving forward, and my tits are exploding and my ass is the size of a fry cook’s at McDonald’s, and I get home and the baby needs me and the nanny wants to tell me about every diaper change and my boss is calling and I am literally just trying to keep it all together financially and not lose my mind. He [her husband] has been following his dream to start a company because I provided him with the opportunity to build something that wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t been out there working my ass off,” she continued.

It hasn’t been much better for Sally:

She is a producer and recently divorced from a writer with whom she has children. When they initially got together, he was the more successful one. Then Sally’s career took off, and his stagnated, which undermined his self­-assurance. Sally’s income increased exponentially, and her husband decided to leave his unsatisfying but well-paying writing job. “I thought it would be great for him to be at home with the baby,” she told me, “and I think we were hopeful that he would create something successful. He didn’t. My having success seemed to make him feel like he lost something in comparison. It was as though he would have been happier if we were both struggling, or if he were always doing just a little bit better than me. He started becoming pessimistic and cynical, and any success I had would become uncomfortable to share because it would make him unhappy.

Patty has done a better with her recent love, mostly because he is very successful in his own field. Thus, he never feels like her inferior. Better yet, she looks up to him.

Polone describes Patty’s relationship with her first husband:

And then, as time went on, he became resentful that I was more successful and better regarded. He became furious at my premieres because he wasn’t the center of attention. The angrier he became, the more resentful I felt about putting my resources into a relationship with someone who was angry all the time.” She thinks the problem isn’t specifically how much a man makes. “It’s more about confidence: each person’s feeling of self-worth and success. Men need to feel like men in order to make women feel like women.”

Her new boyfriend is an improvement:

Patty’s current boyfriend is very accom­plished in a field that doesn’t pay as well, and she makes about three times his income. Still, she told me, “his status allows him to be supportive of my success. I am super-traditional. I like a dominant man even though I have a job and make money. 

Many of these alpha females are bitter and resentful. They feel as though they are being punished for being successful. They feel unappreciated for what they are contributing to the family fortunes.

Their men do not see them as providers, as superwomen who are doing everything in their power to support their families. The men believe that their wives’ success has diminished them. They might feel trapped because they find the situation demeaning and, at the same time, they cannot afford to live the same lifestyle on their own.

Many of these women believe, perhaps correctly, that things would be better if their men showed more gratitude. And yet, a man who feels that his wife’s success diminishes him is not likely to feel very grateful.

It is also very difficult for a man to show gratitude and appreciation to a woman who holds him in contempt. How many of these women would rather have husbands who could make enough money to relieve them of the need to work so hard.

Unfortunately,  powerful dominant females do not normally attract powerful dominant men. And, vice versa.

Most men who are powerful and dominant have wives who stay home and care for the children. You cannot achieve as much when your attention is divided.

When women are powerful and dominant, they need to have men who are at home caring for the children. It is not a human failing; it’s human nature.


Dennis said...

Sorry, I have to wait until I stop laughing at the things that women has said over the last 50 years about men and what they have done to them as well.

At times I am the only man in the room and I guess women just forget. One time my wife, oldest daughter and two granddaughters were talking and inevitably it got around to men and what horrible people they were. I stated that I would have to remember that the next time they wanted my help.

It is difficult to believe that the women I know the best are any different than other women.

Lastango said...

This miserable piece is standard: the men take all the blame. The women, by contrast, are successful, enlightened, hard-charging, long-suffering, and smart.

But the truth is the women have far more problems with the arrangement than men do. Consider this anecdote:

A few years ago, my husband, Mark, and I were at one of those hip downtown restaurants, when my boss appeared and I introduced him to Mark. He naturally asked what he did for a living. We both froze. Mark looked at me and shrugged. "I stay home with our daughter," he said, as my colleague quietly balked.

"He makes it possible for me to do my job," I said, laughing. But inside, I was mortified. Technically, I had it all back then, including a gorgeous toddler and a cool job.

What I didn't have was a husband I felt proud of.

....We hadn't had sex in almost a year... In my head, I'd neutralized him as a sexual being. I wanted to be overwhelmed by the sheer power of his masculinity in the bedroom, but I wasn't. Because I felt like the man in our relationship.

