Quick hit: About a rant about women

I guess by now everyone’s seen Clay Shirky’s A rant about women?

This worry isn’t about psychology; I’m not concerned that women don’t engage in enough building of self-confidence or self-esteem. I’m worried about something much simpler: not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.

It was cheering that, by the time I read it, there were already comments pointing Clay (and other readers) at the ovular (what!? it’s like seminal but without the semen!) Women Don’t Ask. If you haven’t read that book, go get hold of a copy pronto. It’s an overview of research into negotiation skills and gender, and it’s eye-opening.

I didn’t see linked, but also thought of, Fugitivus’s posts about rape culture, especially another post about rape, in which she says:

If we teach women that there are only certain ways they may acceptably behave, we should not be surprised when they behave in those ways.

That, in a nutshell, is my response to Clay. (A good feminist bookmark collection is a life-saver, I swear.)

Two other posts I found today, talking about Clay’s rant. First, Gabriella Coleman, Being Bad-Ass w/o the Arrogance:

I have always resented the idea that women can’t be assertive and confident. However, confidence and self-esteem, which I agree are vital for getting noted, does not inherently entail jerky behavior. I think Shirky’s perspective might be skewed because of his home field, which is filled with just the type of guys he is describing.

And Tom Coates, Should we encourage self-promotion and lies?:

My experience has been that there’s definitely a role for the arrogant and the pushy in the creation and promotion of a project. It’s also taught me that this skill is a small part of the set of skills necessary to produce something great.

The kinds of things that result in great products are tangible skills, a desire and a pleasure in collaborative building, an aspiration and sense that you’re making something important, a sense of teamwork, room to experiment, the ability to bring out the best in the people around you, a good work ethic.


11 thoughts on “Quick hit: About a rant about women

  1. tigtog

    The major insight I found in comments that didn’t just immediately strike me on first reading Shirky’s post is that he, personally, had the choice to not buy into rewarding the guy who was so embellishing his achievements, or at least to pledge that he would actively seek to reward honesty instead in future.

    But he didn’t acknowledge the possibility in his article, and it’s been brought up several times now in the comments, and while he’s responded to other points made in comments, that point is still just lying there unaddressed by him.

    1. koipond

      As soon as someone started arguing about the semantics of an argument, or taking the generalities thrown about as fact I closed the tab.

      Honestly. Some peoples childrens.

  2. Sara

    …I don’t think I’ve ever had a colleague or supervisor worth working with that I’d describe as an arrogant self-aggrandizing jerk.

    I’m sorry, in what business are those characteristics an asset?

    1. koipond

      Does it have to be an either/or thing? It can quite easily, and it, both. It’s a gender issue because he’s going, “Ladiez, you gotta speak up more and be loud and braggy like the dudes” and thus he is making it a gender issue while talking about the fact that he doesn’t think that we should change the values we have while looking for talent.

  3. Alex

    Telling women to be more like men as a solution to gender bias is not a new thing. As mentioned by tigtog, the unsaid assumption here is that what men do is the right way to do things and what women do is wrong and needs changing.

  4. Restructure!

    I left this comment on Silicon Valley’s Bamboo Ceiling (Racialicious), so this is where I’m coming from:

    As octogalore mentioned, in Asian cultures the standard is generally NOT to promote oneself, but to do good work and wait to be noticed.

    I’m not sure this is about “Asian cultures”, as it assumes that all Asians are foreigners and no Asians are born and raised in the West. In Western culture, women are also encouraged to do good work and wait to be noticed, and are discouraged from promoting themselves compared to men. Perhaps there is also a racial hierarchy, and people of color who promote themselves are shot down as being uppity.

    I worked in a tech environment where I was the only Asian female among Asian males, and so gender, not race, became foregrounded. At first I thought that if I did good work I would be noticed, and whenever I challenged a male, he assumed that I was in the wrong because I was female. I thought that to keep work relations from becoming hostile, I should just do good work and avoid power struggles. Soon after, I got pissed off by the sexism and didn’t care to lose my job, and so I became a bitch who told men what they were doing wrong; I knew it offended their male tech egos to be corrected in technical matters by a woman.

    It happened to work, as I knew what I was doing. I think some people hate me, but if I didn’t promote myself, they would continue to think I was an incompetent female.

    My point is that I worked in a tech environment that was dominated by Asian males, and I was confronted with the male culture of competition. Maybe it would have been subdued if white men were the majority, or maybe the glass ceiling for Asians is similar to the glass ceiling for women.

    My experiences are not universal and cannot applied to everyone, but I just want to point out that by nature, I’m introverted and INTP, and I understand why people would reject self-promotion as a factor in evaluating good work. My mother always told me that you need to self-promote to get ahead, but I always rejected that advice because (i) conceit is the #1 turn-off for me, and (ii) I wanted the world to be fair.

    However, despite my innate tendencies and biases against arrogant a-holes, the “bitch” side of me developed recently, and it’s 100% environmental influence. On the other hand, maybe it came out of my insistence on fairness and correctness. I have a tendency to correct people at the expense of social relations, so when I no longer cared about social relations, I didn’t need to curb that tendency anymore.

    Is it possible to advocate individual women to self-promote without sounding like we are blaming women for systemic biases?

  5. Carla Schroder

    Same junk, different day. It’s our fault because we don’t lie and boast. Not the fault of any manager who is dim enough to fall for lies and boasting, and unable to see what is really going on. Shirky also fails at understanding that obnoxious behavior from your generic white-privileged-man is usually accepted, and even rewarded, but if a woman or person of color acts the same way, chances are pretty good they’ll get slapped down. Because we’re uppity and don’t know our places.

    It is true that learning how to toot one’s own horn is an important skill. Shirky is spouting clueless nonsense.

  6. Kathy Sierra

    There’s a crucial difference between “getting your work noticed” and “getting yourSELF noticed”. Many women (and men) are uncomfortable with self-promotion, and I’m not sure that’s a problem. I’d rather listen to the fact that it bothers me and NOT immediately assume that it bothers me simply because of gender and cultural issues that are somehow impeding my otherwise forward progress.

    Guess I’m saying that options exist between “aggressive self-promotion” and “do good work and wait for it to be noticed”. We can do good work and find ways for that work to be noticed. For many of us, that feels far more healthy, ethical, comfortable, and… effective. The difference between saying, “Here’s how this [result of my work] will help YOU be awesome” vs. “I’m awesome.” or even “My work is awesome.” If I don’t want to promote ME ME ME, I can still have my voice heard by promoting YOU YOU YOU or MY OTHER CLIENTS or pretty much anything else that speaks to things others care about. Because what they care least about is… me. So promoting *me* doesn’t even make sense.

    I’m not advocating remaining silent or sitting back waiting. I’m saying we can use the same skills we ALL have when we’re motivated to talk up the things we think others should hear about. Even the most self-promo averse person on the planet may have little trouble trying to convince people how awesome their favorite product, hobby, or cause they love and support really is. If we reverse-engineer THAT behavior–that talking/raving around things (not ourselves) we believe others would/could love and care about as well–we find the elements we can all use to make that behavior both easy and natural. The key? It’s about what it will mean to the other person, and NOT about how awesome WE are. To think that virtually anyone else cares about MY awesomeness–or even some objective awesomeness of MY work–isn’t supported by evidence or even common sense.

    As for ethics, if I don’t believe my work has something of great value to another person, I need to improve my work, not find ways to “upsell” it or, worse, lie.

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