Life is like a play, it all depends on acting. We are entering a digital performative society. Personality – this concept used to describe the creation of a celebrity’s image has become a daily online practice for ordinary people. People actively manage their own image on different social media platforms.
In the workplace, this digital personality is often compared to a personal brand, business card, or “ID card.” It is not only a way for companies to quickly understand and position employees, but also an important way for individuals to obtain attention, resources, and promotions.
Therefore, we often see things like “In the workplace, the correct personality can help you get twice the result with half the effort.” “Workplace personality determines your salary and level.” Good, no worries at work” and other popular topics.
The lively discussion about workplace personality has also raised some interesting but easily overlooked questions: How do highly educated urban professional women view gender roles in the workplace? Which personas did they choose? What role does social media play in character performances and gendered power relations?
Curious about these issues, the author interviewed 48 urban middle-class people from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen who were university-educated and financially self-sufficient, trying to explore what kind of workplace gender relations social media has produced and how women understand themselves. The relationship between gender and career, how the WeChat-mediated platform has affected the gender practices of women in the workplace, and the risks and unexpected consequences that each persona may bring.
The author found that the concept of “personality” reveals a more dynamic, complex and systematic workplace interaction mechanism. Based on the interview results, we identified and summarized three types of personas of contemporary Chinese working women on WeChat:
Persona A: emphasizes professional identity and weakens gender identity;
Persona B: emphasizes femininity and weakens professional identity;
Persona C : Exhibiting femininity to please male bosses by affirming their masculinity.
Character A: Professional woman and tomboy
Tracey, who is nicknamed by her friends as a typical “three high” woman (high education, high income and high position), completed her doctoral studies at an Ivy League university in the United States, entered a top scientific research institution in China, and leads a cutting-edge laboratory as a whole. Work.
Even though she is confident in her career, Tracey is still full of doubts when it comes to using WeChat in the workplace: “Tell me, what kind of role should I play as a female scientist on WeChat?” In Western culture, everyone is used to it
. Keep work and private life separate, and be relatively cautious about adding colleagues on Facebook. As China’s super software, WeChat mixes work with employees’ personal lives, which brings great trouble to employees’ self-presentation and interaction on WeChat.
Even after studying abroad for nearly ten years, Tracey immediately became acutely aware of the importance of using WeChat in the workplace, especially in terms of gender presentation, after returning to China.
A few weeks after chatting with Tracey, I discovered that she had changed her WeChat avatar, replacing the original photo of a casual attire smiling at the camera with a photo of a working woman wearing a business suit and a calm expression. Standard photo.
Tracey’s situation is not uncommon. Women like her who have a good education, specific professional abilities, and career ambitions often adopt Persona A, which emphasizes their professional abilities and weakens their gender identity as a woman. Such women often have a similar understanding of the workplace, that is, the workplace is public and gender identity is private. In a male-dominated workplace environment, they tend to adopt the de-gender approach of separating female identity from work. ization strategy.
As one interviewer said: “The company hires you to do things, not to be yourself. So whether you are a man or a woman, please put your personal matters aside, because only professionals will be respected.”
Personalization creation in the workplace is not only about changing the avatar, but also includes a comprehensive series of expressions, behaviors and interactions. In online space, one of the most important spaces for distinguishing gender and professional identities is WeChat Moments. Some female interviewees pointed out that they never post any content related to their gender identity in WeChat Moments, fearing that it will have negative consequences. For example, a female intern said that she often posted posts about beauty, which made her male colleagues think that she had nothing better to do and that she did not value her work.
As one woman in her 20s said, “If women have no advantages in the workplace, why should you keep emphasizing your female identity to others?”
We found that emphasizing professional identity not only involves desexualizing or even suppressing female gender identity , but also reshapes gender through association with masculine characteristics. For example, some female interviewees even tried to rationalize their professional identities by emulating the image of dominant men.
Many interviewees used the term “andmacho” to define women as men-like (positive connotation). One female manager expressed the need to appear masculine to gain career advancement.
