Friday, April 12, 2013

The Crab Basket Effect

The Manosphere is often accused of misogyny . . . but we're freakin' amateurs at the art, compared to women.

The Female Social Matrix is ubiquitous.  From its humble origins at church socials and various sorts of "bees", through it's matriculation in the 1960s, to it's full-fledged entry into the workforce in the 70s and 80s, the FSM is everywhere . . . and nowhere is it stronger or more important than in the workplace.

Indeed, feminism evolved conceptually largely in response to the need for adapting domestic female culture to the predominantly-male business world.  With it's emphasis on equality and sisterhood, feminism (Equity feminism, mind you -- this was before Gender Feminism declared holy war on all things XY and poisoned the well) was supposed to be about women helping women compete in a man's world. 

Since around the time of the adoption of Title IX, that's been a slow but inevitable process.  The workforce went "co-ed", and the emphasis went from being on a woman's right to work and receive a fair and equitable wage to the lack of female managers and CEOs running the corporate world -- the fabled Glass Ceiling, beyond which all wishes of power, fortune, and influence would supposedly be granted.

Special mentoring programs and other remedial assistance was thrown at the problem -- feminism couldn't very well argue for the right of every woman to be free to work and establish her financial independence without taking exception to the lack of boobs in the boardroom.  And then special rules and regulations dealing with issues of sex and sexuality had to be developed for use, so terms like "boobs in the boardroom" would be legally actionable in the wrong context.  Women demanded the right to compete, and then changed the rules of competition in business to favor themselves.  

So for over 30 years, more than an entire generation, we've seen women at work, women in management, women "competing in a man's world" . . . even though the "man's world" looks more feminine than ever.

So . . .how's that working out for women?

Turns out . . . not so good.  

Dr. Peggy Drexler has published two pieces back-to-back discussing the complexities of women working with women.   The result isn't pretty . . . and pretty much validates everything I've said about the Female Social Matrix.  Also known as the Crab Basket.

If you aren't familiar with the term, it's a metaphor for how women relate to other women -- how they self-organize, socially.  

When men self-organize, they usually do it hierarchically, with clear top-down leadership, management, and execution.  There is a central power, and then subordinates who comply with and execute the leadership's policies and decisions.  it's all dreadfully impersonal and extremely effective, in a few very limited ways (building a wall, house, ship, or civilization, for instance, or defending your genetic destiny from a hostile world . . . but nothing important).  Male-dominated organizations traditionally emphasize the archaic qualities of achievement and competition, depending on mere efficiency, innovation, and ingenuity to get by.

Women, by contrast, self-organize in a far more sophisticated way.  Unfortunately for them, the self-organization of the Female Social Matrix actually punishes achievement and emphasizes cooperation and fairness over efficiency or efficacy.  But that doesn't mean it isn't competitive.  Or escapable.  Regardless of how many women are in a workplace, more than one leads to a node of the Matrix to exist.  And regardless of how many men work with those women, the Crab Basket of the FSM is ALWAYS overlaying the organization.  

Dr. Drexler's first article concerns female bosses -- the Queen Bee phenomenon.  This is the well-documented development in sociology and anthropology, and it validates the Crab Basket metaphor.  Simply put, when women self-organize into a FSM, it resembles a bushel basket of live crabs.

Life in the Crab Basket isn't great.  If you're on the bottom, every other crab is stepping on you, constantly shifting in unpredictable ways, making any progress difficult.  If you're in the middle, not only is your foundation constantly moving, everyone around you is attempting to climb over you to get closer to the top of the basket . . . and the crabs at the top of the basket who are using you as their support are just as eager to keep their position and discourage ambitious competition.
There's only so much room up at the top of the basket.  And everyone wants to be there.  So the vaunted "cooperation" meme that women and feminists love to tout as an advantage of female-led enterprises turns instead into a series of innumerable petty competitions, none of which are decisive but all of which add to the general instability of the basket.  By design.

After all, it is very difficult to get to the top of the basket without the help of the crabs on your level, and those below you.  But when you are all striving for the same goal, and that resource is inherently limited, then competition, not cooperation, actually rules the day.  The crabs on your level are not your fellow sisters, they're bitches who get in your way.  If you aren't standing on their shoulders one day, looking down, then they'll be standing on your shoulders while you look up in resentful frustration.

