Glass Ceiling: Why Being a Workaholic Is the Only Socially Acceptable Addiction | Economy and business
Those of us who were born in the 1980s and 1990s grew up with the idea of progress and firmly believed that if we studied and worked hard enough, we could succeed like the television characters Ally McBeal (from the series of the same name), Alicia Florrick (The good wife) or Carrie Bradshaw (sex and the city). The narratives of early 21st century fiction relied on a female stereotype where a woman’s identity and value were built around her role in the capitalist system.
So while McBeal worked some serious overtime to prove she was more than just a miniskirt lawyer, Bradshaw wrote her newspaper column anywhere, anytime. There were no timetables to keep. Both characters earned the kind of money that made them financially independent and allowed them to live in expensive city centers. This appealed to teenage viewers who also wanted to become financially independent. The message between the lines was that if you wanted to be financially successful and independent, you had to live to work.
When you’re young you work for free because you need to prove your talent in exchange for a future work contract. When we’re not so young anymore, we keep working overtime because we don’t want to be left behind if we have children. And when you’re 48 and you should be enjoying everything you’ve earned, you keep fighting for recognition because you don’t want to get fired after so many years of hard work just because the company wants a “fresher” vision. In other words, we don’t want to be kicked out of the market because we are seen as too old.
“The main problem with work addiction is that it’s not even considered an addiction. Most of the time, people call themselves workaholics with a smile on their face,” says Jara Pérez, a psychologist specializing in systemic and transfeminist therapy. “Furthermore, in the current system, it is viewed positively if, in addition to your paid employment in a company, you have professional projects to devote your free time to. This is why work addiction is not defined as such. Society does not see it as a problem that is used to hide other problems, but rather the opposite: it is linked to the idea of success.
If, to these cultural references of the last two decades, we add a labor market marked by precariousness since the financial crisis of 2008, we have all the ingredients to develop a toxic relationship to work. Fear of losing that long-term contract makes us agree to have a meeting after hours or take a work call on the weekend. We say yes to everything because we’d rather do that than live without the financial independence to make our own decisions.
“We are very afraid of being economically dependent,” adds Pérez. “When we are forced to face a period of financial vulnerability due to layoff, sick leave or a job retention program, it often triggers this fear in us. And even though we consciously trust our partners not to use this vulnerability to exert power over us, there is such a long history of abuse against women that we feel all this fear the moment we we begin to feel dependent.
In fact, we are so scared that we make ourselves believe that merit alone will shatter the glass ceiling and close the gender gap. And we keep working overtime because capitalist culture has instilled in us the idea that our identity is built on our work-related accomplishments.
“Historically, the value of a woman was based on the concept of care, but now, with the liberation of women through the labor market, work also adds value to us. But when our identity is tied to a career, more than financial independence is at stake, and we end up becoming a brand. If our work fails, we end up feeling that our social capital is not valuable,” says Pérez.
Social networks increase the pressure
Writers like Jenny Odell, author of How to do nothing: Resist the attention economy, say that with the advent of social media, it has become increasingly difficult to escape the narrative linking one’s identity to work. We live in a world where we reveal our career on our Instagram profile and use a job search network even if we already have a job. LinkedIn not only whitewashes work addiction, it actually encourages it, sending out alerts and emails to ensure you never let your guard down, because you never know when a new offer might appear for a better job. job than the one you have now. .
And just as browsing real estate websites often leads us to imagine what our life would be like if we lived in that house we can’t afford, starting a job screening process makes us project what life would be like. if we were chosen for this high-paying job that is in such high demand. We believe that would mean that we have finally succeeded after all this effort. And this is a sure sign that we have been seduced by capitalism.
But in the real world, things tend not to go as planned. Nobody told us that all that hard work that defined a successful woman on all those TV shows probably came at a high personal cost measured in Valium pills. And since we’re not Carrie Bradshaw or Ally McBeal, we won’t be going out for a Cosmopolitan after leaving the office at 9:30 p.m. More likely than not, we’ll head straight to the convenience store to pick up a bag of ready-made salad and hummus for dinner at home.
It is not surprising that the consumption of anxiolytics is a direct consequence of our addiction to work. Statistics show that women consume twice as many psychoactive drugs as men. According to experts, they are under greater pressure and are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
While we were sold the idea of success through talent, women have to face structural problems in the labor market: we earn less for the same work, which means less decision-making power.
“For me, self-exploitation was born out of a need to compensate with more work for the feeling of a lack of opportunities. I feel like I have to work twice as hard to achieve half of what men achieve,” notes Olga Iglesias, a Spanish screenwriter who co-wrote the play. Cómo hemos llegado hasta aquí (or, How We Got Here).
Pérez says that at some point, realizing meritocracy doesn’t exist is just one more step in a grown woman’s life. “We have to accept that this idea does not exist,” she says. “Trying over and over again even though our expectations of success are shattered is what leads to burnout.”
New strategies may be needed, Pérez says, such as “realizing that we are valuable beyond the professional sphere.”