According to Wilson Schaef, an assumption in the "white male system" is that two people cannot be equals. When two men meet, one must be superior and the other inferior. Women, on the other hand, tend to see one another as peers until proven otherwise. This offers one explanation of how men and women approach relationships differently. Since no other possibilities exist for some men, they will try to put others, including you, one-down, just so they will stay one-up.

When I first read this theory, I remembered numerous times when male colleagues, for no apparent reason, had tried to put me one-down. I had never recognized this lack of ability to envision a relationship as peers. How I wish I could have at least one of those episodes to live over, now that I understand what happened. Of course, we all know men who accept others as peers and have risen above this view of relationships. The next time a man in a business situation (or any situation) tries to put you one-down, remember that he may simply be attempting to stay one-up because he cannot perceive a relationship as peer. Meanwhile, of course, this behavior doesn't do much for our already shaky self-esteem.


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