In retrospect, I realized I had this preconceived idea of what a sexy, attractive man should be like. I imagined being married to, well, someone like me. Someone whose job sounds interesting to other people. Someone who walks out the door with a pressed shirt on, a leather briefcase, and a confident gait. Someone who wins bread.


Instead of being a superwoman she's petty, self-serving, childish, and let her need for external status wreck her marriage and family. Even having a daughter wasn't enough to cause her to respect her responsibility to make the marriage work.

Consider one more snip from Gavin Polone's piece:

"In divorcing her husband, the idea of forking over a big check was particularly distasteful—much more so than it has been for my divorced male friends but similar to what it’s been like for my other divorced female friends. “It’s harder for women to get to the top than men, so you’re a little more proprietary about your money,” Sally said."

Once again, the women look strong and good. That beats saying women paying alimony are notoriously small-minded and bitter. Try these three examples:


But (Carol Ann Wilson, a certified financial divorce practitioner in Boulder, Colo, says) "I've seen thousands of clients," she says, "and almost every time I've seen a stay-at-home dad seek alimony, the wife--she's usually a software executive--goes ballistic."


But the women who have to pay it are sounding a different chord. "I feel financially raped," says Rhonda Friedman, the former wife of Mr. Castellanos. So distasteful are the monthly payments she makes to him that after filling out the check she used to spit on it.


"Women having to pay spousal support are the most difficult clients to represent because they are so damn angry," observes Lisa Helfend Meyer, a family law attorney in Los Angeles.


For decades, the cultural rhetoric has been about men's retrograde views and inability to accept societal change. If a high-earning woman had a troubled marriage, it was because the man couldn't deal with her success. She was a paragon of virtue, he was a throwback. Now we're seeing frank evidence the truth is very different. Selfishness and pettiness abound.

We're reading that women who are primary breadwinners want to wield power inside their marriages, rather than partner with their husbands. Now they are starting to lose (i.e. be treated equally) in the courts, a place which has in the past been the scene of so many wins for divorcing women.

In the pop culture, it will be a rare writer who will fess up to all that. It's so much more career-enhancing to jump on the you-go-girl, Sheryl-Sandbergesque bandwagon and talk about how men are failing today's high-flying uberwomen.

Anonymous said...

Women are mean. Every woman knows it. It's an uncontrollable, reflexive, brutal and visceral. It comes from a place as primitive as a caveman with a club in hand.

Anybody can say that men are simple and brutish, but women phony and manipulative. The dark sides of either are proportional in every sense.

I remember a great quote of Ayn Rand: "The qua of woman is to admire a man." I have yet to meet a woman who, in her best moments, denied this.

Stereotypes matter because they are, by and large, true. That's how they become stereotypes. I recognize such an idea runs contrary to everything one has heard in diversity/sensitivity seminars, but such protests reflect the victimology of the world of make-believe.

To those who disagree, I give you "The View."


Dennis said...

I am just amazed at the amount of people who don't see the irony in much of the desire to control the words of other people so that one's feelings won't be bruised. This out of the very people who have cared little about how others felt at their use of language.
The more mature I get the more I see the humor in much of the whining that passes for"woman speak." especially so after watching a "Wounded Warrior" advertisement to get funds to help those that the government seems not to be able to answer the call of duty that the government asked of them.
Imagine if you will coming back from Viet Nam and one of the first things you hear is being called a "baby killer" by a young woman who has probably already had one or more abortions and the hardest thing she has faced is a "split nail.". Imagine if you will finding out that the only job one can get is with the government because one is a disabled veteran. Imagine if you will listening to people intimate that military people are "cannon fodder" and "low hanging fruit" not deserving of respect as a human being. Or listening to a woman in HR damn Vietnam veterans who have the temerity to believe that they at least will have a chance at a job under the VRA. Or noticing that every bad person in the movies is a whacked out Vietnam Veteran.
Most of these men and some women who were the object of much of this commentary didn't spend much time feeling sorry for themselves. They went out and worked hard, got educations and became upstanding citizens. You will have to forgive me for not feeling much sorrow for a large number of these women who have faced few hardships and in many cases came from upper class backgrounds that created the idea that they deserved it all.

Brendon said...

Unhappiness spring from various experiences or disappointments. We need to examine the situation and act accordingly.