The crabs at the top of the basket are the Queen Bees.  They have successfully competed and made it to their reward, but they have to constantly defend their position.  Leadership and power in the FSM is always transitory.  Everyone gets a turn on the swing, theoretically.  Of course, there's only room for one ass in the seat at a time . . . but every crab thinks it should be their ass, and none feel more entitled to that than the ones already there.  

Female managers suck, if you are a female employee.  Queen Bees regularly sabotage those crabs below them who look most challenging and threatening to their position.  While talking about leveling playing fields and bridging gaps and providing opportunities, when women gain power their first impulse is to secure their position by eliminating competition as savagely and ruthlessly as possible . . . without looking like they are actually doing it.

While that worked great for a 17th century quilting bee, when that method of social organization gets applied to the masculine-developed world of business, as Dr. Drexler demonstrates, the FSM imposes some fairly harsh problems on women in the workplace.  And men have nothing to do with it.

So why do women insist that they are better at cooperating and getting along than men?  

Because that convenient fiction is a powerful strategy in the Crab Basket.  By insisting that everyone is equal and that the Basket should strive for fairness, an ideal world in which EVERYONE gets to be at the top of the basket and NO ONE has to be on the bottom, that allows the more ambitious crabs the rationalization they need to sabotage their comrades' progress under the slightest pretext.  But since they, too, have to agree to the polite fiction of female cooperation in order for their competitive nature to thrive, they cannot do so openly, or risk the wrath of the rest of the Basket.

And it is always, always personal, no matter how much they assure you it is not.

Indeed women, as Dr. Drexler reports in her second post on female employees, are constantly turning work-related issues and relationships personal.  That is probably because the female dual cooperation/competition dichotomy encourages a personal, rather than impersonal, mode of behavior.  The FSM is inherently personal and inherently judgmental, and when those elements are mixed with business or other enterprise . . . it can get ugly.

Women, it turns out, aren't very good employees, either.  Especially to female bosses.  An ambitious, hard-working corporate amazon doesn't see female leadership above her as a potential ally, but as a natural and eventual foe.  Undermining the success of the Queen Bees of an organization covertly, through manipulating the Matrix, is a time-honored method of advancement among women.  This is almost always done socially, and not through the metric of achievement.  In the Basket, it doesn't matter how well Donna performs, it matters what everyone else thinks of her.  

Female managers have it rough, because not only do they have to deal with the male-oriented demands of the business world and lead accordingly, they have to simultaneously manage their own Crab Basket of women and keep the latter from screwing with the effectiveness of the former.

Of course, that happens so often it's comic.  As female managers deal with countless petty personal attacks on their leadership in the form of constant gossip among her female subordinates, they have to contend with a far different range of expectations from their female employees than their male employees.  Their male employees, for the most part, stick to the male-hierarchical business model and are actually more likely to treat a female boss impartally and objectively, looking at her performance and leadership before allowing their personal feelings to enter into their judgment.

 But the Crab Basket is a vicious place.   Her female subordinates will often be brutal critics - not of her performance as a leader, but of her personal life, and use that as the basis of their level of cooperation.

As Dr. Drexler reports, women in a subordinate role to other women -- particularly younger women -- will often inspire a "mothering" reflex in them.  She recounts one woman who had a string of female
secretaries who seemed determined to involve themselves in her personal life, no matter how hard she tried to keep them separate, 

That lends itself to a great amount of instability when the goal is not to find your boss a husband, but to do your job and make the company money.  It's also very difficult for an older woman to take orders from a younger woman without bristling at it . . . and second-guessing her younger boss constantly.  I've seen some older women actually take their younger superiors to task over their performance and decision-making in an effort to "help" them.

That's key to the Crab Basket model: when all of those women are pulling you back down to their level, they aren't being malicious . . . they genuinely think that they are "helping" you.

Call it the "Bless Her Heart" stratagem  that is extremely popular here in the South.  When a woman gains accolades or achievement that singles her out -- sends her to the top of the Crab Basket -- then the FSM prohibits open activity against her, because that violates the Matrix's rules.  Direct confrontation is an affront to the dignity of femininity, or something like that.  You can't go after another woman directly without appearing to be a Bitch (which is something of a mixed blessing in the corporate Matrix).

