8 Ways Men Keep Women Down at Work

men isolate woman at work

As you seek to become a successful businesswoman, you will face some headwinds.

Some of that competition will be from men, who don’t enjoy more competition.

In this article we will learn how that competition looks like, and how you can handle it.


Of course, men compete with you just as they’d compete with other men.

But some men especially resent female competition.

More competition from women not only means more competition in general, but for every woman that beats him at work, it’s one less woman available on the sexual market place for him, since women don’t really like men who are below them.

That’s why many men, secretly, would rather see women withdraw from work.
Going back to the 1950’s would make dating easier for men. And that’s why some will try to push women back into their old “girly” and submissive roles.

Here are some of these power moves.

men point finger at woman at work

1. “Girls Are Silly & Cute” Power Moves (AKA: Infantilizing)

“Girls are silly and cute” used to be an old pick-up mantra.

Men used to repeat this to themselves in order to self-convince themselves that they didn’t need to fear approaching women because, well, there was nothing to be afraid of. One should not be afraid of “silly and cute”.

This power move can be used both in private life, and it often is, and at work. It works something like this:

Her: Mark, at the meeting you repeated my idea without crediting me. That makes me angry when you repeat what I’ve just said without mentioning me
im: You’re so cute when you get angry

That one tries to get under your skin and make you overreact. If you overreact, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it’s a form of gaslighting. 
He just said that you “look cute when you’re angry“. If you get angry, you confirm that he was right. So you’re stuck in a double bind, and that’s a form of gaslighting.

If you let guys like Mark get in your way or, worse, if you internalize that message, you will never become a leader.
“Cute and emotional” are not leadership material.

You answer this one by remaining calm and insisting on the issue, which is him not crediting you.
Also see:

To this category belong also what I call “babying power moves”, which are was of infantilizing you and robbing you of your power as an adult.
For example, Sharyl Sandberg in Lean In says that a senator once patted on her head and asked her “what are you a pon-pon girl”?

That was a babying power move because it framed Sandberg as “not mature enough for real men talk”.
Pinching your cheek, repeating your name three times, or tapping on your back are also babying power moves.

2. The Philosophical Shamer

You gotta love this one, trying to go from the one down to the one up.

It seeks to shame you for your goals and aspirations. If you accept his frame, you will feel guilty for being driven.
It’s usually delivered from a judge frame (also see “soft power“).

Him: Why do you even care about that, it’s just a silly title, for a meaningless position in an org-chart. Can’t you just be happy with what you’ve got?

Shaming is a common manipulation technique in social exchanges, and you can read more here:

Manipulation: Techniques, Strategies, & Ethics

Example: Reality Bites

Ethan Hawke uses a similar frame in “Reality Bites” to keep Winona Ryder from expressing herself through work fulfillment.

Ethan frames himself like a free spirit, and frames Winonah as a corporate manipulated corporate drone

Sometimes you will see a man using this technique when the woman earns more than him.
So he tries to frame his “life choice” as superior and worthy, and he seeks to frame her life choice of seeking fulfillment in business as “dirty and unworthy”.

He is the cool philosopher who doesn’t care about material stuff. You are the venal, materialistic woman slaving away on a corporate treadmill (sure!).

3. “Are you a man” Power Move

This class here seeks to shame you for behaving assertively.

Every time you are too assertive for his taste, he tries to make you feel like you are overly aggressive, which implies that “you’re not a real woman”.

The best jabs of this kind don’t directly tell women they’re like men, which would sound like overly aggressive and sexist, but they indirectly imply they are like men.

For example:

Her: John, I’m tired of coming back to my desk and seeing you haven’t done anything of the work we agreed upon. I’m gonna tell you one last time: pull your weight, or I will have to take this matter to our boss

: Woooh, you’re nasty!

Accusations and adjectives like “nasty”, “aggressive“, “overpowering” seek to strip your femininity away.
If you take that criticism personally, chances are that you will retreat back in the “submissive girly shell”, just so that you can preserve your femininity and your self-identity as a woman.

Donald Trump used it a few times against her female opponents.

Instead of apologizing, he doubles down on his “nasty” comment. Trump confirms that Hillary is “nasty” and “even nastier than Rosie O’Donnel”

4. Feigning Anger & Annoyance

Annoyance indirectly says that you are being too pushy. And not to be too pushy, you will want to step back or apologize.

Anger shows that you are being unfair, and that will also make you want to step away and potentially apologize.

If you are right, or if you are asking for what’s fair to ask, don’t back down in front of anger or annoyance. They are just (manipulative) negotiation strategies.

5. Implying That “You’re Inappropriate”

Women have a bigger need than men of being socially accepted.

And, because of sexual dynamics (the Madonna-whore dichotomy), they also have a bigger need of sounding “proper”.

That makes it easier for men to control women using the “inappropriate” power move.

