Ms. Fake Nice: the passive-aggressive woman

Many women these days choose the workplace over the home life. It’s a choice that’s often celebrated as a marker of ‘progress’. But do we women have the tools with which to thrive in the workplace? Are we actually going for what we want – or are we sitting back and expecting things to fall in our laps? 

In my experience, it’s been the latter. A doctor by profession, Charmaine Yam shares her thoughts with me.


Dipa: Are women passive?

Charmaine: I think women are definitely passive compared to men. But I do think that in Asian cultures, it’s more exaggerated. In Chinese culture, when I was growing up – to be feminine, you’d be someone who speaks softly, is very kind, is agreeable and not argumentative. For example, someone like me – who can be ‘aggressive’ and ‘confrontational’ – can be viewed as disobedient.

Growing up, I noticed that boys tend to be more outspoken and loud in classes. This gender difference gets more prominent as people get older. As an adult, I have met a huge variety of women. I’ve also met a lot of women who are dissatisfied with their lives. Usually the reason for that is that they haven’t gone for what they wanted or have just settled with what society expects of them.

Dipa: Is society supportive of women who choose to go after what they want?

Charmaine: Yes and no. I don’t think that there are as many restrictions anymore in terms of workplace. You can very successful at work as a female. But it’s still less common than a male. There are several reasons why that might be. On the most basic level – it’s still unusual for a female to be very outspoken or aggressive in the workplace. I think she’ll be viewed as intimidating or unapproachable. She will be talked about quite negatively – but this would not apply to men. She might end up being isolated in the workplace because she is feared by her peers.

The next barrier is if you want to have children. It’s just harder for a female. There are less options in terms of good part time jobs and working irregular hours. It also interferes with the training process. We women are on uneven footing with men. I think this is unlikely to change in the future. If you had to hire a man vs a woman: who’d have to take time off to have kids, most people would choose a man. That’s just a fact of life. Unless you choose not to have kids, this is the truth. 

Dipa: Earlier you said that an aggressive and outspoken woman would be more feared in the workplace than a man. Are women scarier than men?

Charmaine: I think that there are fundamental differences between men and women. I think the main thing is that women are more complex in their thinking. I think they don’t interact with others as directly as men. They have more thoughts in their mind that might not be voiced out directly.

I think that when you have an aggressive female – which is uncommon – it is viewed as intimidating. But I also think that when you have an aggressive female – you may not know what you’re dealing with. Especially, if they are your boss. That might be viewed as scary by certain people.

The interaction amongst women is different. It’s complex. You never know where you stand – and that is a little intimidating. Whereas men are more direct and you usually know where you stand with them, at least in the workplace.

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