Instead, they hover around, waiting for the ascending crab to make a mistake . . . and they all descend on her, not to "attack" her, but to "help out".  More high-achieving women have been "helped out" of their success by their ostensibly well-meaning rivals or subordinates than by sexists male bosses.

There's a great example of this in that most estrogen-poisoned of environments, the Disney tween drama.
Blame my Daughter and my grandmother for why I know this.  Fuck you.

In particular the film Ice Princess, starring Michelle Trachtenburg (from Buffy) and Hayden Panetierre (from Heros) as rival figure skating students under the same Queen Bee coach (Kim Cattrall).  Michelle's character is a brainiac nerdling who uses the power of physics to skate well, and (surprise!) has a talent for it.  Hayden is the bratty daughter of the icy skating coach whose own Olympic dreams were dashed, and who is now living vicariously and viciously through her daughter's competitive hopes.

The coach decides Michelle's character is too much of a threat for her daughter's chances . . . but instead of actively sabotaging her, ala a regular villain, she instead . . . buys her new skates.

The coach "helps out" Michelle's character because it is, technically, "assistance": Michelle had been wearing crappy skates to a competition and couldn't afford new ones.  So the coach "thoughtfully" buys a brand-new, expensive pair of skates for her.  Michelle was thrilled . . . and then wrecked the competition because the skates were new, unbroken in, and sabotaged her performance.  Her daughter later calls her on the unfairness of it -- as a novice skater, Michelle has no idea that skates need to be "broken in" before being used in a performance.  She tries to compete, she shreds her feet and botches her routine, and blames herself for the failure . . . with the kind and caring assistance of her coach.

Then Hayden busts her mom for "helping" Michelle, because she knows exactly what her mom did by exploiting her rival's ignorance.

That's just one good solid example of the Crab Basket in action.  The claws that come grasping and reaching  for the offending achiever are always doing so ostensibly out of a sense of love and concern, not hate or rivalry.

Most women know this instinctively, thanks to their multi-track communication modes. When a man hears, "Would it be helpful if I came over and gave you a hand around the house?" from his sister-in-law, to him it's a friendly offer.  To his wife, it's a tacit condemnation on her skills as a wife and mother.

No, Dudes, really.

This element of the Crab Basket has to be seen in light of the Hamster Wheel of collective femininity.  Essentially the "bless her heart" motivation is the rationalization of competitive behavior as assistance, with compassion during crisis being placed at the highest level of female values.  Everyone's buddies and BFFs and the basket is stable . . . until a crab shows weakness.  That weakness is an opportunity to strike, while gaining Matrix points for the overt demonstration of assistance.

Another example: Ms. Apple is the head of her department, and is not just doing well, she's doing very, very well.  Numbers are up.  Employees are motivated.  Making good decisions.  Getting noticed by those higher up.  In good ways and bad ways.  And the more she rises, the more she comes under scrutiny and criticism over her personal life - which everyone in the Matrix seems to (or claims to) know all about.  As long as she doesn't fuck up, they have to keep their claws under the table.

But then, say, Ms. Apple's mother gets cancer and needs chemo, and she has to take time off to care for her.  She files an FMLA and takes leave for the purpose, assured that she will have a job when she comes back from her crisis.  In the meantime, she does what she can to prepare for her absence.  If she's any good, she'll be able to to delegate enough to subordinates, post-pone non-essentials, and monitor affairs remotely if necessary, to put out any fires.  It's a hassle, it's a pain, but it's necessary and Ms. Apple can handle it.

But the moment the scent of crisis is loose upon the Matrix, Ms. Apple's "need" for compassion turns into an opportunity to exploit a weakness.  By "helping" her.  To death.

Her female boss (who has been growing more and more threatened by Ms. Apple's success and inevitable rise in the company) moves in and assumes an executive role in a time of crisis.  She assures Ms. Apple that things will be just fine in her absence because everyone cares so deeply about her and what she's going through.  Open displays of sympathy that visibly break normal work protocol may abound.  Cards.  Flowers.  Fund raising.  The more agitation that the Matrix can generate around the "wounded" member, the more points available for everyone.