Some of these moves are typical SJW moves, and they can be delivered with words, nonverbal expressions of disgust or surprise, or fake shock.
For example:

Her: nonono, don’t try the typical male move of telling me I’m being emotional

Him: “typical move”, what do you mean. That’s sexist, Christy

Playing offended is also a way to make her feel she was out of line:

Her: Hey Matt, I’d like to talk to you about Alex, sometimes I feel he is too rude

Him: How dare you saying that, Alex is a great team player, I’m offended you could even think such a thing, let alone say it

It doesn’t even to be so obvious. Sometimes simply saying “you didn’t just say that”, or “wow, what was that”, is enough to make women backtrack or crow in embarrassment.

Or just a nonverbal gesture can be enough.
See here an example:

Charlotte: (yelling, high-pitched) What?? Tray gave me that apartment! 

Him: (pulls back, with the expression saying “what was that”)

See the way he pulls back? That’s as if to say “what the hell was that”. She feels self-conscious for being too aggressive, and backtracks, losing power and authority (and looking unable to control herself).

6. The Self-Accusatory Power Move

This one accuses you of accusing them.

Maybe you want to talk about a legitimate issue, but they pretend you are accusing them personally. Since women don’t want to come across as too aggressive or demanding, she will let him change the topic and never get to deal with the real issue.

You: It’s been two years since I’ve had a raise and I’d like to talk to you about why I think I deserve one.
Him: Are you accusing me of overlooking your well-being?

You weren’t accusing him of anything, but if you accept his frame and start defending, you are now the one down -and you just got sidetracked from the real issue-.

See a longer example in the forums.

7. Task You With Coffee / Minutes

If you are the most junior employee, you might have to bring the coffee or take the minutes.
That’s part of life, sometimes.

But if you’ve been around for a while and if you are hired as a professional, then you want to avoid being the “errand-girl” or the “take the minutes girl”.

How do you do that?

Privately, you can tell your boss the truth of how you feel about it, and that you think it’s unfair that you always do the menial tasks.
You can then say it’s fairer if the most junior employee does it, or that the responsibility is rotated.

If you feel very brave or if the person asking you is not your boss, Lois Frankl recommends that you can say in front of everyone “I think I’ll pass since I did it last time”.

PRO Tip: Think in advance what you can and cannot do

Fran Hauser, author of “The Myth of The Nice Girl“, says that it’s best if you think in advance what you are OK doing and what you are not OK doing.

That way, you will never be caught off-guard.

This is important because when you are caught off-guard and you do something that you end up resenting, you will become resentful, and the qualify of your work (and life) will suffer. So think in advance of what you can and cannot put up with, and prepare an appropriate way of declining.

8. “It’s Because You’re A Woman”

businessmen and businesswomen tug of war

You’ve probably heard this one a few times in your life.

At work, it works like this.
Whenever you make a mistake in a field that’s stereotypically male, some men will want to make you feel like the lady who’s just invaded the locker room.

You are more likely to encounter this one in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), but any job where you’re performing anything stereotypically male will do.

Some men might say directly, and some others will communicate it with their attitude.
For example:

Her: I can’t see where is this mistake, the formulas seem to be correct

Him: Move (gestures her away from the keyboard). Here it is, it’s in F4. ah, women (rolls his eyes and quickly move away)

Sometimes men will not even make a reference to women at all, which makes it more difficult to address it directly. But they will make the woman feel unwelcome with that “ol’ boys club attitude”.

Them using insider jokes, not inviting you for lunch, changing topics when you arrive.
These all send the message “you’re not welcome”.

For example:

Her: I can’t see where is this mistake, the formulas seem to be correct

Him: Move. It’s a case of PEBCAK error

All other men: (laughing)

PEBCAK means “problem exists between chair and keyboard”. His IT friends will get it, you won’t. And that’s the equivalent of saying “you’re a woman, no good with anything computer-related”.

Whenever men make a reference that you’re not going to get, which also sometimes includes sports references, they are indirectly saying “you don’t belong here as a woman”.

If you internalize that message, you might want to run away from any male-majority profession. 

9. Sexual Objectification

And finally, we get to the main point.

Sexual harassment sometimes is just that: sexual harassment. 
But, often, it also indirectly seeks to keep women away from the workplace.

When a man objectifies you sexually, he is discounting your work-value and contribution in favor of your sexual value.

Scratch that presentation you are delivering, it’s not nearly as worth as the sight of your ass when you turn around.
He is indirectly saying that your main value in this world is that of being penetrated by a man.

Here is an example:

This is so extreme you’d think it’s a movie. Instead, it was a prime minister

The example above is extreme but, sexual power moves are real, and happen every day around the world.

Deborah Tannen also correctly points out that objectification mustn’t even be directed at you personally.
General jokes about women, or even just keeping pictures of sexy women in the office sends the message that “women are for sex (only)”.

Preventing the Sexual Power Move

In Power University there are a few techniques to handle these situations.

But the first one is prevention. Dress appropriately, and you will always be able to defend yourself and frame him as a sexual deviant.

If you are dressed inappropriately, he might be able to frame you as inappropriate.
Finally, I’d also avoid drinking too much when you go out with work colleagues. Even if nothing happens, rumors might spread.

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