A Rant About Women

So I get email from a good former student, applying for a job and asking for a recommendation. “Sure”, I say, “Tell me what you think I should say.” I then get a draft letter back in which the student has described their work and fitness for the job in terms so superlative it would make an Assistant Brand Manager blush.

So I write my letter, looking over the student’s self-assessment and toning it down so that it sounds like it’s coming from a person and not a PR department, and send it off. And then, as I get over my annoyance, I realize that, by overstating their abilities, the student has probably gotten the best letter out of me they could have gotten.

Now, can you guess the gender of the student involved?

Of course you can. My home, the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, is fairly gender-balanced, and I’ve taught about as many women as men over the last decade. In theory, the gender of my former student should be a coin-toss. In practice, I might as well have given him the pseudonym Moustache McMasculine for all the mystery there was. And I’ve grown increasingly worried that most of the women in the department, past or present, simply couldn’t write a letter like that.

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.

Remember David Hampton, the con artist immortalized in “Six Degrees of Separation”, who pretended he was Sydney Poitier’s son? He lied his way into restaurants and clubs, managed to borrow money, and crashed in celebrity guest rooms. He didn’t miss the fact that he was taking a risk, or that he might suffer. He just didn’t care.

It’s not that women will be better off being con artists; a lot of con artists aren’t better off being con artists either. It’s just that until women have role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead, they’ll miss out on channelling smaller amounts of self-promoting con artistry to get what they want, and if they can’t do that, they’ll get less of what they want than they want.

There is no upper limit to the risks men are willing to take in order to succeed, and if there is an upper limit for women, they will succeed less. They will also end up in jail less, but I don’t think we get the rewards without the risks.

* * *

When I was 19 and three days into my freshman year, I went to see Bill Warfel, the head of grad theater design (my chosen profession, back in the day), to ask if I could enroll in a design course. He asked me two questions. The first was “How’s your drawing?” Not so good, I replied. (I could barely draw in those days.) “OK, how’s your drafting?” I realized this was it. I could either go for a set design or lighting design course, and since I couldn’t draw or draft well, I couldn’t take either.

“My drafting’s fine”, I said.

That’s the kind of behavior I mean. I sat in the office of someone I admired and feared, someone who was the gatekeeper for something I wanted, and I lied to his face. We talked some more and then he said “Ok, you can take my class.” And I ran to the local art supply place and bought a drafting board, since I had to start practicing.

That got me in the door. I learned to draft, Bill became my teacher and mentor, and four years later I moved to New York and started doing my own design work. I can’t say my ability to earn a living in that fickle profession was because of my behavior in Bill’s office, but I can say it was because I was willing to do that kind of thing. The difference between me and David Hampton isn’t that he’s a con artist and I’m not; the difference is that I only told lies I could live up to, and I knew when to stop. That’s not a different type of behavior, it’s just a different amount.

And it looks to me like women in general, and the women whose educations I am responsible for in particular, are often lousy at those kinds of behaviors, even when the situation calls for it. They aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.

Now this is asking women to behave more like men, but so what? We ask people to cross gender lines all the time. We’re in the middle of a generations-long project to encourage men to be better listeners and more sensitive partners, to take more account of others’ feelings and to let out our own feelings more. Similarly, I see colleges spending time and effort teaching women strategies for self-defense, including direct physical aggression. I sometimes wonder what would happen, though, if my college spent as much effort teaching women self-advancement as self-defense.

* * *

Some of the reason these strategies succeed is because we live in a world where women are discriminated against. However, even in an ideal future, self-promotion will be a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well. This isn’t because of oppression, it’s because of freedom.

Citizens of the developed world have an unprecedented amount of freedom to choose how we live, which means we experience life as a giant distributed discovery problem: What should I do? Where should I work? Who should I spend my time with? In most cases, there is no right answer, just tradeoffs. Many of these tradeoffs happen in the market; for everything from what you should eat to where you should live, there is a menu of options, and between your preferences and your budget, you’ll make a choice.

Some markets, though, are two-sided — while you are weighing your options, those options are also weighing you. People fortunate enough to have those options quickly discover that it’s not enough to decide you want to go to Swarthmore, or get money out of Kleiner Perkins. Those institutions must also decide if they will have you.

Some of the most important opportunities we have are in two-sided markets: education and employment, contracts and loans, grants and prizes. And the institutions that offer these opportunities operate in an environment where accurate information is hard to come by. One of their main sources of judgment is asking the candidate directly: Tell us why we should admit you. Tell us why we should hire you. Tell us why we should give you a grant. Tell us why we should promote you.

