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. Ned Kumar Says:

    Getting offensive and defensive about it is not going to help anyone’s interest. A better approach would be to take the core extract from Clay’s piece (and discard the ‘rants’) and plan ahead.

    My response to the gender debate on Venessa’s blog – http://bit.ly/6pn8eu

  2. Open Thread: ‘Sexy Girls,’ Smart Women & Tech | Tech News Today Says:

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  3. Open Thread: ‘Sexy Girls,’ Smart Women & Tech | Family Learning Center Says:

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

  4. Celia Pearce Says:

    I would like to second this emotion:

    “Women don’t need to behave any differently than they do. Its men who need to give up the grip on status auctioning.”

  5. Open Thread: Sexy Girls, Smart Women & Tech - www.Korallenkacke.com Says:

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

  6. Roland Hendrickson Says:

    Rating: 5 / 5″

  7. sleepydumpling Says:

    I think the point you are missing Mr Shirky is that women are not ALLOWED to behave like that. If we do, we’re labelled as aggressive and our behaviour is ridiculed, exposed, demeaned. If the fellas do it, it’s ballsy, gutsy, risk taking. MASSIVE double standard.

    We don’t need you to explain to us what we should be doing, because you’re an oh-so-authoritative man. We’re all very well aware of what men get away with in Western society that women cannot.

    Women are not stupid creatures, unaware of the double standards and the behaviours of men. We’re hyper aware of what happens to us when we behave like men. Most of us would rather not follow your advice as we’re not willing to wear the consequences of how men treat us when we do.

  8. Open Thread: “Sexy Girls,” Smart Women & Tech - www.Korallenkacke.com Says:

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

  9. steev hise Says:

    It’s interesting that there’s this valorisation of risktaking, in light of the recent New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell about how, contrary to popular wisdom, the successful entrepreneurs are the ones that follow the sure thing, not the ones that take the biggest risks.

  10. Melody Says:

    This rant made me laugh out loud. You may be too young to remember the hoopla over comedian Rosanne Barr’s manish behavior…yes, to prove a point but by behaving just like a man (okay a baseball playing man) she grabbed her crotch and spit as part of her routine. The antics nearly destroyed her career. People were outrageously offended (too stupid to realize the point she was trying to make). Not even a comedian can get away with behaving like a man for God’s sake! Okay, extreme, but point made. Yes, woman should learn to feel a little more comfortable with puffing themselves up in order to get the job they want, and know that taking that “risk” could land them the job or not and hey, that’s the outcome whether they “sell” themselves or not right? Rejection? Ah, who cares. I’ll be thinking about this article on my next job interview but come to think of it every interview success I’ve had was because I really didn’t care about getting the job and was a lot more relaxed. Not to the point of being an arrogant blow hard but I had a light-hearted attitude when speaking of my skills and experience…and okay, bluffed the rest of it. Being crass is one thing, being confident is quite another. We don’t have to act like men to get the jobs we are qualified for. If you end up trying to act like a man, in an interview or on the job, you could jeopardizing your chances of ever working again!

  11. Robert Says:

    I think that the author as well as a lot of commentators miss something very important: In fact the rant is about sales! Selling yourself! There are thousands of books out there about how to sell something and another thousands about selling yourself.

    And to all who blame the society not giving the women what they earn – think about capitalism and sales and some things might get much clearer instead of shouting on the bad bad males.

  12. Susie Manning Says:

    Sadly, you generalize to your detriment…

  13. Fiona Says:

    This was spot on, and funny. I’m surprised it’s getting people so angry. Personally I have had better luck getting jobs/what I want by being submissive, docile, and modest. But the people who hire me/give me what I want often end up being especially domineering, controlling, and…arrogant. Perhaps if I try your advice (within reason), that will change.

  14. Ricky Says:

    As a person who is both assertive and female, I often get called a “bitch” by others (mostly men) at my job. The same people who call me a “bitch” will then suggest that my more docile female co-workers become “more aggressive.” How about we just cut out gender roles and stereotypes and treat all genders equally?

  15. anon Says:

    gee, I hope your next column is about how people of color should just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”!

