office hours

Every Woman Needs a Male Nemesis at Work

Get one!
Get one! Photo: Courtesy of NBC

Some time ago, I started keeping a tally of all the men I consider my enemies. Any glance at an Us Weekly story about Jeremy Renner, or an advertisement in a magazine where John Mayer sullenly cradles a watch, would be enough to remind me, Oh yeah, those men, they are my enemies. Never forget the wrong they have done in this world. I check the list every few months to make necessary additions and add scientific footnotes. My list of male enemies is currently 18 men long and always open to new members.

The crimes men like Mayer and Renner have committed are commonplace and fairly easy to forget: Renner called a fictional character a slut, Mayer wrote a Grammy-winning (!) song professing to know how mothers should treat their daughters. One guy is on my list because he broke a close friend’s heart. Another has a lifetime membership for being a complete unforgivable shitbird. These men remain my eternal and everlasting adversaries. But none are more important than the men on my list who work in my industry. These male enemies are the ones who fuel me every single day.

The work wife has become the most recognizable relationship in the workplace: a woman with whom you get lunch, share secrets, drink one-too-many tequila cocktails before 7 p.m., when you go home to a meal of macaroni and cheese eaten over the stove. Then, of course, there was the work husband: a male stand-in for the work wife, a man who replaces your own significant other while that person is busy at his or her job. This was followed up, unsurprisingly, by the work daddy. These relationships make for a happy family of confidants and friends, people who help you overcome the indignities of work, who convince you that you are worthy of a promotion, who share in your successes and sorrows, who are generally amenable to the idea that you should one day run this goddamn company. You will be the CEO, dammit! They’re going to recognize!

But these fools are no match for the male nemesis.

Women at work are encouraged to be ambitious but not too ambitious; forgiving but demanding; in a short skirt and a long jacket; aware of her place at every turn. There is no shortage of material that proclaims to have all the answers to the “when will the workplace be good for women?” conundrum, but the challenges we face seem to multiply even in the days of the supposedly pickle-juice-free Boss Lady. We don’t get paid as much; our work is squashed while a man’s is celebrated; and we are on the receiving end of sexism, misogyny, and harassment just for existing and trying to get a paycheck. The perfect salve for the woman who wants it all but knows she can’t have it is to focus on a man at work who sucks, and not stop focusing until she supersedes him.

Every great figure in history has their counterpart, a thorn in their sides they must overcome in order to reach greatness. Wile E. Coyote had the Road Runner. Hillary has Trump. I have Ben Affleck. This is the role of the male nemesis. Can you think of a man at your office or in your industry on whom you can focus as the person you are committed to outpacing? Perhaps it’s someone who has been given the promotion you deserved, or who is so lazy that he becomes the subject of all your gab sessions with your work wife. Or perhaps he’s a member of upper management, an all-around douche, a boss you’ve seen at holiday parties act sleazy with the interns. Or maybe it’s a man who talks over you at every meeting, who hits you with an “actually … ” after everything you say. There are a million different reasons a man at work — or in your industry — can become a nemesis. Now all you have to do is focus relentlessly on being better than him. (In all likelihood, you already are.)

Once you’ve found your nemesis, you’ll find the rest will come rather easily. Any time this man does anything to annoy you, when he tries to interrupt your creative process, or when the systemic injustices of being a woman at work simply favor him over you, use the slight as fuel to imagine being the boss of your own company while he toils away in obscurity. The only hard-and-fast rule of the male-enemies list: One may never forgive, and one may never forget. The most foolproof trick on the path toward “self-empowerment” is to stop letting dumb men who have hurt you (or others) into your life. There are so many more people worthy of your time. And those people didn’t write a song called “Daughters.”

Much like a Secret-style vision board, imagining your success over a designated male enemy is both easy and free. Just focus on attaining your goals any time these men become a thorn. As Nicki Minaj once said, “Shout out to my haters. Sorry that you couldn’t faze me.” Don’t let the men on your male-enemies list get the best of you — instead, use every dumb thing they do to propel you forward.

And if you don’t have any men in your industry that bother you, just one quick question: Are you hiring?

Every Woman Needs a Male Nemesis at Work