How Phyllis’s lack of promotion highlights the struggle of women in the workplace.
Believe it or not, I have a girlfriend. I love her and I’m 28% sure she loves me back. As with any loving couple, a lot of our conversations revolve around the joys and struggles of our work lives. Since we both work in white-collar offices, I’m constantly imagining how our workplace situations would play out if they took place at Dunder-Mifflin. You see, I like The Office but she LOVES The Office (probably more than she love me). My constant mental trips to Scranton, eventually led me to a revealing conclusion about one of the show’s characters. Phyllis deserved to replace Michael as the Regional Manager of Dunder-Mifflin once he left.
One of my favorite Office episodes is in season 6 when Phyllis dressed up as Santa Claus and Michael tried to sabotage the party because he thought he’d be a better St. Nick. What’s interesting about Michael’s argument against Phyllis as Santa was that it wasn’t about who acted more like Santa Claus or who looked more like him (ironically, Phyllis did with her glasses and body shape). Michael’s argument began and ended with the fact that Phyllis was a woman, which in his mind disqualified her for the position. He even went so far as to tell people that when they sat on his lap, the feeling of his penis would make for a better experience.
Since it was very clear that Phyllis was the better Santa, I couldn’t help but to connect Phyllis’s competence in this episode to Michael’s departure later in the series. Phyllis showed she had ALL of her co-worker’s respect and confidence. None of the other character can claim this. Since this is true, how come she was never given the same considerations as her male counterparts Andy, Jim and Dwight for Michael’s position once he left?
We’ve all heard the statistics about how women are devalued in just about every aspect of society. Women are paid less than men, promoted at a lower rate than men and are subject an repugnant about of verbal, physical and sexual abuse, daily. As a result of this constant marginalization, many women are often less likely to show the aggressive/assertive traits that males employees are often rewarded for. And thanks to the general patriarchal nature of our society, even if a woman is confident enough to speak up and out, they’ll still probably be ignored by their male coworkers in higher AND LOWER positions.
This happens in all workplaces, including the Obama White House. President Obama didn’t compromise on quality when assembling his staff, so the women in his administration were the best of the best. Despite the fact that the Obama administration hired some of the most accomplished women in the country, we found out that even they had to band together in order to make sure their voices were heard. These women devised a strategy called “amplification” where if a woman articulated an idea, the other women would repeat and give credit to the initial woman. This prevented women from being ignored or overlooked by their male counterparts.
These women of the Obama Administration were ones that refused to succumb to the patriarchal system that discouraged them from applying for that next job, asking for a raise/high starting salary and that convinces many women that their thoughts and ideas aren’t valuable to the organization. These women refused to be pushed by the wayside while other louder (and often less capable) men took credit for their ideas. These women refused to be the type of woman that Phyllis was in the first few seasons of The Office.
At the beginning of The Office, Phyllis was written as a quiet, timid woman who just stuck to her work and didn’t really have much to say about anything. She was just a passenger on the Michael/Jim/Pam/Dwight carnival ride. The only times we really saw her speak up were during staff meetings and in the party planning committee meetings. In both of those cases, her valid thoughts were often immediately shut down by Michael or Angela, respectively. This perpetuated the idea that Phyllis was just a pushover.
But as the seasons progressed, we got to see Phyllis as more than just a shy co-worker. We saw some of her assertiveness as she began to stand up to Michael and Angela in public. We saw her maternal side as she provided wisdom to Pam and Erin. We even saw some of her sensual side with her dating and marrying Bob Vance. Slowly but surely, the writers pulled the layers back on Phyllis to show the clever and creative person she truly was. By season six, she had evolved from barely noticeable to the charismatic Santa Claus of the office.
She emerged as someone who would be an excellent leader of the office. Let me explain why.
First, Phyllis is a shrewd saleswoman. Michael was made manager of the Scranton office in the first place because he was an excellent salesman, himself. Michael’s need for people to like him was great for brief sales pitches but was horrible for the long-term management of people. Phyllis was shown throughout the series to be on of the best sales people in the office. This was strikingly clear in episode “Traveling Salesmen” when she spent a whole day getting horrible makeup applied for the sole purpose of making a connection with a client and SUCCESSFULLY getting their commitment.
Phyllis is also an extremely creative individual. This attribute was one of the most repressed in her early seasons. Plenty of her excellent party planning ideas were immediately shot down by Angela. But when she was able to plan a party on her own, she came up with the inventive Moroccan Christmas idea. And let’s just say it wasn’t your grandmother’s Christmas party (unless your grandmother was Moroccan). Unlike Michael, Phyllis would use this creativity to motivate her employees rather than frustrate the bejesus out of them.
Finally, through the party planning committee, Phyllis has shown the ability to take charge. Many of the issues in The Office came from Michael being indecisive about making a tough call. Once Phyllis puts her mind to something, she makes sure it gets done. And she’s usually right.
If all of that doesn’t convince you that Phyllis should have replaced Michael, look at the three men within the office that were considered. Each one of them had huge flaws that made Corporate initially pass on them. Andy clearly had anger issues. Jim showed that he was more interested in goofing off than taking his work seriously. Dwight was just….Dwight. Phyllis is the best hire not only because she didn’t have a fatal flaw, but also because she had no office enemies. Everyone loves Phyllis. She deserves that position
Honestly, I wouldn’t have been able respect Phyllis like I do if it wasn’t for my rockstar girlfriend. Not only is she a huge fan of The Office, but she’s also an incredibly successful professional as well. She has a Master’s Degree and is currently in charge of leading an international coalition of health professionals. Despite this success, I constantly hear stories of frustrating incidences with her male coworkers that would never happen if a male were in the same situation. The fact is that women, no matter how successful they are, experience a totally different work environment and that needs to stop.
So what are men suppose to do about it? The same thing that the women of the White House did. Amplify the voice of the women in your workplace. Recognize their contributions to your success. Speak out against the misogynistic and patriarchal systems that we are all a part of. Use whatever platform that’s available to you, even if it’s a pop culture blog.
At the beginning of the Christmas episode Phyllis said, “I’ve been wanting to be Santa for years. I think I have the right temperament and figure to do the job well…It’s been a long journey but, I’M SANTA CLAUS.” But a couple of minutes later, Michael said, “Earlier today this office needed a Santa, and then it needed a second Santa, and then it needed a Jesus, and now it needs a Michael and that’s one suit Phyllis can not fit into”
Maybe The Office just needed more Phyllis.