  16. Elise Says:

    “I’m not concerned that women don’t engage in enough building of self-confidence or self-esteem. ”

    You should be. This is what we hear growing up: be pretty, but once you’re too pretty, no one will like you because they’re all jealous. Be smart, but not too smart, or you’ll get bullied. Boys are the brave ones, boys are the strong ones, you just sit there and don’t worry your little head about what you can do, because you won’t be worth anything if you can’t trap a man to provide for you. Be graceful. Don’t make waves. Don’t stand up for yourself because that’ll cause trouble and good girls don’t cause trouble. Why are you so loud, are you some kind of bitch? Why are you mad, you must be on the rag, you just sit over there while those of us with heads on our shoulders work it all out.

    And then you sit there smugly wondering why girls don’t put themselves forward? Don’t blame women for what they’ve been told day in and day out there whole lives. Blame the people telling them. Oh, but that means taking a look at yourself, and at people like you, doesn’t it. God forbid it’s *men* with the problem.

    “…until women have role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead…”

    168 women in America were incarcerated during the suffrage movement. Rosa Parks. Emily Davison. 32 Iranian women protesting unfair treatment in Tehran. Countless women, around the world, too many to list, arrested monthly, weekly, daily, for daring to defy the status quo. Or are they not enough of a role model for you? Do they not count as having changed the world?

    Do you honestly see nothing wrong with a system where traits that men are lauded for and women are scorned for are necessary to get ahead? Talk about not caring all you want, but when arrogant women are called bitches and sluts, when seeing proud women debased is a core theme in the pornography industry, when strong female athletes are posed cutely and sexily in pictures while their male counterparts are allowed to be strong because it’s only okay for women to be strong if they’re also appealing to men, otherwise you gotta be some kinda dyke or something– when this is what we see day in and day out on TV and in the news and on the streets and in the movies– don’t be surprised when we find it a little hard not to care what people think.

    You make me disgusted to attend the same university you teach at.

  17. tina Says:

    i love simple solutions. but the complexities of being a female go far beyond asserting ourselves to enter the circle of arrogant assholes. how about we learn to reward intelligence, action, risk, empathy, and encouragement instead of the loudest cock in the room?

    discriminators need to be more discriminating. but with a different lens.
    otherwise, we’re just loud ass americans…

  18. How to Be A Woman in a Man’s World « emergent by design Says:

    […] few days ago, NYU professor and media researcher Clay Shirky wrote a post titled A Rant About Women, which has ruffled some feathers and sparked a lot of commentary in response. Here’s a few […]

  19. Marlena Connor Says:

    Bravo Clay! I could not agree more with what you are saying. More women need to stop apologizing, standing in the shadows, and not taking credit. I see it happen every single day. Anyone who denies this is happening has their head in the sand, or is a brash, credit-taker female themselves who is offended to hear someone say that there are too many shrinking violets out there because they fail to see it.

  20. Sarah Arrow Says:

    Gosh, do really need a role model to teach them to lie and con?

    What about Kate Austen in Lost? is she not good enough?

    I know she’s fictitious but the other likely real live role models are just too discreet! 😉

  21. Soy un yuyo » A rant about women Says:

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  22. Rant says ‘Women need to be more assertive’… Orly? « MAVENity Says:

    […] 21 01 2010 So last week, NYU professor/writer Clay Shirky posted on his blog a rant about women, about how women — citing his female students in particular — need to be more assertive […]

  23. Susan Says:

    I didn’t read this as a criticism of women. I read it as an observation that is accurate. That’s not to say that all a woman has to do is be more assertive and she’ll have more opportunities. Both Exhausted and Amanda are right on point with their comments.

  24. Hilary Sutcliffe Says:

    Clay, you are totally right, and this reminder has come just at the right time! I have already added a few noughts to my business plan.

    I am considered assertive, but actually not quite enough to pull off my fundraising in a big way. Thinking just a little bit too small, not quite taking big enough risks in case people think ‘who does she think she is’. Just not daring to ask the big people for the big money.

    On the other hand a bloke I know is breathtaking in asking for £50m for his organisation while I feel £500k is pushing my luck. What’s shocking is he is likely to get it.

    As you see, I’m a Brit and my world is not quite as dog eat dog as some of your commenters. But do agree that macho crp is pretty transparent these days in most workplaces and misplaced bullst leaves us all with poor quality employees and a poor job done. But know that is not the point of your article.

    Anyway, personally I am inspired! Thanks!

  25. Amy Blankenship Says:

    I think that one thing that is missing here is that women are often punished for assertiveness in ways that men are not. It’s a _much_ bigger risk to take a controversial position if you’re a woman than if you’re a man, whether that position concerns your own work or something else.