Then the deeply sympathetic boss completely re-organizes Ms. Apple's department and workflow to "help" her become more efficient.  That is, run more to her liking.  She'll appear matronly and concerned to the rest of the staff, which preserves her position in the Matrix -- hell, it improves it.  Bestowing Compassion is an automatic 50 points.  Compassion In A Position Of Leadership is double that.

But it doesn't stop there -- the Matrix is ubiquitous, and the weakness is an opportunity for everyone.  Ms. Apple's female subordinates take advantage of her absence to advance themselves shamelessly, "helping out" Ms. Apple by taking away cherished projects, key client relationships or plumb assignments.  They'll sign a card and chip in five bucks, too, just for the cheap points.  Generosity In A Time Of Crisis is a cool 200,  They'll simultaneously begin sabotaging Ms. Apple's efforts subtly, working through the Matrix with gossip and speculation ("Did you see how haggard she's looking?  She's aged ten years since March!  Bless her heart, she loves her Mama!  And did you say she only offered you ten percent?  Mr. Banana, I can go fifteen . . . I have no idea why she wouldn't treat you right.  Must be the stress.")

And her actual rivals?  If she has an enemy, then this is blood in the water.  Sometimes a very calculated bit of "assistance" will be used to force Ms. Apple into an unfavorable position.  Say, Ms. Orange, her rival in another department, generously offers the use of her peaceful mountain cabin for her mother's recuperation, free-of-charge . . . and doesn't bother to mention that there is no cell coverage or internet access.  While Ms. Apple is soaking up the rustic vibe and tending to Mother, Ms. Orange is systematically raiding her files, poisoning the waters against her, and preparing booby-traps for her eventual return.

Even her female allies will accidentally work against her, in the name of "helping" her.  Phone calls, texts and emails keeping her appraised of the corporate Matrix re-positioning can call even more attention to her.  Attempts to defend her turf by her loyalists can result in even further loss of power and position, and can endanger their own positions.

Of course, by the time Ms. Apple comes back from FMLA, her mom might be better . . . but her career is screwed.  The law says she has a job to come back to . . . it doesn't say it has to be her old job.  She could even wind up as assistant to her former subordinate ("You were gone so long, we just couldn't be without a leader that long . . .") and subordinate to her former rival ("Judy knew it would take you a while to get back up to speed . . . I'm sure this is just temporary, until you've recovered") and safely neutralized as a threat by her former boss.

But gosh, everyone's just oozing with compassion, worry, and concern.  Did you see that card?  Everyone signed it.

And goddess help her if she becomes entangled with a man -- or even a rumor of one -- while she's gone.
 One little "I thought I saw her the other day at a restaurant when she was supposed to be taking her mother to the doctor . . . and you should have seen the guy she was with!" whispered in the break room and it's all over.

Mere speculation of her personal life, with a built-in opportunity for judgment and loss of position, is when the claws really come out from under the table.  It doesn't have to be true.  It just has to seem to be true, or true enough to sound good to the woman in Accounting.  Concern becomes an opportunity for judgement and criticism. And it is always personal.

While all of this is happening, the men in the office are largely clueless or impotent.  They have neither the tools nor the knowledge of how to deal with this level of Matrix activity.  All they see is a lot of whispering, a lot of cards and flowers, a lot of posturing, and a lot of speculation on what might or might not happen to Ms. Apple.

Any attempt by a male to dissuade the women from going after Ms. Apple's position will result in a united
front of the corporate Matrix chastising him for his lack of compassion -- can't he see that everyone wants only what is best for Ms. Apple, they love her so?  Female rivals, allies, subordinates, and superiors will all insist that they are acting out of a sense of love and compassion while they effectively hamstring Ms. Apple's position. Every crab in the basket is insisting that they are helping Ms. Apple as she gets pushed lower down the Basket.  If you're a dude and you know what's actually going on, it can be ghastly to watch.

