Public Relations

The Sting of the Queen Bee is rooted in Toxic Masculinity

by MANCOSA academics Dr Claudine Hingston and Dr Aradhana Ramnund-Mansingh

In a culture that equates masculinity with physical power, some men and boys feel they are failing at “being a man”.

Hence, they adopt “toxic masculinity” whereby they suppress emotions or mask distress; maintain an appearance of hardness; and resort to violence, domination and aggression towards women as an indicator of power.

Socialisation into toxic masculinity sets in at an early age. Kindness, caring, gentleness and expressing emotions are viewed as weaknesses and a sign of femininity.

The invisible barriers of the glass ceiling are profoundly rooted within the ambit of toxic masculinity.

Enter the Queen Bee. These women, the ostensible “power-hungry” Queen Bees, sell their soul for power and success.  As long as toxic masculinity remains a fundamental part of society, it breaks down any hope of mutual inclusivity in the workplace.

The Queen Bee connivingly short circuits the challenges faced by most women. She begins to portray what is known as psychopathic attributes in leadership, which include boldness in asserting dominance over others, being impulsive without inhibition and a lack of empathy.

While interviewing South African Queen Bees across sector and race, it was found there were two journeys to the top. One is where the woman works for 15 years trying to prove herself and attain some level of management; and the other is where she shows allegiance to male superiors who hold the ultimate power to develop her, place her on fast track and mentor her for greatness within a short space of time.

Fear is the descriptor most commonly used by South African women who have encountered the Queen Bee in their places of work. This fear has caused mental health complications, issues of incontinence, migraines, irregular and stress-induced menstrual cycles and severe attacks of anxiety. 

Amidst all the queen bee titles, a new bee has been born out of South African research into the Queen Bee syndrome which has not been extensively done in recent years. She is the African Queen Bee. In nature, she is a bee that reacts expeditiously to disturbances around her. In the business world, she clearly differentiates herself from the general Queen Bee tribe. Her specific journey and influences vary, and she believes that her intentions are good and mentoring. So, who is the African Queen Bee?

From interviews with the African Queen Bee, she is exceptionally confident, fearless and determined to change the course of business within the country. Depending on her age category, she vaguely remembers experiences of Apartheid or she has heard her parents and elders speak of it. She is plagued by the loss of power suffered by her people and is determined to right those wrongs singularly.

The psychological make-up that torments the African Queen Bee is that she is viewed as the “incompetent black women who was appointed purely for the equity goals”.

Her work was reviewed with a magnifying glass. She had to work 10 times harder than any of her counterparts to prove her worth. A single mistake by her would linger on the lips of people for months to come, yet her successes were hushed. 

The African Queen Bee is unapologetic for the manner in which she treats people. She believes that her resilience in life, against the harsh negativities, has brought her closer to success and she wished the same for her female subordinates. The African Queen Bee is a child of a socially-constructed and bigoted society. The result is that she fought harder, she dug her heels in deeper, and when her success was achieved, nobody could topple her from her throne.

Victims describe her as the queen of all queen bees, a ruthless woman who makes Miranda Priestley of The Devil wears Prada fame, look like an angel.

The African Queen Bee sees her behaviour as the ultimate mentorship experience for the sisterhood to glean the necessary insight of what it takes to be at the top.

In order to curb toxic masculinity – which feeds the Queen Bee syndrome – there is a need to work with boys from a young age to enable them to express their gender positively and practice a healthier form of masculinity when they become men

This demands a concerted effort by all, such as the home, educational institutions, religious institution and community, to teach boys that they should be caring, that it is alright to cry and that resorting to violence is not the ideal behaviour. They should also be taught to respect and care for women and should be instructed on gender equality and human rights.

It is a bit more difficult trying to handle the African Queen Bee at the workplace. Affected female workers should talk to her directly about the issues between them and how they can be worked out. A woman is shamed back into more socially-acceptable behaviour through critique from peers. 


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