    Case in point http://www.insideria.com/2010/01/what-have-we-forgotten-about-u.html#comments

  26. Meadester Says:

    “… not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.”

    Really? Have you been in a coma for the last 40 years?

    Also, I agree with what John Cowan said – fraud is never a net benefit to society.

  27. P Says:

    Over the last 10 years I’ve employed about 100 people I’d say, interviewed countless more and read the CVs of thousands… I work in technology, so I just don’t get 50-50 male/female applicants or successful candidates, but I’d say I’ve probably averaged about 30% female which isn’t bad in the UK web development arena.

    Over that time I’ve come to realise that the reason women do not get paid more than men is they simply don’t ask for as much as men. It’s that simple.

    I’ve found it rare for men to accept a job without haggling for a salary, yet I’ve actually had a couple of situations where I’ve offered a female candidate a salary /higher/ than she’s asked for because I thought she was seriously undervaluing herself. But on average, if you don’t ask you don’t get, and unfortunately most pay rises happen when people either talk about quitting if you don’t give them a raise, or they do quit and aim for a higher paid job.

    If women had the balls (literally or figuratively) to ask for more, they’d probably get it… I really wish they would.

  28. john Says:

    this is surprising and frankly disappointing and i agree with Amanda here. You are essentially suggesting women should adopt some of the most unpleasant characteristics of human behaviour (not just male, but certainly prevalent in male behaviour), instead of asking questions about how we shape the type of business culture and society where gender (or race, or socio-economic background) increasingly become irrelevant, ie by dismantling the institutionalised behaviours that make this acceptable through example.

    You could have quite simply sent back the student’s self-aggrandising email and said, ‘sorry you need to re-write this or I won’t do it.’ That would have been a good start.

  29. Denise Says:

    It’s very clever to title this “A Rant About Women” to get a lot of hits and disguise it as friendly new school “advice,” to offset cries of sexism. But this is the same old, same old. “Women! Act like men to succeed! If you still don’t succeed, it’s not our fault even though we run everything! And ps., keep changing all the diapers and buying all the groceries! Thanks!”

    Men being arrogant _is_ sexism and it’s awfully arrogant of you to assume that when women do “act like men” that we would get the same reaction. I’m very glad your scientist friend got some attention. But you must know that such anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove anything.

  30. Gaston Says:

    This is the ‘enlighten’ observation of academia?

    Men are aggressive in nature by nature for a reason. Overly aggressive men are overly aggressive to everyone around them there’s no real bias in it. Sure they may use any weakness demonstrated by an individual and at times, create them if they don’t exist.

    But to suggest that men alone are capable of misrepresenting themselves? Women are far more subtle about it that it escapes the attention of most. How many men have the option of getting married solely to drop out of the workforce while their spouse provides for them?

  31. eva Says:

    I think alot of women are (still) concerned about being labelled a bitch. When you are manipulative to further your owns needs, exaggerate your skills or are competitive, assertive, direct… you will be branded a BITCH. I dont think there’s anything wrong with self-aggrandizement and self-interested tactics. It’s a dirty world, and sometimes you gotta play dirty. Viva la Bitch!

  32. Margaret Says:

    I think this article is great and really on target. Part of what I do in my consulting business, Illumin.biz, is shed light on my clients (women) expertise and value, helping them “own it” so they can earn it.
    So much of this is cultural and deep rooted.

    One of the best ways for women for women to feel comfortable about bragging aka, “owning it” is to get clear on what “it” is. That is, their expertise and value. Perhaps it’s because women are multi-faceted and multi-taskers. They do a lot well so don’t really see how any of it stands out. When it comes to career and business, however, it’s important to identify the expertise that stands out and walk the walk so you earn more. Women need to let go of the need to have all the answers first and focus more on our ability to find the answers. Afterall, we are solutions providers and well, that’s worth paying for!

  33. Emily Says:

    Imho this argument is basically the female equivalent to the “nice guys finish last” stereotype. With about the same amount of validity.

    As far as I’m considered the solution to discrimination should not include further discrimination. Like statements that boil down to “most (read: all) men are jerks”. As long as we are discussing character traits as a function of gonosomal configuration, we are part of the problem, not the solution.

  34. Why women don’t get ahead « CowPuppy Ranch Says:

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  35. Suzanne Lainson Says:

    I call it the bullshit factor and I caught on after about 10 years of listening to men talk up ideas that I knew were going to fail and did fail. It took me another 20 years to get up the nerve to call them on it.