In these circumstances, people who don’t raise their hands don’t get called on, and people who raise their hands timidly get called on less. Some of this is because assertive people get noticed more easily, but some of it is because raising your hand is itself a high-cost signal that you are willing to risk public failure in order to try something.

That in turn correlates with many of the skills the candidate will need to actually do the work — to recruit colleagues and raise money, to motivate participants and convince skeptics, to persevere in the face of both obstacles and ridicule. Institutions assessing the fitness of candidates, in other words, often select self-promoters because self-promotion is tied to other characteristics needed for success.

It’s tempting to imagine that women could be forceful and self-confident without being arrogant or jerky, but that’s a false hope, because it’s other people who get to decide when they think you’re a jerk, and trying to stay under that threshold means giving those people veto power over your actions. To put yourself forward as someone good enough to do interesting things is, by definition, to expose yourself to all kinds of negative judgments, and as far as I can tell, the fact that other people get to decide what they think of your behavior leaves only two strategies for not suffering from those judgments: not doing anything, or not caring about the reaction.

* * *

Not caring works surprisingly well. Another of my great former students, now a peer and a friend, saw a request from a magazine reporter doing a tech story and looking for examples. My friend, who’d previously been too quiet about her work, decided to write the reporter and say “My work is awesome. You should write about it.”

The reporter looked at her work and wrote back saying “Your work is indeed awesome, and I will write about it. I also have to tell you you are the only woman who suggested her own work. Men do that all the time, but women wait for someone else to recommend them.” My friend stopped waiting, and now her work is getting the attention it deserves.

If you walked into my department at NYU, you wouldn’t say “Oh my, look how much more talented the men are than the women.” The level and variety of creative energy in the place is still breathtaking to me, and it’s not divided by gender. However, you would be justified in saying “I bet that the students who get famous five years from now will include more men than women”, because that’s what happens, year after year. My friend talking to the reporter remains the sad exception.

Part of this sorting out of careers is sexism, but part of it is that men are just better at being arrogant, and less concerned about people thinking we’re stupid (often correctly, it should be noted) for trying things we’re not qualified for.

Now I don’t know what to do about this problem. (The essence of a rant, in fact, is that the ranter has no idea how to fix the thing being ranted about.) What I do know is this: it would be good if more women see interesting opportunities that they might not be qualified for, opportunities which they might in fact fuck up if they try to take them on, and then try to take them on. It would be good if more women got in the habit of raising their hands and saying “I can do that. Sign me up. My work is awesome,” no matter how many people that behavior upsets.

511 Responses to “A Rant About Women”

  1. Assertiveness is not just for men | We-found-it Says:

    [...] sufficiency women hit what it takes to bear same arrogant, self-aggrandising jerks,” he complains in his blog, adding that women are waste at “behaving same self-promoting narcissists, anti-social [...]

  2. Marketing hacks, linchpins, and tech women of valor | Techno Portal Says:

    [...] on January 15, Internet pundit and author Clay Shirky posted A Rant About Women, which encouraged women to (depending on your point of view and interpretation): adopt the most [...]

  3. Femmes Assurées et Blogs : Plus d’entre Tous les deux, S’il vous plaît! | Temps de Madville Says:

    [...] des femmes comme arrogant juste pour parler la même façon que les hommes font. Lisez boyd, lisez l’article de Clay Shirky qui a reçu sa réflexion, ensuite dire à me-unapologetically-what que vous [...]

  4. Men and women « Pennybridged’s Weblog… Says:

    [...] Shirkey may have put his finger on it in a recent controversial post. His case is that woman’s achievements are lagging behind the men because women are simply [...]

  5. Harold Jarche » Learning socially and being social Says:

    [...] by @sachac on how to be a shy connector – Shows that it’s not necessary to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks: The Shy Connector View more documents from Sacha [...]

  6. lauren Says:

    I would like to point out that many studies have been done on women in the workplace who DO put themselves out there are are assertive, and do you know the perception of these women? Imagine what is thought of a woman at work who behaves like a man, and the reputation associated with it. The fact is, society punishes women who behave like men for doing so, while simultaneously scolding them for not assertively asking for the raise/promotion/etc. Women walk a fine line in trying to get what they want without being perceived negatively for it. Men, on the other hand, may be aggressive ‘blowhards’ as you put it and reap the benefits and praise for being ‘aggressive’ and ‘assertive.’

  7. MattDamsker Says:

    David Mamet’s new play notes that a white man/woman is always in a no-win if he/she raises the issue of race, in any way, to a black man/woman. Confident male Shirky may be in a similar no-win with this rant, but there’s something creepy and corrupted in the argument that we should take advantage of situations (not everyone does, not every man does, some people will always dare Darwinian wrath by playing it straight). Shirky couldn’t draft, but he lied, and on the further strength of being sort of cool with the teacher, he was admitted to the class and built his career; however, did his lie squeeze him into the class over a truly well-qualified student (perhaps a person of color! or a female!) who now toils at Starbucks? Who might have brought a lot more to the profession than Shirky does? Shirky’s realpolitik is hip and wry and refreshing and perhaps, most of all, it’s larded with human truth, but that don’t make it Words to Live By. Encouraging women to raise their hands confidently when they don’t know the answer only fosters the lack of rigor that shows up all over the place now, typified to me–the curmudgeon–microcosmically by the rampant presence of typographical errors in expensive hardbound books by major publishers–stuff you NEVER used to see. In a lowered-bar culture, do you like the chance that the pathologist isn’t proofreading your biopsy all that well, either? Consequences, Clay, consequences…

  8. Ly Technology » Why We Need Tech Events for Women Says:

    [...] qualities and the potential isolation of being one of few women on a mostly male team. She cites Clay Shirky’s Rant About Women in suggesting that women underrate themselves and lack role models, while men proactively promote [...]

  9. Salary differences between men and women « N=1 Says:

    [...] with personality traits that are more common in men, and less to do with direct discrimination.   Here is a good example of it: So I get email from a good former student, applying for a job and asking for a [...]

  10. Amy Says:

    POSTED TO A POETICS LISTSERV IN RESPONSE TO THIS BLOG BEING LINKED THERE:

    Let’s see:

    “It’s not that women will be better off being con artists; a lot of con artists aren’t better off being con artists either. It’s just that until women have role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead, they’ll miss out on channelling smaller amounts of self-promoting con artistry to get what they want, and if they can’t do that, they’ll get less of what they want than they want.
    There is no upper limit to the risks men are willing to take in order to succeed, and if there is an upper limit for women, they will succeed less. They will also end up in jail less, but I don’t think we get the rewards without the risks.”

    Clay Shirky’s got points but this is not a good one. It’s the equivalent of noting that young men engage in risky behavior (think driving, fighting, daredevil skateboarding, general hotdogging, etc), which often results in more male fatalities than women. What’s the cost? In the suggestion above, one of consciousness. Morality. Empathy. I guess it’s also why men are usually the ones who make and engage in war. Women are learning to imitate men and replicate the systems in place, but they suck. I’ve always thought that when women finally start killing on the ground, that might make a ripple in reports from the “front lines.” We can’t have the baby makers destroying babies too…

    Onward:

    “And it looks to me like women in general, and the women whose educations I am responsible for in particular, are often lousy at those kinds of behaviors, even when the situation calls for it. They aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.

    Now this is asking women to behave more like men, but so what? We ask people to cross gender lines all the time. We’re in the middle of a generations-long project to encourage men to be better listeners and more sensitive partners, to take more account of others’ feelings and to let out our own feelings more. Similarly, I see colleges spending time and effort teaching women strategies for self-defense, including direct physical aggression. I sometimes wonder what would happen, though, if my college spent as much effort teaching women self-advancement as self-defense.”

    Pretty shallow, v. limited view/advice on how to break into the old boys’ network, for it is simply designed to keep women out, however self promoting and bold we may be. Just act like men? Ahem, women do self promote: welcome to the 21st century. But lots of safeguards are in place to eliminate the female competition, no matter how qualified she may be. Just look at the rhetoric around Hillary Clinton, whether you like her or not. She’s either a bitch, unsexy, her appearance is always a consideration/point of critique, un-nurturing (recall when she deigned not to make chocolate chip cookies?), etc. Her character, possible sexual orientation, appearance, etc were as much as if not moreso a point of public debate than her politics. So actually, no, acting like a man doesn’t work for women, no matter how perfectly we adopt the behaviors/attitudes – that’s why it’s called a patriarchy/old boy network/etc. by default, we can’t win. But thanks for
    the encouragement, Clay.

    More from Clay:

    “Some of the reason these strategies succeed is because we live in a world where women are discriminated against. However, even in an ideal future, self-promotion will be a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well. This isn’t because of oppression, it’s because of freedom.”

    I loathe how Clay continues to characterize women as incapable/unable to self promote. Based on what? How many male versus female students ask him for recommendation letters? That’s the premise he starts from. Pretty sucky logic. I have had more female students ask me over the years for letters – shall I then conclude that women do more self promoting? Or do more men ask male profs and vice versa?

    I can’t believe I’m still reading this. I wonder how many men buy into Clay’s applauding “male” behavior such as self promotion and expressing confidence…esp as the “way in” for women. He doesn’t even bother to ask at what cost one should learn not to care… what do men sacrifice when they learn not to care, Clay?

    “In these circumstances, people who don’t raise their hands don’t get called on, and people who raise their hands timidly get called on less. Some of this is because assertive people get noticed more easily, but some of it is because raising your hand is itself a high-cost signal that you are willing to risk public failure in order to try something. ”

    Ugh. Part of the diatribe explaining how the world works. I don’t think Clay knows, nor do I have the energy to find the study, that in fact women excel more than men in college (undergrad women get higher gpas while men generally do a minimal amount of work to successfully graduate), but upon graduation, men historically — through various connections and by the fact of being men — enter into higher level jobs than their female counterparts with equivalent records.

    ” The reporter looked at her work and wrote back saying “Your work is indeed awesome, and I will write about it. I also have to tell you you are the only woman who suggested her own work. Men do that all the time, but women wait for someone else to recommend them.” My friend stopped waiting, and now her work is getting the attention it deserves.”

    The presumption of this anecdote is that women aren’t putting their work out there due to lack of confidence. How does Clay know that these women simply aren’t conserving their energies and applying where they see other women’s work supported? This similarly speaks to the ongoing question regarding why women poets don’t submit to x or y journal – editor always states: women don’t submit as much as men. Meanwhile, said editor, by default, recuses himself from soliciting work from women bc it’s really our fault that we haven’t sent to his journal and doesn’t consider that women don’t want to deal with the tired old attitudes that we keep keep keep on encountering, even as young men are inheriting, learning and perpetuation them now. Old boy network attitudes don’t die off. So why would I send my work to journal X when I know journal Y will appreciate it? I see a variety of women’s work in journal Y, ergo, I don’t want to deal with journal editor Y
    when he wants to chop out the “too soft” or “feminine” parts of my article/poem/painting/etc or he prefers to see more that has the qualities he favors, primarily because he isn’t accustomed to women’s poetics/content/doesn’t appreciate/wants more Bukowski pussy poems, etc. By the way, there are some Bukowski poems I really love. More on that debate here: http://www.h-ngm-n.com/th_-gallo_s/2009/8/12/8122009-sex-ratio.html

    The bigger question now, for me is, can Clay Shirkly become anymore condescending and presumptious about how we women aren’t confident and don’t self promote? Why yes, he can end with a bang:

    “Now I don’t know what to do about this problem. (The essence of a rant, in fact, is that the ranter has no idea how to fix the thing being ranted about.) What I do know is this: it would be good if more women see interesting opportunities that they might not be qualified for, opportunities which they might in fact fuck up if they try to take them on, and then try to take them on. It would be good if more women got in the habit of raising their hands and saying “I can do that. Sign me up. My work is awesome,” no matter how many people that behavior upsets.”

    Why, thanks Clay for the advice you’ve given us meek little ladies … if we could actually just take risks and put ourselves out there for jobs that we aren’t qualified for we might rise into the upper echelons and become distinguished professors! Yeah, thanks for perpetuating some tired old stereotypes about “the ladies.” Except, um, women do take risks everyday and apply for jobs that typically and traditionally are supposed to be filled by men (esp positions of authority/power), knowing that if we do get in, we won’t rise in the ranks as we should, we’ll have to prove ourselves that much more and even that will be insufficient, we won’t get equivalent raises, we’ll be treated quite differently (and not in a nice way) than our male peers, we’ll be the ones who are expected to work less hours once the family really gets popping, we’ll risk our positions to do so as males typically don’t volunteer to be often at home w the kids, etc. If you can dare say women don’t take risks and we should just “act like men” to fix things, then you really don’t understand the positions of women and the crap we have to put up with daily just by the very default of being women.

  11. Wild Woman Fundraising Says:

    [...] week I commented on Amy Sample Ward’s post about Clay Shirky’s Rant on Women. He wrote about how women don’t seem to do much self-aggrandizement, and therefore [...]

  12. shira abel Says:

    Read the book “Women Don’t Ask” from Linda Babcock. But get the early version (there are two – the later doesn’t include all of the info from the academic research). It explains all of this in detail.

    Even when a woman does sing her praises it works against her because we’re viewed as egotistical and pushy. I’ve actually changed my method of negotiation now (women will fight harder for someone else than we will for ourselves, which is why we make good sales people – we also look for the win-win and create longer term relationships – another reason why women are great for sales) SO what I do when I negotiate? I don’t say “I deserve this because of my so many years experience and my Kellogg MBA – besides, I’m in the interview – they already know this – so I say “I have 2 small boys and that is not enough.” I am negotiating for more for my kids. And as any mother lion can tell you – no woman fights harder than they do for their children. This is what’s worked for me so far. But it’s a tough line that women have to walk.

    Don’t throw the book at us until you’ve read it.

  13. BBC Women in Tech meet #1, TVC bar « I love kittens… Says:

    [...] time to have a meet before Xmas and it was looking like we were fast approaching February when the Clay Shirky “A Rant About Women’ came to my attention via Twitter and I knew it was something that should be discussed further – [...]

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  15. Advertising for Myself « Matt Zeitlin: Impetuous Young Whippersnapper Says:

    [...] a comment » Following Clay Shirky, I am going to promote myself without shame, hesitation or modesty. Read my piece on Turner Gill, [...]

  16. phio gistic Says:

    Have you read this study: “Social incentives for gender differences in the propensity to initiate negotiations: Sometimes it does hurt to ask” Hannah Riley Bowles, Linda Babcock and Lei Lai

    “Four experiments show that gender differences in the propensity to initiate negotiations may be explained by differential treatment of men and women when they attempt to negotiate. [...] Evaluators penalized female candidates more than male candidates for initiating negotiations.”

    Women know very well that they might be penalized if they are perceived as “self-serving.” Men are not penalized in the same way.

  17. Self-aggrandissement, continued | Latest News India | Education News | Technology News | Entertainment News | Business News | Sports News Says:

    [...] my recent post on Clay Shirky’s rant about women and their lack of ability to be “self-aggrandizing jerks”, there have been [...]

  18. Not my rant, but a good one « egb63's Weblog Says:

    [...] 2, 2010 at 4:49 pm (rant, thoughts) (women) This blog does a good rant on women , and how we aren’t willing to say what we know or toot our own [...]

  19. Gearhead Gal Says:

    A nice read on the subject is from a book by Georgetown Professor, Deborah Tannen,”Talking from 9 to 5:
    Women and Men at Work”

    “Women often find themselves in a double bind. If they talk in ways expected of women, they are liked but underestimated. If they talk in ways expected of men in the same position, they are seen as too aggressive.”

    After reading the posts and the Twitter feedback, I feel I am supposed to be offended by the post because I am a woman, or at least believe I’d be more okay with it had it been written by a woman, like Ms Tannen. But within this lengthy diatribe are some points that I really connected with as an Assistant Director and then a tech exec, and I appreciate the underlying intent – to make women more successful.

    I have worked in the corporate world for 15 years after a 13 year career in the 80′s and 90′s working on film sets as a Second Assistant Director and Director of Production to folks like James Cameron and Brian De Palm, who some have said is a auteur misogynist. As a freelancer employee on film sets, I learned self promotion, or else I wouldn’t work. As an Assistant Director, I learned how to command a set with authority not example. It’s a chain of command world. But nobody likes to get ordered around by a bossy woman. But that’s what I was paid to do – tell extras when they could go to the bathroom, eat or go home.

    When I moved to the corporate world, I was “coached” out of this behavior at my first job. The company literally hired an executive coach to change my leadership style. At my last role, I was told when I was hired that I needed to throw a few elbows and break some egg shells. But in my performance reviews I was chided for not being more passively aggressive at the SAME TIME I was given an award by the CEO for impacting the business for my leadership in launching the first Android device.

    Businesses say want diversity, and they claim to appreciate leaders that aren’t invisible. But my experience says that the woman who isn’t afraid to chew a little glass is usually the person managers struggle to support.

  20. GradStudent Says:

    Very interesting read! I agree that women should care less (even though it’s incredibly difficult), but I still think society needs to change its perception of assertive behavior coming from a man vs. a woman. For example, in academia, if a man goes hard for funding, has a big lab with lots of students/support staff, gets a lot of big publications and “borrows” ideas from his peers he’s labelled “aggressive”. If a woman does the same thing, she’s labelled “a bitch”. The uber feminists out there would say this is a compliment (Babe In Total Control of Herself), but let’s be honest, no woman wants to be called a bitch…especially when it’s probably a man calling you it. Just a thought…

  21. Ladies, Bring Your Samurai Swords « Around The Sphere Says:

    [...] Clay Shirky: Some of the reason these strategies succeed is because we live in a world where women are discriminated against. However, even in an ideal future, self-promotion will be a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well. This isn’t because of oppression, it’s because of freedom. [...]

  22. improve credit score Says:

    You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with this concept.

  23. Louise Quayle Says:

    Say amen! A female CEO (I can’t remember who – and what does *that* say?!) commented that in her many years of managing people, not one woman came to her to ask for a raise or promotion, but men do all the time. Thanks for the rant, Clay.

  24. Emily Says:

    This article is soooooo off. This is obviously not true. I’ve met many women (my mother included ) who do do things like that listed above or lie a little bit to help other women get ahead. I personally would do some of those things if it meant getting attention need to get a job. I think the issue isn’t women not being able to be arrogant jerks but rather that no matter how much of an arrogant jerk we learn to be it’s not enough in this day and age sadly.

  25. Kathleen Whitney Says:

    Singing your own praises is a invaluable career enhancing technique.
    People still believe that the reason women don’t compete, don’t put themselves forward is because there is a natural female tropism towards cooperation and away from competition.
    This ‘natural’ behavior manifests itself in a tendency to form supportive, decision-making groups. These group are conciliatory rather than competitive; groups rarely break new ground.

    We are still encouraged (and trained) to cooperate rather than compete on the grounds that this produces better and more implementable decisions. It creates an even playing fields that encourages meekness rather than self-advancement. This is the reason that even at high levels, women execs make less money than men in comparable positions.

  26. Caught Up in You w/ Kathy Sierra Tummelvision Ep. 4 « TummelVision Says:

    [...] How do you create excellent experiences for users • Clay Shirky’s recent rant about women, wishing they’d show more chutzpah and self-promotion • a useful unself promotion approach [...]

  27. Caught Up in You w/ Kathy Sierra Tummel Vision Ep. 4 « TummelVision Says:

    [...] How do you create excellent experiences for users • Clay Shirky’s recent rant about women, wishing they’d show more chutzpah and self-promotion • a useful unself promotion approach [...]

  28. Alison Says:

    I agree with some of the statements above. Women are not prepared for how to deal with rejection. When young, we learn to manipulate or act sweet or do whatever to get what we want from our parents and teachers and boys. When we make it to the “real world” that ability to snuggle our way into something isn’t so impressive. We can manipulate, but if done wrong, it can cause terrible repercussions and serious problems at the workplace.

    You have probably noticed that the world hasn’t done so well in accepting forward types of women. I know, because I am one of them and it’s not been easy. I also hate rejection. I take it and learn from it and do something different next time, but sometimes rejection will bother me for months. I do wish that I could just ‘forget it’ but its not an option, it’s a defense mechanism to remind me what to look out for next time. I learn to trust it as my “sixth sense” so to speak.

    In general, being the forward girl that I am gets me negative feedback from male bosses. I am seen as abrasive or overly confident when it comes to my work and I’ve had to learn to tone it down in order to get the job – but it pisses me off when I have to do that. Why should I have to be meek in order to be appropriate? I am nice, helpful, supportive, and good at what I do, why isn’t that enough for hiring and sustaining a job? I am open about my outside ideas. I teach technology in a way that is accessible to women and girls and I feel my approach is the right one, better than almost anything else out there. (www.iheartswitch.com/switchcraft) I enjoy being an original and promote it with confidence.

    This confidence has gotten some good press coverage and an offer to write a book (which I did), but in a regular workspace (outside education and marketing) my confidence can get me snarled at, ignored, or passed over for jobs because they want someone they view as more modifiable. I’ve toned down a bit in my old age (35 LOL) but not before being let go twice in my life for being forward about my ideas. I am still friends with the first boss who fired me, so its not that people hate me its just too much for them. I can’t help but notice that if I was a man, this wouldn’t have happened. It just wouldn’t. The guys would have rallied behind me and supported my ideas and taken me out for drinks. Instead, I was seen as a threat. This attitude fits better in my technological and educational avenues where adaptability and confidence is seen as a positive attribute and not a threat.

    I like working for women because the male way of being an arrogant jerk to get what he wants is significantly different than the female way. For example, one of my former male bosses became competitive and started showing me articles he’d written and started teaching as well (both of which I was doing already). I was impressed with his work as always, but I was later let go when times were slow only to find out he hired a good friend who is more meek to replace me a couple months later (yes, I am annoyed about that).

    I loved that job and highly respected and liked my boss. I was also beyond dedicated to the company and making quality work, but in the end I feel I should have kept my head down and not shared anything I was doing or pointed out what “needed” to be done. In that job, I began to loose confidence in my work because there was no support or real management of my skills. Maybe the problem isn’t always with the women? Maybe sometimes male managers don’t know how to work with a passionate and forward women? I only know a couple of men, one of them is Sean Gannan of CampfireNYC, who is skilled with handling artists and free thinkers (both women and men). His company is better for it and so is the work.

    So while, yes, I do agree we women are often times a bit more relaxed in proclaiming our abilities, there is defiantly a reason beyond the comfort of having confidence or boldness. The outside world doesn’t necessarily inspire us or support us. If they do, we do not feel that support. This is what makes being a teacher of women so important.

    As a professor, Mr. Shirky, talk to your female students and challenge them to write confidently and push them to show off a bit, make them fail and have to recover from it. Teach them to support other confident women in the classroom. Its school, so praise the failures and they’ll learn to value them. I find this approach works well though it can be difficult to handle the immediate emotions that may arise from the failures.

    If you’d like some support of your own for building strong confident women artists and inventors, you can find me at a{at}iheartswitch{dot}com. I am good at inspiring women, LOVE teaching, and won’t let you down.

    Always,
    Alison

  29. Sexist Beatdown: The Self-Loathing Spiral of Girlhood Edition - The Sexist - Washington City Paper Says:

    [...] This is something I have been thinking a lot about, the shaming! And it had two causes: one, the Clay Shirky piece I read [Quick plot overview: Dude thinks women just need to act more confident, and all the problems of [...]

  30. Ly Technology » Open Thread: ‘Sexy Girls,’ Smart Women & Tech Says:

    [...] from the Gender & Tech archives. Also see these related articles on other websites from Clay Shirky, Jeanne of Feministing, danah boyd and Gina [...]

  31. DQ Says:

    I think this article is bizzare. For all its length it still is not able to let go of generalization. Why the author still tries to hold on to that very old viewpoint that women are the enternal victims, is beyond me. Women have achieved so much and have proven many times over that old stereotypes are a bunch of crap.
    But still men are somehow always the bad guys, the merciless destroyers of women´s happyness. Are you seriuosly accusing men of being bastards because we dare to be confident?
    If anyone, man or woman alike, wants tro achieve something in life, this person has to take responsibilty for his/her own actions. So please stop playing the blame game, noone is buying that any more.

  32. AMB Album » Why We Need Tech Events for Women Says:

    [...] qualities and the potential isolation of being one of few women on a mostly male team. She cites Clay Shirky’s Rant About Women in suggesting that women underrate themselves and lack role models, while men proactively promote [...]

  33. Herman Says:

    I agree with your observation but not with your conclusion.

    In a variety of cognitive measures, including IQ, while the mean is about the same for men/women, the standard deviation for men is much wider; for women much narrower. What this means is that you find, in most cultures, a lot more dunces—and a lot more geniuses–who are men. Whereas women tend to clump more around the mean. Extending this a bit… I’m guessing this is one reason for the author’s observation that an extreme con artist or self-promoter is more likely to be male. But likewise, one will also tend to find more men than women at the opposite extreme as well: more men as reticent hermits or truth-telllers to a fault. Also note that these “opposite” men, by definition, aren’t represented very well at NYU such that they don’t enter into the authors field of vision!

    The author’s easy-to-say but hard-to-implement claim that we should, “ask people to cross gender lines” and that “women should behave more like men” in this regard, however, is like asking cows to sing. I could go on, but there are numerous explanations from the field of evolutionary psychology (fascinating stuff, by the way) that explains how these fundamental gender differences emerged, why men who fell at the extremes tended to win Darwin’s race We’re different. Celebrate it.

    As for the claim, “Some of the reason these strategies succeed is because we live in a world where women are discriminated against”… gimme a break. What 20th century drivel (not to mention a classic example of the fallacy of “begging the question”). These self-promotion strategies simply work against BOTH those men and women who are less likely to self-aggrandize. Again, it’s not that all men are more skillful in this area of self-promotion necessarily (though there’s certainly some socialization where the aggressive male is termed an “opportunist” and the equivalent female is simply a “b*tch”). Rather, I’m willing to bet that for every case of extreme male self-promotion, there’s another male four standard deviations in the opposite direction: a male who fears to raise his hand in class; a male who can’t bring himself to ask the restaurant waiter for a refill on his glass of water. Most women, however, remain happily in between the two extremes—less likely to self-promote but also less likely to become the next hermit uni-bomber.

  34. Chrissy Says:

    This article would be much more interesting if it was written by one of your female students about how your theory has influenced her for the better… But clearly it has served it’s purpose.

  35. QV21Gwen Says:

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  36. wriggles Says:

    Your thinking is too linear, for ‘jail’ read, mental institutions/ or under the care of the psychiatric/counselling professions’.

    Women’s curtailment costs us just as much as men’s seeming lack of it, just in different ways.

    As for being pompous blowhards etc, there’s plenty of that amongst women and always has been, in the fields deemed acceptable, do I have to even mention motherhood? Please.

  37. Why We Need Tech Events for Women | Stoth Says:

    [...] qualities and the potential isolation of being one of few women on a mostly male team. She cites Clay Shirky’s Rant About Women in suggesting that women underrate themselves and lack role models, while men proactively promote [...]

  38. Why We Need Tech Events for Women - www.Korallenkacke.com Says:

    [...] qualities and the potential isolation of being one of few women on a mostly male team. She cites Clay Shirky’s Rant About Women in suggesting that women underrate themselves and lack role models, while men proactively promote [...]

  39. Jerks Rule The Earth « Just Another Day Says:

    [...] 27, 2010 by Jennifer I was rather fascinated by Clay Shirky’s blog post, A Rant About Women. I wholeheartedly agree with Meredith Farkas’ comment about the provoking title of [...]

  40. Michelle Brown Says:

    Very insightful – and a great reminder as we face the new year. I work in the male dominated field of engineering / manufacturing / consulting and am constantly amazed at men talking themselves up when they know very little, and me, sitting there, knowing more than them, but not blowing my own horn.

    I shall make a conscience effort to change this!

  41. Carter Howson Says:

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  42. Gender and Blogging Redux « looktouchblog Says:

    [...] this is the case with self-promotion, too.  It’s not that women aren’t self-promoting, it’s that men say things like [...]

  43. In The Know v 1.04 Links to help you rethink | HR Examiner with John Sumser Says:

    [...] professor at Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU) who recently wrote a piece called A Rant About Women. He argued that not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing [...]

  44. Herbert S. Says:

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  45. Colleen Carmean Says:

    Thanks Clay. Exhibits some of the courage you speak of as ‘masculine’ as you KNEW that you were going to get many of the angry, who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are responses (by women) that so many women avoid. Of course, you don’t get as many whacko attacks, slurs and death threats as women who do speak up, so there’s that.

    I understand your concern as a teacher of marvelously gifted women, but it’s not your problem to solve. Not only will you be attacked for entering the fray, you won’t be heard. Each woman’s choice in this moment is whether to advance at cost of being disliked (and often attacked) due to her ‘unfeminine, bitchy, ball-breaking, whacko…’ persona or honor her instincts of self-protection.

    Adaptation takes time, and attacks on talented women are ruthless. Most of us decide it’s not worth it. Hurrah to the ones who can take it, great role models, but I opt out. Nope. Not me. Not this time round. I’m attacked just for doing great work. Why add worse for making noise about it?

  46. caro Says:

    good on you for being opinionated and outspoken about this!

    i do think it can be a conditioned behaviour that it’s not being a “nice girl” or a “good girl” to be confident or believe in your abilities..

    working in a field where there ain’t so many women, i do think that confidence in your abilities has to be the force behind your drive/passion, not trying to prove anything to others but excelling in your own capacities.

    wow now i starting to rant..

  47. Self-promotion vs. Posturing « UX Groundswell Says:

    [...] either. That’s why, a few days ago, I wasn’t surprised when Clay Shirky’s post A Rant About Women touched a lot of nerves in the UX community. If you somehow missed the article, his argument states [...]

  48. Should Women Act Like ‘Self Aggrandizing Jerks’? » The Glass Hammer Says:

    [...] a recent blog post, Clay Shirky, a world-famous new media scholar and consultant, wrote, “not enough women have what [...]

  49. Heather Says:

    While I agree with some of Shirky’s points, I would also point out that the system that rewards cons and narcissists is completely broken; the recent economic crisis showed us that. These (mostly male) self-aggrandizing, narcissistic, lying folks have dug us an economic hole it will take generations to climb out of. And because they possess these personality traits, they largely won’t admit that they were wrong/not smart enough to control these market forces they unleashed/need to rethink their most dearly held beliefs, or that the system they created is totally broken. Their suggestions for remedies are just more of the same – give us a bailout, and trust us to fix things ourselves. Don’t you dare try to regulate or reform our industries, whether they be the banking industry or the auto industry. Maybe if the system was set up to reward people who have real qualifications instead of just the appearance of them, things wouldn’t have been so mismanaged in the first place, and lessons would be learned from mistakes.

  50. Self-aggrandissement « Uggclogs' Blog Says:

    [...] January 2010 Posted by uggclogs in Life. trackback Last week, I came across a (self proclaimed) rant about women and their lack of assertiveness. And all generalisations about women aside, it set me [...]

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