"The Good Old Boys Club"
Chipping Away at the Legend and the Reality


I encounter the club
The Good Old Boys Club was a legend to me until I met it face to face in 2002. The legend became reality when a vendor who had over-promised and seriously under-delivered spoke at an association convention. I wondered if he would mention his work with me. He did. He took credit for results he had nothing to do with, and when he ran out of those, he invented successes that never happened. His claims sounded like his original promises and they sounded like what I had paid him to do. But he never delivered on those claims.

I called him to complain about falsely representing his work for me. He accused me of “ragging on him.” I raised the issue to the meeting planner who had arranged for him to speak. The meeting planner threatened me. I raised the issue to the association president. The association president acknowledged the egregiousness of the offense but recommended I let it go.

The vendor, meeting planner and association president all knew each other. They were all male.

During the process, I sought support from female friends who were association members. The contrast was stunning. They responded to my plight with gasps, groan and…sigh of recognition. They had been down roads like mine before. They too had come face to face with the Good Old Boys Club.

While my relationships with men are generally positive, I realized in 2002 that the Good Old Boys Club isn’t an urban legend. It existed in my life too. I didn’t used to recognize it when it reared its ugly head.

It’s a gender thing
Have you ever heard the song, She Took It like a Man? The singer is afraid to break up with his “fragile” girlfriend, certain she would be devastated. She wasn’t. She cussed, slammed the door and stormed off to the bar. He didn’t think she could take it, but “she took it like a man.” http://www.cowboylyrics.com/lyrics/confederate-railroad/she-took-it-like-a-man-10577.html

The song really says the singer expected his girlfriend to take it like a stereotypical unconscious, weak woman and instead she took it like a stereotypical unconscious, belligerent man.

Of course, stereotypes don’t hold up across the board. Unconscious women can be belligerent and unconscious men can be weak. Stereotypes can be dangerous when used as substitutes for direct perception.

Even so, the fact remains there is a tendency for men to dominate and women to retreat. The fact remains there is a tendency for men to stand up for each other in that domination – and for women to accept it. Even now, in this day and age, the Good Old Boys Club is alive and well and women who defer to it are alive and…well...

An early encounter with the club
Reflecting back, I realize I ran into the Good-Old Boy’s Club when I was in the 5th grade. I ran for vice president of the Student Council. Had I won, I’d have been the first girl to serve. I lost by one vote. I was shocked to see the boys in my class united in glee over my defeat.

Yet I wasn’t as innocent as I liked to think. A girl ran for Student Council president as well. She also lost by one vote. I had voted for the boy because “boys make better leaders.” I betrayed my gender – not because I voted against the other girl, but because I voted against her because she was a girl.

The days of deferring to the Club are long over for me, thank you very much. And they are ending for my client Sonya too.

It helps to know what you’re up against
When Sonya went through a divorce five years ago, her husband accused her of being unreasonable in her demands. She bent over backwards in order to prove otherwise. The result was a settlement that even their mediator said was grossly unfair to her.

Recently Sonya’s father died. She and her brother Bryce are settling the estate. Sonya’s brother is a generally good man who believes what he believes and accuses those who disagree of being unreasonable. In Sonya’s case, he has the backing of a chorus of his devoted friends.

Sonya’s knee-jerk reaction was to doubt herself. After all, she’s been accused of being unreasonable before, and, after all, her brother’s friends reinforced his claim.

She got conscious when she realized Bryce has his own Good Old Boys Club ready to back up their buddy, whether right or wrong.

Once Sonya recognized what she was up against, she stopped deferring and became her own advocate. She started using her best assessment of what is reasonable as her guide rather than giving in to the Club. She holds no animosity toward her brother or the Club – she doesn’t think he’s deliberately trying to pile on – but she also doesn’t let it claim undue authority over her.

The top of the food chain
Those at the top of the food chain tend to think they belong there. And so it is for members of the Good Old Boys. They also can believe that those who challenge this “natural order of things” are inherently unreasonable. It’s not a logical expectation, but it exists.

There’s a corresponding since of deference that comes with being lower on the food chain. Again, it’s not logical, but it exists.

Stop feeding the club
The first step in changing any behavior is to become conscious of that behavior. When you find yourself faced with the Good Old Boys Club – or any other kind of club that claims exaggerated authority, get conscious of the dynamic. By shining the light of awareness on patterns that hold power over you, they lose their grip.

Yes, the Good Old Boys Club remains a powerful force. But it loses much of its power when the good old girls stop automatically deferring to it.

Just ask Sonya. She’s enjoying being her own advocate.

For more tips, read my article: How to Overcome the Grip of the Good Old Boys Club

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Meryl Runion and Speak Strong (SpeakStrong) provides Power Phrases (PowerPhrases) and other tools to help you improve communication skills at work and at home. You can read more about her at www.speakstrong.com.

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