    Now that we are talking so much about “authenticity,” I’m hoping people who depend on hype to get themselves ahead when they have no chance of delivering are going to get called on it. Stuff like this may still go on in offices, but at least with semi-public figures if you claim to be able to do what you can’t do, you will be dissected in a blog somewhere. I’m hoping that will keep people a bit more honest.

  36. Atkins Says:

    First you state that the problem is this:
    “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.”

    Then you write :
    “It’s tempting to imagine that women could be forceful and self-confident without being arrogant or jerky, but that’s a false hope…”

    And then you come to:
    “…to expose yourself to all kinds of negative judgments, and … 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.”
    So now the problem is that women can’t take negative judgments? I can’t follow you here.
    “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.”
    So because there are jerks, let everyone become jerks?
    “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.”
    “Some of the reason these strategies succeed is because we live in a world where women are discriminated against.”(…)” This isn’t because of oppression, it’s because of freedom.”
    What exactly are you saying here? It’s nonsense!
    “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.”
    How is this related to being an arrogant jerk?
    “…because self-promotion is tied to other characteristics needed for success.”
    Yes, but those characteristics can and do exist without being a self promoting jerk.
    “That’s not a different type of behavior, it’s just a different amount.” It is a different type of a behaviour. Lying is not the behaviour, why you lie is. Also this isn’t being an arrogant jerk, this is lying on purpose. Women can’t do that?
    Two points:
    1.Self promotion and being an arrogant jerk can be used together, but aren’t the same thing. Self promotion is quite limited by at least 2 factors:
    -the industry you are working in
    -the fact that HR people aren’t as stupid as you probably think

    2.You base what you say on your experience and that is ok, but in mine, while guys can be arrogant jerks, women can be manipulative bitches (which is less obvious, hence less recognized).

  37. Female ad creative Says:

    Thank you Clay for having the guts to address this topic. Most men in advertising just avoid the subject all together (in Australia at least). Or just deny that there is any gender inequality in the creative department. Yeah, so it’s all down to talent, right?

    I was a very precocious and go-getting junior copywriter, absolutely sure of my destiny to become famous in 5 years. I was a top student and I’d already won international recognition in advertising. I never questioned myself.

    Until a male account executive put in a formal complaint to my male Creative Director about my being ‘arrogant’. I was trying to convince him to sell an ad and was never rude or arrogant. Strangely, he did not put in a complaint about my male art director.

    My boss laughed at it, but throughout my now 10 year career, I have constantly been shot down by men who I challenged or even slightly showed up. Some men have been really nasty.

    I was reminded to stay in my box, be a ‘team player’ and wait my turn. I’d have to wait in line to earn my cockiness.

    Well, it seems that I am still waiting, because I have watched my male counterparts be promoted and am now watching younger men promoted ahead of me.

    I have lost all my cockiness, but not my passion for creating the best work possible. I try to satisfy my workmates’ giant male egos just to get the work through. Men in advertising only find cockiness cute in 20 year old women. After that, and you’re ‘difficult’ and ‘too emotional’. I am planning to leave advertising for good as my ambitious energy is turning to bitterness.

    I taught advertising for a while and I was very pleased to see that over half of the top students were female. Where are they now?

    I agree that women have to be go-getters, but companies need to address this issue and support them or the boys will continue to trip them up.

    This only results in a valuable talent drain in creative advertising.

  38. Linea Says:

    You have a great point. At my last performance review, my director told me I was too aggressive (something that would shock my colleagues in the academic world where that type of behaviour is more encouraged). But I was also the person he promoted as his manager.

    I try to encourage all the women who work for me to own their space. (And that also includes not interrupting others…another sign of low self-esteem in my mind.)

  39. ryang Says:

    I don’t see how this is much different than Richard Cohen’s recent op-ed for the Washington Post (“Why Is There No Female Tiger Woods?”, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2009/12/why_is_there_no_female_tiger_w.html), in which he argued that women don’t have it in their nature, biologically, “to conquer, to prevail–to succeed,” and gave similarly short shrift to the effects of discrimination against women on the ability of women to succeed in male-dominated arenas.

    Although I think Shirky’s heart is in the right place, I think he’s greatly underestimated the extent of discrimination in our culture against women who behave in the way he suggests–and has also underestimated the extent to which the fact that self-aggrandizing boobs are successful is a flaw in our culture that maybe should itself be changed, rather than requiring women to change to accommodate it.

