POWER TALKS DISCUSSION GUIDE:

LATERAL AGGRESSION

OVERVIEW

Lateral aggression is behavior that occurs within marginalized groups, where members strike out at each other as a result of being oppressed. The oppressed become the oppressors of themselves and each other. Common behaviors include gossiping, bullying, finger-pointing, backstabbing, and shunning.

Sound familiar? Aside from the harassment, dismissiveness, and aggression many of us have faced from men in the workplace, we’ve also encountered it from women. Research suggests that gender bias causes women to see each other as competitors for limited leadership opportunities and, when internalized, to hold each other to unattainable standards.


SUGGESTED READING

DISCUSSION GUIDE

INTRODUCTIONS

Lateral aggression is defined as behavior that occurs within marginalized groups, where members strike out at each other as a result of being oppressed. The oppressed become the oppressors of themselves and each other. Common behaviors include gossiping, bullying, finger-pointing, backstabbing, and shunning.

Let’s start by doing a round of introductions. Say your name, where you live, and one way that you’ve experienced lateral aggression.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

(These are suggested questions. Do NOT feel like you have to get through all of them)

  1. After hearing experiences of other women here, what similarities did you notice in our stories? Are there any trends emerging or becoming obvious to you?

  2. What are you feeling about the women who were the aggressors? Anger, frustration, empathy or something else?

  3. How have you responded to -- or watched someone respond to -- lateral aggression in the past? What worked? What didn’t work?

  4. Consider this common scenario in the workplace: One senior leadership position is occupied by a woman. The message that there’s room for only one woman can be explicitly communicated -- “we can only hire one of you” -- or silently communicated. Either way, it can fuel competition because there’s a scarcity of powerful positions for women. Do you believe that the power available to women is finite? What would equitable power look like?

  5. At the intersection of race and gender, is the important topic of “white womanhood,” a construct that limits the freedom of white women while enhancing systems of white supremacy. White women simultaneously hold social and financial power as white people, while suffering under the confines of “womanhood.” In this way, white women often enact harm on people of color while seeing themselves as victims. White male protectors reinforce this victimhood by viewing white women as objects to be defended (or violated) as they see fit. This does not keep women safe, and certainly does not free women from patriarchy, but reinforces it. How have you observed “white womanhood” playing out in the workplace or contributing to lateral aggression?

IN CLOSING

Let's go around and each say one thing that we're taking forward from our discussion tonight. What is each of you committing to do? How do you think that will make a difference?

Take a Group Selfie! And share it to our Facebook group tonight.