Penelope Trunk to Women: Boys Will Be Boys, Just Deal With It

Last Updated Apr 15, 2010 7:46 AM EDT

Men behaving badly at work Outspoken blogger Penelope Trunk is not a woman of mild opinions, and in the past I've had issues with some of her career advice. On the other hand, she's never less than thought-provoking, and sometimes she's downright brilliant. Now she's stirring up trouble on BNET with her latest post on the terrible career advice women give each other.
Listing three of the dumbest tips Trunk received from female co-workers, including "you can wait to have kids" and "report every incidence of sexual harassment," the post has attracted over 150 comments in less than 24 hours. So what's a younger woman's take on Trunk's post (she's 43)? I can't weigh in for every Gen Y woman, but I can give my personal reaction (I'm 29):
  • You shouldn't wait to have kids? OK, but make sure men get the memo, too. Trunk notes the cold, hard fact that Down Syndrome risk skyrockets for babies of women over 35 -- and then subtracts backwards to conclude that women should start thinking about scoring a husband in their mid-twenties. I can't fault her math, but when she says "top business schools are letting women in earlier than men to accommodate the biological clock," I start to get annoyed. This implies that women's biology only changes the shape of women's careers, but it takes two to tango. Who are young, fertility-inclined career women supposed to marry? (And don't say burnt-out 45-year-old achievers, because that doesn't sound like a marriage of equals. That sounds like a train wreck waiting to happen.) Sorry twenty-something guys, but women's biological clocks affect you, too. Call me a Gen Y dreamer, but both sexes (and employers, too) need to take a hard look at the trade-offs that come with women's full participation in the workplace.
  • Don't report sexual harassment? That's right. Quit. At my last company, a machismo sales-guy oriented culture reigned. (Sorry, Sales Machine, but these particular guys fit every nasty salesman cliche.) The office was saturated with a frat-boy, bikini-shots-taped-to-computer-monitors vibe. Should I have reported every totally over-the-top comment? Obviously, tolerance for this sort of thing trickles down from the top, and it's true, as Trunk says, that "the retribution against women who report harassment is huge," so that would have been counterproductive. So what did I do? I found another job. This sort of behavior might have been ubiquitous in the Mad Men days, but there are plenty of workplaces now that are respectful of women. Don't waste your time working anywhere else.
Trunk is right that the advice she received was delusional, but her reaction to it rests on the assumption that boys will be boys and women should just deal with it. To put it crudely: screw that! If you're an ambitious, young, career-oriented woman, you can do better. If it's a machismo office and it bothers you, don't work there. If you want a baby and a career, you should expect a partner (and a company) that show's some flexibility to make that happen.

Readers: What do you think? Am I being naive?

(Image of sign by Arenamontanus, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.