The “feminine” persona in the workplace seems to be strongly praised in media discourse, and some studies have confirmed that tomboys are more likely to be popular with supervisors and have a greater chance of promotion. Tomahawks show that their success is based on job performance rather than their female identity because they are “men” too.
But taking on this type of persona comes with a price. A female art practitioner believes that high status means less private space, and WeChat personas can both protect and restrict oneself.
As one working woman shared: “There are always times when people are sad and want to talk and vent. But I can’t show my vulnerability on WeChat because (as a professional in the workplace) I should be strong.” Another. Women feel excluded in the workplace because they only show work on WeChat instead of personal issues. People think she remains mysterious and is unwilling to interact with others.
In short, Persona A cannot change or resist the gender inequality seen on WeChat in the workplace. When persona A adopts a systematic set of behavioral requirements to (re)produce the online gender order by aligning with the dominant masculinity in society, it exactly reflects that issues of gender inequality are often compromised or even compromised at work. be sacrificed.
Character B: Harmless to humans and animals, consistent with “gender identity”
Lily works in an education and training institution. Even though she has been working for many years, her parents always warn her every time she comes home. As a girl, she should not act too competent at work, but should learn to show weakness and give her colleagues more likes on WeChat when there is nothing to do.
When I asked Lily how she understood her parents’ advice, she said that her parents were not overly worried. This was a way of survival that they had summed up based on their simple life experience and wisdom in the Chinese workplace for many years.
China’s workplace, to some extent, replicates the division of labor between men and women and the gender power relationship in the family: everyone’s expectations for women are gentleness/weakness, obedience and patience, and women are expected to take on auxiliary administrative work rather than leading a team. leader of.
During our interview, a male interviewer said: “When we recruit, we prefer to recruit girls with gentle personalities who look confident, calm and independent, which is good, but (we) Maybe they can’t hold it and it’s hard to manage.”
Women who choose Persona B usually compare the workplace to a harem, which may be influenced by contemporary Chinese popular TV culture such as “The Legend of Zhen Huan”. In court dramas, concubines can only succeed through the emperor’s support, echoing the popular mentality that relationships, especially with powerful people, are more important than job skills. Women who do not have the ability to resist unequal relationship frameworks, or who do not have strong career ambitions to participate in office politics, prefer personas that appear to be relationship-oriented and conform to traditional gender norms.
However, the performance of Persona B is not easy. It requires proficiency in network elements and resources, and creative creation of a natural and consistent digital image. A woman with a Ph.D., recalling her early days at work, would intentionally post heart-warming clips of her life, such as baking a cake, to create an image of herself as thoughtful and capable of maintaining harmonious relationships.
However, because interactions on WeChat are often impromptu performances, you may face different reactions, which increases the difficulty of the performance.
A female university associate professor once forwarded a famous quote by Chinese writer Wang Zengqi: “Gardenias are thick and big, and they are so fragrant that they can’t be brushed away. So elegant people don’t take them because they think they have low moral character. Gardenias said, ‘ Fuck you, I just want to smell like this, it smells so good, do you fucking care!'” Shortly after forwarding it, she received a call from her male supervisor, questioning why she posted this post. It’s not that he is disobedient, because the male leader took this post as a challenge to his leadership position and authority.
In another case, older women shared selfies in their friend groups, which aroused dissatisfaction among male interviewees. “Why do they still post selfies at such an old age? Do they think they are good-looking and attractive to men?” In order to share their selfies in friend groups
, Maintain a gentle persona in Persona B, and Persona B usually uses specific words and accents. For example, instead of using the standard and direct “ok” when communicating and confirming, they will use more friendly and friendly tone words, such as “ok” and “ok”.
During the interviews, we identified that Persona B can be roughly divided into two types.
The first type is an older female character who focuses on family or life. In our interviews, some described this persona as “big mom,” and most of these women do not hold leadership or management positions. For example, a married female nurse often posts content related to raising children or entertainment in WeChat Moments.
The second type is the silly, cute, and non-threatening “silly white sweet”. Women of this type are often similar to the protagonists of idol dramas, perfectly reflecting Chinese men’s fantasies about ideal women.
