Mean Girls Mean Business

one comment | July 14th, 2012

(by Kimberly Wolf, M.Ed.)

It’s a story you’ve heard. It’s a story I can tell from my own experience and those of my female friends, many of them established and many in their twenties at the relative beginnings of their professional lives: women are too often each other’s biggest obstacles when it comes to achieving career success.

From what I can see after watching a few sneak peak video clips of USA Network’s soon-to-air Political Animals (note: premiers tonight, Sunday, July 15), the relationship between former First Lady Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver) and reporter Susan Berg (Carla Gugino) exposes this dynamic. Berg is a reporter there to write the story of the former First Lady’s impending run for President. But, it only takes seconds to see the clash between a young, go-getting, stop-at-nothing reporter wanting to break the story of a lifetime and a political leader who doesn’t want to give her the satisfaction.

Berg broaches the subject of Barrish’s adulterating husband, and Barrish, on the defensive, replies by asking, “What is it like launching your career by stepping on the throat of someone else’s marriage?” In another clip, she asks: “What are you really after?” “The truth,” Berg replies with a tone indicative of a not-so-hidden agenda.

There are so many directions in which these exchanges could go. Berg could avoid the gossip surrounding Barrish’s family life. She could empathize with the inner conflicts her subject probably faces. As a woman with years of experience in leadership, Barrish could politely deflect inappropriate questions and help guide Berg toward a more relevant focus.

However, a sad truth from my perspective is that the direction the producers have chosen is more realistic.

I value supportive female leaders. I know many, and I strive to be one in my own work. While I struggled at times being undermined early in my career, I have also been lucky enough to have women in my life whom I advocate for, and who believe in me. But I hear more about women struggling with damaging relationships at work than I do about women who have connected with collaborators and mentors to help them along. And I rarely see positive working relationships depicted on television and in other media.

While I hope that Susan Berg and Elaine Barrish’s relationship improves this season to depict healthier interactions among women, I know we can count on it to provide teaching moments and new jumping off points for the already lively conversation many of us are having around the importance of support and mentorship among working women both in media and in day-to-day life.

For those of us watching it with the young women we know, it’s our responsibility to ask the right questions of them, to let them know that what they see does not have to be that way. Let’s talk about what success means, what leadership means, how power can affect relationships among women, how we can help others achieve and share success together. Let’s talk about building a culture where more women want success for others, where one woman’s success is not dependent on another’s failure, and where success is not framed as an individual pursuit.

Tell us, do you think you'll see a woman President in your lifetime?

Kimberly Wolf, M.Ed. can’t help but find herself at the intersection of girls entertainment, education, and technology. She is the Founder & CEO of Girlmentum Media, Inc and ShimmerTeen.com, a new health, wellness, and lifestyle site for adolescent girls. She graduated with Honors in Gender Studies from Brown University and has a master’s in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. She’s an Angeleno, born and bred, and currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband. @KimmySWolf


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