  40. Jara Hoffman Says:

    gr8 article bro…

  41. designswarm thoughts » Blog Archive » Commenting back: a response to “A rant about women” Says:

    […] as much as I can to avoid the subject of women, gender equality and tech in this blog for years but this was an invitation I simply could not refuse. I’m also writing this down running out of time and needing to pack a suitcase, so this […]

  42. Eva Says:

    I had to force myself to finish this “thing” and stop multiple times to take deep breaths.
    I’m fed up with “the world” advising women to become more like men, implying that men are better and EVERYBODY would, naturally, clearly and obviously, want to be better…
    Was this supposed to be a demonstration of an “arrogant self-aggrandizing jerk” ?
    Is this post a practical joke?

    Brings to mind “Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.”
    First of all, the criteria in which women loose in competition with men are “male” criteria anyway. The corporate world, academia and economics are set up by men and for men. Yeah, if women want to be successful in those fields (as they exist today) they would benefit from acting more like men.

    But how about changing the game? Playing on home turf? Doing what you are good at?
    A woman will never be AS good AS a man at making ballsy decisions and spewing testosterone. Because she is NOT A MAN!

    When will we (as a society) stop judging women by male standards?

    I’ll play a bit of a biological determinist here, but if women were high risk-takers, humanity would not exist. Our ability to nurture and put another’s needs before our own makes raising a baby possible. Our capacity to maintain relationships and compromise and look out for the best solution for EVERYbody is what makes society possible.

    So, yes, we need to ask for what we want, but what we want is to be women and demand respect for what we bring to the equation. We are an integral part of life. Ever heard of yin and yang?

    Sounds like you are saying: What is more IMPORTANT, the chicken or the egg? and suggesting that the answer is: egg.

  43. 1701gal Says:

    Amanda, I think you miss the point entirely. Calm the frack down.

    I think we would all love to eradicate sexism, but girl that is not going to happen anytime soon, and i don’t think you could ever erase it completely. We’re talking about centuries of gender roles – behaviors and perspectives rooted in the most basic elements of our culture and ingrained in our modern society.

    What would be a laudable and achievable goal would be to tackle intentional sexism and eradicate that. (Or to stop women from being so g.d. mean to one another all the time.) But gender dynamics are a much subtler thing, and often go unnoticed, although both genders perpetuate them.

    When it comes to business culture, men build the playing field, so to speak. That cannot be changed. If the girls want to play, they need to step up to the plate and learn how to bat. They won’t get anywhere by telling the men to pitch it underhand. And maybe, just maybe, if enough women hit the fastballs and score some runs, they can work with the men to change the game. But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

  44. Amanda Says:

    “Some of the reason these strategies succeed is because we live in a world where women are discriminated against.”

    Correction: ALL of the reasons are because of discrimination.

    Oh, but let me congratulate you on being “so brave” for tackling yet another thing about women that is just so wrong, so completely wrong. (Ugh, women are SUCH problems! Am I right?)

    Also, if you would like recommendations for “what to do about this problem,” here’s some! Tackle the ROOT causes for sexism in our society, by not criticizing women for not overcoming hurdles specifically brought down by men, by encouraging women to talk about themselves, and by advising men to not be huge assholes all the time.

  45. Exhausted Says:

    I’m glad that others have pointed out the problem with Shirky’s simplistic suggestion that women just need to be more assertive and aggressive. Women have to fight twice as hard as men just to be on the same footing with them, and being assertive about it is usually more harmful than helpful.

    I work in a field dominated by men, as many women do, and am pretty successful at what I do and receive a lot of praise and respect for it.

    Nonetheless, I have a line of men behind me who would love to take my job from me and who have, at times, been quite blatant about showing me this. Some of them are straight out of college with no experience and little talent who get by on nothing more than a forceful sense of entitlement, like Shirky’s student.

    I also work with male colleagues — not all of them, but some — who see nothing wrong with stealing work projects from me that they want for themselves or taking credit for work that I do when it gets outside attention. And they get help to do this, both from other managers and from peers.

    There’s a woman at our organization, for example, who is in charge of media interviews and who is more than happy to put a male peer in front of reporters to discuss my work rather than allow me to do interviews to discuss my own efforts. Why does she do this? Because that’s what is expected. She and others apparently believe the world wants to hear a man deliver expertise on a topic rather than a woman.