”Auntie” and “Shabaitian” prove to others (and themselves) that they agree with gender expectations and gain recognition. This performance may also be a form of self-discipline under the male gaze.
In the author’s research, emoticons full of gender tendencies are also the most frequently used method by this type of persona to construct their female image. A male engineer noticed that his young female colleague often used cute emoticons in a WeChat group. Another young woman said she tends to use various kittens as emojis because they seem to reflect the softer temperament of women.
The author found that persona B is usually at a lower level in the company, which limits their online gender performance. Although some people believed that Persona B would protect them, some interviewees admitted that Persona B was a double-edged sword. Femininity is widely considered to be incompatible with leadership characterized by heterosexual masculinity, so Persona B is often considered to be incompetent or not career-oriented, which will hinder women’s career development in the long term.
Persona C: Give full play to gender capital and “fine” the relationship between the sexes
The author discovered an interesting phenomenon during the interviews, especially when some male interviewees mentioned that female colleagues would “flirt” with their bosses in WeChat groups or Moments. Although most of the female interviewees denied that they had done similar things, they also admitted that there were female colleagues around them who did so.
Such women generally have less independence and the cost of leaving the job is greater. They need to depend on others (especially leaders) and a certain system. Therefore, they believe that the relationship with the leader is more important than work ability or performance. For them, gender, as a weapon for the weak, has become a kind of capital. Soften serious working relationships by deliberately regulating the relationship between the sexes.
Some male interviewees believe that the most powerful people in the workplace are actually female employees. If they are allowed to let go, they can act coquettishly and cutely, play the role of a little girl, and please their leaders; they can also drink freely and be brothers with men.
An interviewee told me that there are not many opportunities to interact directly with leaders face-to-face, but with WeChat, female colleagues often take the initiative to create opportunities to interact with leaders on WeChat. For example, if she and this female colleague work overtime together, the female colleague will send photos of overtime work to the male leader, saying that we are still working overtime and need the care of the leader. Finally, the leader ordered takeout and delivered coffee, milk tea, etc. to them.
Women are also often expected to play the role of applauding, presenting flowers, and adjusting the atmosphere. As one male interviewee said, sometimes men’s speeches/actions, especially male leaders, expect women’s feedback and approval, which is enough to satisfy an adult male. gender dignity.
This was also confirmed by another female interviewee. Sometimes when the leader sends a message in the group, a female colleague will pretend to be a fan or a fan and say something like “Wow! That’s awesome! Flower emoticons + girls.” Obsession meme”. As a result, men and women completed a gender-scripted interaction in WeChat’s cyberspace.
As a female interviewee said, “You don’t really lose anything in this process, but you just have to be sweeter and send some words or pictures. On the contrary, it may be much smoother at work. This is very cost-effective, why not Not?”
It can be seen that, unlike the first type of women who suppress their female characteristics and emphasize professionalism, this type of female employees mix public and private, and achieve publicity (success at work, promotion or success) through privateness (fully displaying female characteristics). development) demands.
However, not all women are forced to express their gender characteristics.
In the author’s interview, a female sales interviewee said very bluntly: “Gender itself is a woman’s capital. Since God has given you this capital, why not use it? When facing leaders or customers, you should not give him As a leader, you must treat him as a man. At this time, your relationship is not that of a leader and his subordinates, but that of a man and a woman. As long as you can transform into this kind of relationship, many things will naturally be solved. ”
Some male interviewees also pointed out this phenomenon. They often use “high emotional intelligence” to explain these women who take advantage of their gender to get around in the workplace.
The author found that those who are most dissatisfied with this phenomenon are often other women from the same gender camp. One female interviewee believed that another female colleague of hers acted coquettishly to male employees in the group every day, “embarrassing us women.” When the author asked her what she had done specifically, the interviewee said that the woman made emoticons of her selfies and often posted them in the WeChat group at work. For example, when the leader assigned work, she would post a picture of herself rushing forward. The photo was captioned, “Come on, we are beautiful girls full of energy.” When the leader got angry in the group, she posted an aggrieved selfie with the caption, “The little girl realizes her mistake.”