It's the difference between "Is there anything I can do to help?" and "LET me help you . . . no, really, I insist!"  So the next time you see some up-and-coming shining example of female success about to storm the glass ceiling and take the job you covet, pay attention to just how quickly her fortunes turn around through indirect attacks and social manipulation when she's going through a "rough patch".  As a dude, you're actually pretty lucky.  You don't have to do a thing.  The Matrix will take care of her for you.  The collective weight of their Hamster Wheels will flatten a female rival far quicker than mere out-production.

Oh, if you're a Black Knight you can muddy the waters with a little disinformation mumbled in the right ear, to either hurt or help her ("Cancer?  Funny, I heard she was interviewing for a Director-level position with our biggest competitor." is one that can throw the Matrix into a tizzy, for example.)   While it is generally ungentlemanly and unclassy to bring up a personal issue when competing with a rival, don't forget that Ms. Apple would not hesitate mentioning that she saw your truck in the parking lot of a strip club to your female boss, if she has the chance.

 If you want to pile on, understand that as a male you are not part of the Matrix, but that does not mean you cannot affect the Matrix.  You just have to know how to properly shake the Crab Basket.  The simplest way is to casually mention something intensely personal but still vague enough for masculine plausible deniability.  The fact that you're a dude, and you don't even really understand that there is a Matrix, gives you standing as an information source.  You have some level of credibility just because everyone in the Matrix knows you don't know shit about the rules of the Matrix, so why would your merely-male ass lie to them?  Hamsters supply all the details you need.

So if you really want to fuck with a Ms. Apple's career, the quickest and most direct way is to casually mention a potential indiscretion of hers to pretty much anyone in the Matrix.  Mention just once how you saw her flirt with a married dude to the "wrong" node in the Matrix, and she's toast.  No one in the FSM likes a woman who will flirt with another woman's husband, even if they do so regularly on their own. Unless Ms. Apple is a confirmed lesbian, that's all the rationalization the FSM needs to tear her apart in abstentia.

So be aware of the hazards of the Crab Basket, regardless of your gender.  You can't avoid it.  It's How Things Are, no matter how many feminists rants and sisterhood chants you hear.

Watch what they do.  Not what they say.  That's what will clue you in.


  1. You can avoid it. Don't be hiring DA BITCHES....

    1. Tsk tsk. I will only tolerate that kind of misogyny from women. It is unbecoming in a gentleman.

      Damn, I love whiskey.

    2. I admit, I do not read your posts on game from a married man perspective that much. As I am young and do not plan to marry for some time, they are of little use to me.

      But damn, do I love your posts on the female social matrix. Very informative and fascinating. I hope you continue to make more posts.

      That post about your experiment in the workplace with your notebook was legendary.

  2. If they weren't needed to propagate the species, & if it wasn't so much fun to bed them, women would have no truly worthwhile traits to praise.

  3. I have been using a similar term in reference to people like this (yes, men do it, too - but in a much different way). Only I call them 'Crab People'. That is, people who will drag someone else back down who is trying to make something of themselves. Here in Australia, the term generally used is 'tall poppy syndrome'. I dunno if youse are familiar with this term in Seppoland.

    An excellent article as always, Ian. I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes:

    Misogynist: A man who hates women as much as women hate one another. - H. L. Mencken

    Hahaha, I always get a bit of a laugh out of that when I read it.

  4. Another good post, Ian!
    My husband recently changed companies, but until he did he worked in upper mgmt within a professional environment where the boss was an under-qualified female (promoted by another female). My husband was the 2nd in command; the 3rd in command was also a man … and then you had 7 women rounding out the department of 10. He had noticed many many times that regardless of how logical his reasoning was or how illogical or inefficient the reasoning of his female subordinate, the FSM ALWAYS banded together to form an alliance against him or the other man in the department. Girl power? He did not see the Crab Basket behavior you've described, but then again he wasn't looking for it – he was mostly just trying to get some work out the door before the list and/or meeting police roped him back in for another status update … so maybe their was a lot of activity within the Basket – but the only thing he saw was Crab Unity to make sure him and the other man were always in the minority. Maybe he should have filed a gender bias suit (hehe) before leaving the company – for a role that by-passed his female boss by 2 levels!!

  5. Hi liz, I have a story for you along the same lines. I used to work for a financial services business (about a dozen employees) and the boss was always banging on about efficiency and trying to find ways to streamline processes. The business was struggling financially and I was trying to find ways to cut costs.