    When I’ve been assertive and suggested that because I did the work and know the topic best I should do the interview, I get remarks from the men that I’m not being a team player or that I’m being egotistical and thinking of myself instead of what’s best for the organization or the work.

    It’s an effective tactic, because who wants to be considered egotistical and a team outsider? It puts me in my place and allows the men to get what they want.

    Their point is that I’m making an issue about something they would never make an issue about. Except the problem is that they would never be put in the position I’m put in. No one in our organization would try to take a project from them or take credit for their work, because they simply don’t do this to other men in the office.

    So the message to women in the workplace is: you should expect to get less because you’re a woman, and you should also remain stoic about it or risk negative consequences and reactions.

    That’s a tough message to fight when it’s so pervasive.

  46. MW Says:

    I think that maybe Clay doesn’t know enough female opera singers.

  47. Tery Spataro Says:

    Clay’s basically saying man up girls. He’s not against or why would take the time to give us a few pointers. Admit it we have a tendency undersell and we don’t credit each other. We allow emotions to cloud judgement and objectivity.

    Good for you Clay for getting the conversation started too bad it wasn’t one of us.

  48. Shooting at Bubbles - Note to womankind: Please do not become arrogant assholes like men Says:

    […] Shirky set off a bit of a firestorm when he had a minor rant about women. A lot of folks have had their say about it. For the most part I was going to let it slide by but […]

  49. John Cowan Says:

    I think it’s pretty unlikely that Bill Warfel couldn’t see through your lies, but it was a learning situation, not an employment one.

    Let’s put it in the third person and pretend it was a job. Shirky lies to his prospective boss, Warfel, about his skills. Warfel sees through the lie but hires him anyway — why? Well, he can probably underpay Shirky or overwork him or both, and he knows that Shirky dare not complain for fear of the truth coming out and being fired. Their common employer, Consolidated Widgets, is the one who really suffers. If it were run rationally, it would fire Shirky already for incompetence — and fire Warfel for malfeasance. It’s probably not run rationally, but by other people who have been the beneficiaries of this kind of crooked deal, so nothing happens. Meanwhile, some actually competent draftsman doesn’t get the job, so he also suffers.

    Shirky eventually parlays this situation into a high-flying career in widget-making. It’s irrelevant that he might have been able to get there otherwise — he didn’t, just as it’s irrelevant that someone who makes a fortune by embezzling could have done so by honest toil. Net social welfare goes down.

    Back to you, the real Shirky. Do you teach your students that they should be prepared, in order to get an A in your classes, to plagiarize just enough that you can still get away with letting them get away with it? If not, why not? It would certainly contribute the short-term success of both parties in crime.

  50. Anne McCrossan Says:

    Clay, not caring about the reaction is not an option. The water line between the initiatives that people actually want to contribute to, the interesting problems to solve where people are motivated to play a part, and the pontificating land of me-central is high enough already.

    There’s a whole load of hidden opinion below sea level that’s had enough of that old record. Sure there’s a lot of noise out there in cyberspace but that old male cheat-beating sterotype doesn’t wash, it’s stone age and leaves me cold.

    Just because an opinion it isn’t vocalised does not mean it doesn’t exist. What you’re advocating is a characteristic of the kind of bullshit fluff and bluster management that many people want to buy out of by getting involved in social media simply because they want something more egalitarian and more nurturing, female traits that we’d do well to remember as having a place.

    It’s just about ok to have to tolerate some jerk in a community who thinks the world revolves around them without having to stomach the fact that someone like you is saying they shouldn’t care about the oversized footprints they’re making. It’s marketing fascism and I would have thought you could countenance evolving beyond that just a little.

    The arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks who are behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives and pompous blowhards are wannabe little Napoleon empire builders. They might have changed a 1.0 world but they’re seriously annoying anyone who’s looking to create a better one collaboratively.

    The insights we need know are not going to come from pontificating arseholes. They’re going to come at least in part from deep listening, from people that can develop the potential in others generatively, that can encourage others to step up to the plate and from new kinds of presencing.

    Otto C. Sharmer’s doing some great work on this with Theory U at MIT, check it out http://www.presencing.com/presencing-theoryu/. He gets the fact that the more transactional we become digitally the more scope there is for the counterbalance, for deeper and richer relationships, new insights, and the kind of formative experiences that only come from people who actually care about a common good that’s bigger than their own ego. Those are the people with the biggest and most dangerous blind spots. I can’t help but wonder from your post whether that includes you.

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