However, Persona C also faces challenges, the biggest one being online sexual harassment. When gender is exchanged as a resource, the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate behavior are blurred.
Many female interviewees often chose to ignore implicit or explicit sexual innuendos from male colleagues and supervisors. As a passive coping mechanism, they delete or block pornographic messages or images rather than confront the harasser and ask them to stop.
Based on interviews, the author found that these women had calculated the pros and cons of resistance, and that some complex and intertwined reasons led to their collective silence.
First, the Chinese workplace is dominated by male culture. Men usually make gender jokes to create intimacy or find excuses, “It’s not a big deal, we are all adults.” In addition, women are also worried about secondary trauma caused by humiliating remarks such as “Why do men come to you?”
Secondly, when it comes to the power structure in the workplace and the unequal status of women in the workplace, gender equality has not received sufficient attention, and policies against sexual harassment in cyberspace are relatively incomplete.
Finally, many people, including women themselves, downplay the seriousness of online sexual harassment. Some people separate their digital selves from their real selves for self-protection. “I can tolerate it if it’s just online and doesn’t involve any physical contact.”
Character Acting: Consistency, Flexibility and Character Collapse
Although the persona types and strategies discussed above are different, all face similar challenges. Characters must resonate with real life for natural and authentic interactions.
WeChat makes this process more complicated, not only blurring the boundary between work and life, but also having to maintain it in real time outside of working hours. Respondents felt pressure to maintain the same personal device in order to establish a coherent self.
However, when the environment and audience change, the persona may also change, and women need to be very flexible. “We need to be like chameleons, constantly changing to fit in with our environment,” said one female interviewee.
However, maintaining consistency and flexibility is not an easy task for women in the workplace, especially as the two-way interactions provided by social media force people to engage in constant interpersonal monitoring and surveillance, and maintaining a consistent persona is challenging.
In fact, the most popular buzzword used by interviewers is “personality collapse,” which leads to negative comments such as “green tea bitch” and “scheming bitch” to allude to colleagues who pretend to be innocent and harmless.
One male interviewee described the different behaviors of his female colleagues in two WeChat groups: in one chat group for ordinary employees, they presented a professional persona, while in another chat group for company leaders, they created a “silly and white” persona. “Sweet” role. This interviewee used the term “personality collapse” to describe the purposeful and even hypocritical workplace gender personas of female colleagues.
Since personas can overlap and switch, why do audiences react so strongly or negatively? Researchers Ellison, Hancock, and Toma (2012) took the online dating image as an example and believed that self-presentation is a commitment to the audience. Therefore, the online personality in the workplace is also a commitment to colleagues. In the future, face-to-face interactions will occur with The characters presented are basically the same person.
One female interviewee believed that “creating a persona is about managing other people’s expectations of you.” Although this persona may not be the real you, when they find that there is a huge difference between the persona you present and the real persona, They may still feel uncomfortable or even deceived.
Digital workplace: Let yourself go or be trapped in a digital prison?
With the digital office, more and more workplace interactions occur in online space. Do women still need to comply with existing gender norms in the digital space?
The words of one interviewee may sound extreme, but they are quite representative of some voices. “It’s tiring enough trying to play a female role in real life, but now I’m even being hunted into cyberspace. There’s really no escape.”
Working women living in metropolitan areas pay great attention to their personas, and the online representation of personas can have substantial consequences. For example, supervisors have the power to decide employees’ promotions or career prospects, which increases the pressure on employees to comply with existing gender norms. .
The precariousness of contemporary work prompts women to sacrifice even their dignity in order to keep their jobs. They also generally believe that digital self-presentation is not an idealized self as previous research believed. There is a distance between the persona in the workplace and the real self. “The persona is not the real me” and “is just a kind of self-image at work. professional roles”.
Therefore, the digital workplace represented by WeChat is used to adapt to the existing social mechanism, rather than a means of liberation. The focus on and analysis of workplace personalities has further led us to think more carefully about the mainstream disciplinary culture in the workplace and the dilemmas faced by women in the workplace.