    So one time, we had a meeting with the boss, myself and the practice manager (a woman who was hopelessly under qualified for the position). So I was discussing some points where I felt my department could re-arrange certain processes in order to be more efficient. As it so happened, some of those changes involved reversing some of the policies the practice manager had put in place.

    I presented my arguments and backed them up with solid reasoning and logic. Well, as you have probably already guessed, the practice manager didn't take the suggestions too well and openly disagreed with them.

    When I challenged her on her reasoning, she stated that she wanted to keep things the way they were 'because she liked them'. Those were her actual words.

    Needless to say, none of the suggestions were implemented. I don't know how things are there nowadays, as I resigned shortly thereafter and moved on to greener pastures. But I will put it this way - I will be very surprised to find, that if in five years, the business still exists.

  6. Ian, is there any USE to all of this? DOes the female social matrix do any goo din its own sphere or is it just plain competition?

  7. Just think how many women would like to share their job space with men instead of other women. Or how many prefer to have guy friends than female friends.

    They can't stand each other for a long while

  8. You just made me happy that my work persona was annoyingly masculine. "Give me the work. Go away. Here is the work. Praise me. Pay me. Let me go home." Okay, you guys probably don't include "praise me" in that list. :) And that I don't work outside the home any longer.

    Does the matrix have a positive function out of work? Yes, if everyone has something to do and to contribute, and knows where they are in the social strata. It's competition and boredom that make it ugly. I know you're not a Christian, but Titus and Timothy are quite instructive. Older women instruct younger women, younger women stay too busy to get into trouble. And everyone pitches in to help everyone else when there's a real need.

    Doesn't work when you don't actually care about the people in question, which mostly you don't at work. Faux friendship is always deadly.

  9. Ian, can you please post links to the original Drexler articles? Also, you make reference to two articles but only mention the one. Saving the second for a future post?

  10. "Does the matrix have a positive function out of work? Yes, if everyone has something to do and to contribute, and knows where they are in the social strata. It's competition and boredom that make it ugly. I know you're not a Christian, but Titus and Timothy are quite instructive. Older women instruct younger women, younger women stay too busy to get into trouble. And everyone pitches in to help everyone else when there's a real need."

    That makes sense and sounds about right.

  11. Read this on Friday. Today, I had a revelation. Feminism is just the crab basket at a macro (societal) level. Less attractive women "helping out" the more attractive woman by shaming anybody who dares recognize their beauty.

    "Wouldn't it be so much better if folks appreciated you for who you are? You should be really angry about that! Here, here, why don't you cut your hair? While you're at it, screw everything that moves. Dump that man of yours that is really holding you back. Now, isn't that much better? You go, girl!"

    -- Petruchio

  12. ...This is absolutely hilarious.

  13. To anyone who reads this, I'd like your thoughts on something that happened to me recently:
    I started seeing this girl and one night we plan to meet up for ice cream. I meet her there and she's brought a friend of her's that was slightly cuter than her, imo. We ended up talking about her friend's boyfriend, and after about 5 minutes of listening I came to the conclusion that either her bf of 5 months is a complete social retard or he's gaming the crap out of her, and that either way she'd be better off moving on. I told her this (in slightly more delicate words)and set her hamster off to mach 5. She tried to explain that "things were complicated", etc., and finally I said something along the lines of "if you're having this much trouble 5 months in, I don't see much of a future for you guys."
    Hamster nuked. Not my intention, but the effects were all the same.
    Later that night, my girl was all over me.

    Reading this kind of put some of what happened in context. Guessing that since her friend was slightly cuter than her, my girl was probably a few points behind on the FSM. She introduced me to a friend of hers so she can see us together (+ for my girl). I came off as a man of value in front of her friend (++ for my girl). I listen to the story of friends dumb bf (- friend). I offered "friendly" advice the friend (-- for the friend). Add in the fact that the advice was extremely blunt and came from a complete stranger, and I've effectively knocked the friend's crab down deeper in the bucket and boosted my girl several layers above her.
    Does this sound like a good analysis of what happened?

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  16. Not all are true. Everyone has their own way of thinking but I think they have to reconsider. I like to argue for the most accurate results.

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