Toronto Sun

January 5, 2000

The younger woman as threat

Toronto Sun

Last week I was having coffee with a good male friend of mine and somehow we got onto the topic of women and careers. He wanted to know why we females tend to be so much more territorial than men - particularly in the workplace and why it is that female newcomers seem to threaten us so much more than males.

I wasn't offended by his question - as I'm sure many of you ladies out there probably are. On the contrary, I was simply amused he hadn't figured out the answer for himself.

To illustrate my response I used as an example the classic film All About Eve. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, All About Eve stars the late Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington, a young, seemingly harmless would-be actress. She manoeuvres her way into the life of her idol, the middle-aged theatre star Margo Channing (Bette Davis).

At their first meeting in her dressing room, Margo feels sorry for Eve and takes her on as a sort of companion and assistant. But once inside Margo's circle of the theatre elite, Eve puts her real plan into action.

Through careful manipulation and deceit Eve succeeds in stealing Margo's limelight. With her youth, beauty, charm and talent, Eve becomes an overnight sensation and the darling of the theatre world.

I love this movie and have always been fascinated by Eve's audacity and determination, but I also recognize that, upon its release in 1950, it must have set back women's relationships for a good long while.

Granted, we've come a long way since the '50s, but even today I think we ladies are still being conditioned to hold our ground - even if it is an unconscious conditioning.

After reading all of the various millennium lists in different magazines and newspapers - Linda Williamson's "Such a long way still to go" (Jan. 2) being a perfect example - I realize it wasn't so long ago that women in North America were treated like second-class citizens. And while we may have progressed, there are still many parts of the world where such discrimination is still common.

For North American women, the war may be over but the battles seem to be seared into our psyches. Even for those, like myself, who may not have experienced the struggle first-hand, there's the knowledge in the back of our heads that we've fought hard to get where we are, either personally or professionally, and we're not about to give it up.

But why be so wary of other women, our allies in the fight for equality? In my opinion, that has to do mainly with the still prevalent, and always ludicrous, notion put forward by the media that a woman's worth is directly defined by her age and appearance. The thinner, prettier and younger women are automatically given an unfair advantage.

Even now, at the dawn of the 21st century we're still trying to overcome the double standards that tell us while a man grows better with age, a woman begins to decline. Older men are seen as established and experienced, while an older woman is merely past her prime.

And with those misconceptions young women of today are made menacing to would-be female mentors.

Is it any wonder you rarely find older, more established women willing to mentor young newcomers? After all, who in her right mind would want to take on an apprentice who might turn into an Eve Harrington?

I think this cycle will continue so long as we continue allowing girls to grow into young women believing youth and beauty are their main assets.

But take heart. After all, we're living in a more enlightened age then ever before. Perhaps this way of thinking will end with my generation.

Then again, perhaps not. After all, at 18 I've never known oppression or sex discrimination. I grew up in a progressive household where I was taught I could do anything I chose to do.

I owe all of my opportunities to the women who have gone before me. So why then, in this enlightened age, have these thoughts and ideas still found their way inside my head?

Yes, ladies, we've come a long way. But I think there's still a little way to go yet.

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