I Can’t Believe She Did That

Gotham Memoir teacher Nan Mooney has published a nonfiction book
I Can’t Believe She Did That: Why Women Betray Other Women at Work. While writing the book, Nan interviewed over a hundred women from various
backgrounds and occupations and their stories make for a fascinating read.
According to Library Journal, this book…“will give working women much to
think about, in terms of their own behavior and that of their associates.”

Here is an excerpt from the chapter called "Ambition, Competition, and
Other Four-Letter Words":

One of the first messages I remember about competition between adult women arrived by way of 1950’s Hollywood, one rainy June Saturday afternoon. Flopped in front of the TV, my cousin and I stumbled across the opening credits of All About Eve, starring Ann Baxter as an ambitious and conniving ingénue willing to go to any lengths to destroy the career of theatrical grand dame Bette Davis. Baxter’s Eve Harrington was coy, cunning, and ruthless, as black-hearted inside as she was sugar and spice out. She wielded her youth against Davis’s age, usurped her roles onstage and off, even attempted to steal her man, all in an effort to assume the leading lady throne. The lesson about women, work, and competition slid down easily. It was an either/or choice: Either you could have your femininity or your ambition. Either you could be a good woman, or you could be the other kind.

All About Eve reflected an era in which a proper man chased rank, access, and influence while a proper woman cooed admiringly and ironed his shirts. Maintaining such roles played a critical part in preserving the economic and social order, an order that did not include women with careers. In the late 1930s, at the employment-starved height of the Depression, as many as twenty-six state legislatures contemplated making it illegal for a married woman to hold a government job. As recently as 1970, a landmark study was published in which professional psychologists were called upon to classify male and female traits. Women were still defined by weak and fragile qualities like “very easily influenced”, “very emotional”, “very illogical”, and “very sneaky.” Such straightforwardly ambitious traits as “very direct” and “can make decisions easily” were the sole property of males.

Tucked behind this tightly bound view of women’s capabilities rested, and still rests, an intense fear of the forces ambition and competition might awaken in the tender sex. Traits like aggression and independence not only contradict our images of what is feminine, but they also upset a time-honored balance between male reason and female emotion. For centuries, women in western society have received the message that ambitious and competitive equal destructive, from Medea to Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra to Hedda Gabler. Before we can begin tackling the problems we encounter with other women in the workplace, we must take into account the political, economic, and social factors that influence our relationships to the job and to one another. Conflict and competition among working women may seem an individual problem, but it is one anchored by a vast network of cultural and sociological roots.

To read more of Nan's book, find I Can’t Believe She Did That: Why Women Betray Other Women at Work online at bn.com or in your favorite bookstore. Copyright © by Nan Mooney. Reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved.