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. Lauren F Friedman Says:

    Clay makes several astute observations, but a key point is overlooked: Many people find arrogance in successful men appealing or at least expected, while arrogant women (however successful) are often viewed as obnoxious. Granted, I need a citation on that contention, but — anecdotally — this seems to hold true.

  2. hi kooky Says:

    There are plenty of self-aggrandizing jerks (male & female) who wreck their lives, and there are plenty of respectful, considerate men and women who accomplish great things.

    Street smarts are out there for the taking. Whether or not one partakes has a lot to do with personality and personal values.

    Maybe the “losers” see things differently. Perhaps they have something the pompous blowhards do not see or understand. Perhaps in their eyes, the self-aggrandizing high-achieving jerks are the poor saps who are missing out.

    Confidence and assertiveness: good. Asinine behavior: bad.

    (I hereby end my comment which admittedly sounds like several fortune cookie fortunes strung together.)

  3. Emily Says:

    I take this as encouragement and honest observation. Men and women are different. It’s empathy that bridges the gap. It’s communication that bridges the gap. Men would be more successful if they followed the lead from women sometimes, and the same goes for women. I think we’d have more successful relationships and partnerships too. Men can be assholes, women can be pansys. CAN BE. Not are…CAN BE. He’s not suggesting we bow down to the negative. He’s suggesting to take the good stuff and leave the crap.

    Let’s take the best of all worlds and try to live an authentic life. No regrets.

    It’s ok people.

  4. Let's Throw Feces Says:

    I think the effectiveness of chest-beating has to do with the fact that most people are shallow and weak creatures searching madly for someone to follow.

    Personally, I am a man who chooses to impress through wisdom, intelligence, and networking, and it drives me up a wall when the loudest grunters and & feces-throwers get all the love.

    I think we should be encouraging everyone to not be a self-aggrandizing blowhard, no matter what shape their genitals happen to be. It is incredibly annoying in a social-media format to see people who’s tweets are a steady stream of “Look At Me!!!”

    With that said, women can (and do) use sex appeal to get attention in business settings. This also drives me insane as the flirting and uncovered bosoms are so obviously calculated, yet idiotic men fall for it all the time.

  5. Closer To The Ideal » Blog Archive » Comments from others regarding Clay Shirky’s rant about women Says:

    […] Clay Shirky wrote a stupid post suggesting women did not know how to promote themselves. Some of the reactions in the comments are very good: Annalee says: […]

  6. MommyTime Says:

    This rant strikes me not only as sexist and offensive, but also as one of the most unsound pieces of social/economic/business policy I’ve ever read.

    In my experience as a college professor, it is precisely this sort of self-aggrandizing that creates myriad problems — not least of which is a profound sense of entitlement: “Well, I think I’m great, so why don’t you just give me an A, even though I only earned a C? And if you don’t, you’re a bitch, and I’m going to report you to a supervisor until someone agrees with me.” If it’s offensive and annoying in the context of grade-grubbing, how much more serious a flaw is it when one becomes a manager of a company or hedge fund or start-up and puts a grossly inflated sense of self-importance above the need actually to apply man-hours (I use the male pronoun advisedly) to learning a new task? The inability to admit what we do not know or cannot control is absolutely crucial to getting us out of the greedy, don’t-worry-I-can-fix-it-as-long-as-I-can-spell-it mentality that got us into our current economic mess. If more people (not just men or women) were a bit more humble, were willing to admit when they needed help, were willing to learn instead of spending all their time pretending they already know what they do not, our country would be a whole lot better off.

  7. amc Says:

    You are right! You are a arrogant jerk and an asshole! Congrats!

  8. celia Says:

    I disagree that submission is a feminine quality. I work in a university research lab, and from this perspective, I see many submissive men and many dominant women. What does having a vagina have to do with that?

  9. Kirby Says:

    I was waiting for this to be an awesome article about how because our society is sexist, and on a cultural level, we punish ambitious women in basically every form of story-telling at our disposal, women don’t really get the sort of dickish-yet-successful heroes to look up to/emulate/etc that men do. While you get David Hampton, we get Mildred Pierce, femme fatales, and “heroes” like Erin Brockovich.

    Also, your suggestion that women over-state their abilities and risk being a public failure is one that could only come from someone from a power majority; as a man, you’re not Representing Men In The Workplace when you go to the office — as a woman, your behavior can often be taken as an example for How Working Women Behave. (You yourself are doing this, in fact, by extrapolating from your personal interactions with women at your job and creating an entire stereotype for how All Women (Don’t) Behave). The workplace can be a very different experience for women than men for a lot of different reasons, and there are a lot of social-norm messages delivered to girls and women that are never pushed onto men.

    The other thing that I find troubling is that you do not seem upset by the system you acknowledge, where whoever screams the loudest gets attention professionally. I am willing to believe you that that is how the career ladder works in your field. I am also all for being practical. But I feel your argument would have stood up better if it had at least acknowledged that a system that isn’t structured to seek out and recognize talent, regardless of one’s ability to act as a PR rep, is a system that is at least partially broken.

    Your argument is founded on the assumption that the way things work right now is okay — I don’t believe it is, and I don’t think I’m alone, based on the comments. There are a great many things that we assume to be true culturally, but which are not in fact unchangeable. I believe that as the interconnectedness of the global economy grows, each person will have to fight harder and advocate more for success. I don’t believe that the way to do that is for men to continue thinking antiquated American arrogance is the way to success, and I don’t believe that women should emulate them.

  10. KWM Says:

    How about we teach male managers (and others) to NOT FALL FOR BLATANT LIES. Seems to me that the problem is that you men fall for this crap without checking actual qualifications or behaviors.

    Let’s teach managers to recognize quality, not listen to bullshit.

  11. Holly Says:

    I always thought self-aggrandizing narcissists who pretend your work is theirs would flame out in the workplace eventually. But they don’t! They win, really they do. I worked for the worst of them and he survived layoffs and I didn’t.

  12. Itschy Says:

    @Venessa Miemis:
    You realize, that what you are doing here is exactly what Shirky was encouraging women to do?
    You are highlighting about your archivements as if you were writing an application. And you did it “men style”.

    That said: I mostly disagree in Shirky’s assumption that women have to become meaner. Ideally beeing mean and selfish wouldn’t get you anywhere.

  13. Beth Says:

    I’m glad to know that I’m categorically unable to be a self aggrandizing jerk simply because I’m a girl! Woo hoo!

  14. NanceFinance Says:

    This is a rant because it is based on the power of emotion and not on facts that can serve as a serious basis for discussion. Men and women are definitely different but what you have extrapolated from your experience — unscientific anecdotes — is skewed. Is it possible, dear professor, that you are telegraphing to men, please boast, I love masculine a-holes? But to women, perhaps, you are signalling, be subtle; don’t “go for it”?

    And by the way if someone ever gave me an over-the-top letter that you described I would have written a much WORSE recommendation rather than a better one because it shows extremely poor judgment. But I won’t write a post that assumes all women would respond that way.

  15. Male Says:

    My boss is a self aggrandizing moron, and he is male. He will lie, cheat, steal, and generally BS his way into getting everything he wants while doing next to nothing. Nobody really wants him here, not even management, he has been called stupid in meetings by Chiefs, he has been ridiculed endlessly by every other person at the company, and yet, he is still here, still being an ass, still pretending that its not him.

    Now how in the fuck do you account for someone that is such a stupendous goddamn waste and yet is completely unable or unwilling to accept the truth, that he is incompetent?

    The problem you soon realize, is not people bragging, its the people listening to the braggarts. The people listening ARE TOO STUPID TO GET IT, and that means you SHARKY, and every other slow witted dip shit who has passed a judgment on another person that didn’t revolve around pure MERIT.

  16. Ava Odoemena Says:

    I take a bow of respect at such talented trolling, it certainly made my day. As I was reading it, some socioevolutionary elements just snapped into place.

    Hi Fefe. SCNR

  17. cd Says:

    To Vanessa (above)–

    You’ve just done exactly what you’re ranting against. Granted, you did it without lying (I’m assuming), but you just spent two whole paragraphs bragging and name-dropping to get what you want. Whether that’s being self-aggrandizing, being confident, or being a jerk depends on who reads it and how.

    Hate to burst your bubble, but if you get a response from Clay now, you’ve just proven his point.

  18. TracyTC Says:

    SDC makes a great point above about the dynamic changing as more women rise to the top, but let’s face it, ladies, it is still the boys’ rules dictating “success.” I posted a reference to Clay’s rant on my attorney blog because he has hit on an uncomfortable truth, and guess what? I posted under the category of “girl power.” Pretend all you want that he’s off-base, but I don’t think you’d see a single comment here, if this was a nut case post.

    I’m not advocating that we all become boys (although I’ve seen instances of this in my industry). I’m advocating that we women understand the current dynamic and use it to our advantage. I think the end result will not be a “boy” rule or a “girl” rule, but a blended “whole” that will be better than the sum of its parts. Hats off, Clay, for being brave enough to articulate your rant from a guy’s perspective.

  19. Annuities, [Non-]lying women, and NJ pols, oh my! Says:

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  20. Patrick G. Says:

    Evolution formed men and women in a way that maximizes their reproduction chances. One part of that is that it payed off for males to take high risks, while it seems that tactic wasn’t so successful for women in general. But women being more sociable and choosing risky, dominant males for partners seemed to work better.
    And that’s not all socialization (as some want to believe), it can be seen in nearly every culture in the past and today.
    And even if the individual can battle (or be forced to work against) that genetic heritage (including more than this bit), it won’t work for the majority of people or societies in the long run.

    Let’s face it: our brain lies to us more often than anyone else around us, warping the picture of reality we have to legitimate the decisions our subconsciousness and with it our genetic heritage chose.
    Not always, but more often than most people think.

  21. Jeff Dickey Says:

    You’ve got a point. Wording it the way you have, naturally enough, kicked over a hornet’s nest of people who took genuine exception, piled on by the PC crowd.

    What I get out of this is that, if women don’t “break the glass ceiling” enough to make meaningful systemic change in fairly short order, we’re all going to be paying a very heavy price. I put my two rupiah into a blog entry, at http://archlever.blogspot.com/2010/01/anfsd-newman-and-redford-not-streisand.html – would appreciate any comments.

  22. Cathryne Says:

    “Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.”

    I’d say that these (to my mind negative) traits are by far too *over*represented in people who have changed the world to the *worst*. What kind of people have changed the world for the better and which kind of behaviours did they display?

  23. A Rant About Women by Clay Shirky? « The Bee Hive Says:

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  24. COTechie Says:

    Most workplaces follow systems that were originally created by men, and it works for them, so why should it be changed? If women don’t like it, they should act more like the men! Duh!

    You’re right, actually, that women would likely experience greater success if they acted more like men, but you’re missing the point. Any workplace that requires one whole class of people to act like another class of people simply in order to benefit from the SAME reward system is discriminatory.

    A merit-based reward system still requires that people know what your merits are; and certainly in a world where social media defines our public personas, self-promotion is a valuable skill. But please don’t tell me you would teach your daughter how to be an arrogant, self-aggrandizing jerk simply so she could hang with the boys.

  25. Linda Ziskind Says:

    Argh, you’re so, so smart most of the time. How can you be such an obtuse jerk about this? Mr. Shirky, did you really think it didn’t occur to me, and about a zillion other women, to jump right in with the boys and show what we had? To say, “Yeah, I can do that,” whether we could or not, knowing we’d figure it out and nail it? To do what we knew was right, without asking for permission? Did you think we’ve just been sitting around waiting for someone with a penis to come along and tell us what to do?

    Here’s a news flash. When men do those things, nobody calls them arrogant or self-aggrandizing jerks. They’re called amibtious and go-getters. They’re deemed ‘pro-active’ and groomed for leadership. But when a woman does those things, we’re called aggressive and bitches. We’re deemed pushy and we’re marginalized. And if we complain, or point out this institutionalized gender prejudice, we’re called whimps and whiners. And here’s the sickest part – because there’s so little room for women at the corporate pinnacle, and because the climb is such a spirit-crushing battle, many women become territorial once they reach a certain level and start stepping on the fingers of the ones coming up behind.

    So if you really want to be helpful, stop being an asshole and blaming the victim. Open your mouth and say something the next time you encounter corporate misogynists. Tell young women that they should be confident enough to grab every opportunity. Tell them that “bitch” is just another way of saying “strong woman warrior”. Tell them that they need to stand their ground, not despite of our biased culture, but because of it. That’s how the change happens.

  26. Don Says:

    It’s nothing less than fascinating to see how people react to this rant and what aspects of it they emphasize in their reactions, pro or con.

  27. Jacqueilne Church Says:

    I’m a survivor of high tech (good and bad) corporate consulting (good and bad) & law (good and bad). The surprises for me included feminist leaders who ignored smart women in meetings only to recognize the brilliance of men who parroted what the girls had already said 8 ways.

    Being told to “ask more questions” in my first week at a job, my reply was “I hope you’re not asking me to play dumb, because I just don’t do that.” Again, request came from well-meaning women who saw that I was “too intimidating and assertive” for the comfort of my co-workers. (I was right on both initial incidents and the company eventually adopted my observations.) One of our biggest accounts saw me in a junior role doing work others above me weren’t and actually asked me when I would be promoted. How embarrassing.

    The list goes on. One of my best bosses ever was a man, in high tech, who saw I had the “horsepower” as he called it, to learn what I needed to succeed, but wanted to be sure I knew what I was signing up for. I had come to interview for a job that I knew I could do, but on paper would not normally have been considered for. I thanked him and asked what were the biggest holes, and how best to quickly ramp up.

    In short order, I’d inked one of the biggest deals and done so gaining the respect of REAL tech geeks who said I was the opposite of everyone else who oversold and under-delivered. I was always honest about what I could do, what I could learn and respected the expertise I pulled on when I needed to. I learned stuff I never thought I could and was one of the last to be laid off when the pink slips were flying.

    I’m an old hardened feminist and lament that we are still having these discussions. I think the reality is not either or, but both/and. Shirky is not wrong that most managers are men, most still blindly respect the arrogant self-promoters. Still he does suffer from blame the victim mentality.

    Also, girls need to learn SOME of this and how to weave it into an authentic self. He fails to ask why leadership tolerates the skewed and inauthentic inefficiency and why stretch goals and true learning (which includes, by definition, failing) are not valued for both genders. And why BS is not called when it’s offered. Leaders should do more to inculcate a culture that tolerates true learning and rewards authentic confidence, just as it should have zero tolerance for lying. If he’s lying to you about what he can do, is doing, has done – what face is he showing to your customers? Your partners? What’s he doing on his expense reports?

    I saw less qualified men pass me by when they bluffed and took credit where it wasn’t due. They were promoted b/c they did so and played golf with the guys at the top. I learned from that not sit quietly, doing excellent work and HOPING that it would be noticed.

    If I had daughters I’d need a ‘script just to maintain sanity. Just another reason I don’t have kids.

    I hope for the next generation’s sake these discussions actually lead to some behavioral change that would benefit us all. We have only to look at Wall St and our current economic meltdown to judge the merits of hubris, greed and inauthentic corporate behavior.

    Upward and Onward,
    Jacqueline Church
    (currently self-employed which means I couldn’t bluff my boss if I wanted to, nor do I have to)

  28. Elizabeth R. Says:

    A rant should provoke, and that it has.

    A lot of women commenting here are missing the exact point: Stop caring what other people think! Just get in the game. Find your own style/way of tooting your own horn. If you find the whole prospect reprehensible, OK, go ahead and create another whole ecosystem (maybe green living is a good example, i don’t know) and make that your project. We certainly need other models. But, if you want a job/cred/decision-making power within established ecosystems, better to risk failure and elbow into the lane than to simmer in resentment from the sidelines.

  29. Leigh Says:

    As a female managing director, i spend half my day telling the women in our office to stop putting themselves down, apologizing and try to encourage them to have more confidence in themselves. And I spend the other half of my day telling the guys they aren’t as smart as they think they are, and to stop being such over confident jerks as we all have lots to learn from each other. sigh.

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  32. steffen Says:

    Yes, clearly women should take men as example and do more damage to society. I also suggest that women drive more aggressively and rape more children. Otherwise its too easy to guess who did the damage. And thats bad because…well I’m sure its bad. They won’t have as much fun. Yes. Nevermind they might have different taste about what is important and/or fun.

  33. um and uh Says:

    Confidential to Vanessa: Facebook and Twitter? I’m liable to ignore you, too, and I’m not hardly sought after. I guarantee you that he has office hours and that showing up to them is the best way to get his attention.

  34. Harvey Sarles Says:

    As you and many others thought about the emerging (new ideas of the) University, we are in a very changing moment. To report on and analyze our experience in the University, is interesting perhaps, but it doesn’t much help to shape future possibilities.
    More useful, perhaps, is my experience in the context of my course (U. of Mn. Cultural Studies & Comp. Lit. – “On Human Nature” in which we read (critically) Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” which doesn’t really bother to include women as a full half of the human. In addition, we read NYT Science Writer, Natalie Angier’s -“Woman”. The men in the class were astounded about how women are, and how little we really know about what it means to be “woman.”
    So: never mind what it “has taken” to succeed in the University which you and I know only too well, but to attempt to create “A Vision: the Idea of a University in the Present Age.” – I think my “Vision” is very timely, and demands that we rethink the nature of a University is these emerging global…moments – rather than all looking at other Universities and judging ourselves in some vaguely competitive ways: the 3rd best public research university (U. of Mn’s proud boast).
    To think out, to inspire the University, knowledge, meaning shall involve us all…together. Till we meet again…on our websites minding as we meander.

  35. Kevin Conner Says:

    Inspiring words, from the author and the peanut gallery. Thanks, everyone.

    Reflecting on this post, I thought of recommending it to some friends of mine who are big on feminism and women’s studies. To keep them from getting a bad impression, I planned to excuse the title “A Rant About Women” as just an attention-grabbing device. But, that’s part of the message, isn’t it? 🙂

  36. Britta Riley Says:

    Maybe women just assign a higher value to social capital than guys do.

    That might make sense of why, conversely, we are indeed less inclined to make asses of ourselves for money.

    We’ve certainly got more highly attuned douchebag radar. And self-promotion for the sake of self-promotion is the very definition of douchebaggery.

    In eschewing the socially risky, but (arguably) financially rewarding strategy of self-aggrandizement, maybe we are making the more prudent calculations in a slightly broader endgame.

    Where success could be said to involve some accumulation of power, fame, money and happiness in varying relative quantities:

    1) Women generally make less money than guys- FACT
    2) Men outnumber women in positions of power in our country- FACT
    3) More famous ITP grads are male than female- probably a FACT

    Are these all tragedies? In my estimation, only #2. Being famous is not clearly a win. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass. I would rather make less money but do something I love and not have to run around tooting my own horn all the time, frankly.

    I do think we need more women in power. We need to learn what a powerful decision-making woman should look like again. Hillary makes me cringe because I often get the sense she’s a self-promoter for self-promotion’s sake. She does not ooze “I’m on an awesome mission” to me.

    I would like to see more boldness from women in the sense of asking for what we want, rather than bitching about not having it. I do think there are more opportunities to promote oneself with dignity– it just needs to be inside a larger goal, as someone mentioned above. (And I was very sad to read the woman’s estimation that women in India do not have a sense of direction in life).

    Early on in my journalism career, I was assigned to a lower position than I expected and I was very well aware needed to stand up for myself. In the private moments planning what I would do, I realized that it is all about making proposals, not about being pushy or aggressively promoting/defending myself. I didn’t want to be “recognized” per se; I wanted to be doing the stuff you get to do when you are recognized. I marched into the editor’s office focused on my proposal. The proposal provided a context in which I was absolutely comfortable speaking of my capabilities. It worked so smoothly. Not only did I get what I asked for and feel respected, I was offered the more interesting, challenging stories before anyone else. I vowed to myself I would be a good proposer. I think it has served me well in similar situations.

  37. Michelle Haimoff Says:

    From my blog, genfem.com:

    My college boyfriend and I were in the same economics statistics class. Our entire grade consisted of the midterm and the final. The day we got the midterm back I was sure that I had failed it. I was a wreck. There was no way I was going to be able to pass the class with the final alone. When I asked my boyfriend how he thought he did, he said he thought he had done fine. He was relaxed. He rubbed my back and told me I’d be okay. When we got the test back we had gotten the same grade.

    I learned something about men that day. Perhaps they have a greater sense of denial, but they’re also less likely to go to the place of self-doubt and insecurity where we women feel so comfortable.

    Clay Shirky recently wrote a blog entry called “A Rant About Women” in which he argues that women don’t act enough like self-aggrandizing jerks. Much of what he says is true. It is not difficult to imagine how differently my college boyfriend and I would have interviewed for the same job that year. He would have emphasized his skills (whether or not they actually existed), I would have toned mine down. He would have gotten the job and I would have gotten a “We’ll let you know.”

    But Shirky fails to see that gender-based behavioral differences are something that men and women learn. Shirky mentions that “we live in a world where women are discriminated against,” and that’s as far as he takes it. Shirky isn’t a women so he doesn’t know what it’s like to live in a world where the male pronoun is the default pronoun, where ads for household cleaning products always feature women (because it’s not like men are gonna scrub the toilets) and ads for financial services always feature a man’s authoritative voice (because finances are a serious matter).

    Shirky also doesn’t know women’s individual stories. That, for example, one of the teachers at my private New York City high school told me I’d never be an “A” student. That another told a group of boys that I was “stacked.” Can you imagine if one of Shirky’s female teachers told a group of girls in his class that he had a “nice package”? And Shirky so internalizing the messages around him of men as sex objects that the comment didn’t even seem out of line??

    Sexism, subtle and profound, doesn’t end in high school, of course. One of my extended family members is a powerful attorney in his field. He often and loudly says things like, “The most important thing for a man is his career. The most important thing for a woman is her looks.” When this is the attitude of the head partner at a major law firm (and I would imagine at a lot of major law firms, investment banks, movie studios and other boys’ clubs), I have to wonder if the problem can be simplified to women not raising their hands enough, as Shirky implies.

    When I got an A in a an “Economics of Less Developed Countries” class at Georgetown and my female professor told me she thought I should pursue a Masters in Economics, I laughed. When she tried to convince me I was good at it, I assured her that I wasn’t. I was realistic. I was unassuming. I had learned my limitations early.

    I’ve been trying to unlearn them ever since.

  38. Celia Pearce Says:

    Well I’m going to write an e-mail to clay because I doubt he will read these comments, but here’s my two cents. Although I agree that women should be stronger about their skills and value (not necessarily disingenuous), what Clay fails to realize is that women who do the stuff he is recommending get skewered. If you try to stand up for yourself, or even another person of gender, what happens is that you get branded as “pushy,” “a problem,” etc. I can’t tell you how many jobs I’ve been in where behavior that would be considered “normal” by mean is considered “overbearing” by women. There is a double-standard that pervades, so even if women follow this advice, they are not going to get the same results as their male colleagues.

  39. Andres Says:

    I am not pushy, and find self-promotion of the kind described by Clay tremendously off-putting. I am very suspicious of people telling me how good they are at something.

    Then again, I am not “successful” in the sense advocated by the piece, so what do I know?

  40. nancy d Says:

    I see nothing wrong in writing a glowing recommendation for myself if someone asks me to write it and I don’t really know anyone who would find that either annoying or gender based.
    It is 2010, right?? And you are talking about business, right?

  41. Kelly Watson Says:

    Sorry, one more thing … Laura is right. There are a bunch of scientific studies done on how self-promotion and good leadership skills can negatively impact people’s perception of women. So it’s not just that women are afraid to demonstrate these traits. In some cases, they may be acting in self-preservation.

    Going against the stereotype may help end this cycle. But it’s somewhat counter-intuitive to sacrifice your own success because you might (or might not) impact future generations of women.

    That’s probably a horrible thing to say on MLK Jr. day, but it’s true.

  42. bd Says:

    wait … what?

    you ask me “can you do X?”

    and I say “yes I can”, even if I may not be qualified for it.

    and in the end I actually achieve X.

    well, what’s the problem then? I did X.

  43. Kelly Watson Says:

    I found this post kind of refreshing. Then I read the blog post below and thought, yeah, well maybe what Clay’s ranting about is a GOOD thing …


  44. Mark Says:

    I teach a required survey course in history, so I don’t see students much past their freshman year. I also haven’t noticed a stark gender imbalance in terms of classroom contributions. If anything, I get more women who are doing the reading. On the other hand, My grader last semester pointed out the refusal to be definite in some of the reading quizzes she was grading, and these answers inevitably came from women. I have also noticed some women using the subjunctive mood in blue book essays, when this mode wasn’t even necessary.

  45. Trevor Dart Says:

    Actually, it is even simpler:

  46. What an arrogant bitch! | Naughty Domination Thinking Says:

    […] A Rant About Women « Clay Shirky […]

  47. Denise Oliver Says:

    I’m reminded of a quote by the late Texas feminist “Sissy” Farenthold – “We will have a achieved equality when mediocre women are as successful as mediocre men.”

  48. meep Says:

    Oh, and I am an excellent draftsman. Seriously.

    Well, I was pretty good in middle school. I did awesome 3d projections and perspective drawings – 2-pt or 3-pt perspective….

  49. meep Says:

    There are plenty of female liars/cons [little or big].

    I did something similar to Clay’s story – I was doing volunteer work at a hospital where they had us folding brochures by hand [yay]. I heard one of the secretaries complaining about having to make an org chart in Aldus Pagemaker [on a Mac… this was in 1990, btw], and I piped up and said I could do it. She asked me if I knew Pagemaker, and I said yes [it was the first I had ever heard of it… but come on, it was on a Mac. Even then, they were easy to deal with.] In any case, the next day I was designing the brochures other volunteers would be folding. It was pretty cool.

    Maybe the difference is when women lie generally we’re better at it. So you never even realize we’re lying… heh.

  50. seyruun Says:

    If I look at the matter from a less extreme point of view I think you do have a point there. It’s not even about lying and about being a jerk, it’s about believing enough in that you can do things you’re not entirely sure of yet and be prepared to convey this believe to others (missing the fact you’re not too sure of it).
    As my English teacher said: “Don’t run yourselves down, ladies, others will do it for you.”

    Thanks for an interesting post.
    -sey, female, 21, student of physics (no gender troubles there yet)

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