It’s not that I’m a whiner. But, well, today has found my panties in an unmitigated bunch. Why? NYU prof Clay Shirky’s recent blog post, entitled “A Rant About Women.” Though the title is plenty irksome in its own right, it’s the content that truly grates. In it, unsurprisingly, we find yet another instance of a man telling women-as-a-whole, “You know what your problem is?”
And in this instance, our problem, ladies, is that:
Not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.
…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.
Maybe not, Mr. Jerky. I mean Shirky. And, you have some points. I mean, we’re still underpaid and underrepresented–and perhaps our reluctance to demand that pay and representation is partly to blame. But it sure is convenient how you don’t mention that we’re not socialized to behave in such an esteemed, douchebaggy sort of way. Or how, when we do summon our inner “pompous blowhard”, not only are we not rewarded for it, we are, in fact, judged, smacked down, even when our male counterparts engaged in the same sort of douchebaggery might be, as Shirky himself suggests, rewarded for their efforts. (Given all this, it’s a wonder more of us don’t approach every encounter with guns blazing.)
Naturally, the blogosphere was a-blazing. (Something about the cover of anonymity, perhaps?) Among the noteworthy commentary, this pithy response from Alice Bradley to a related post on the blog finslippy:
Can you see how it might chafe to have a man… tell us ladies how to behave? I’m not saying his points are all completely out of left field, but do you see how infuriating it might be, while everything around us tells women to behave and shut up and look pretty and be thin and not complain, how every time we speak up we’re knocked down, for a guy to say, ‘Hey, you know what you women should do? You should speak up!”
Well, first: Alice Bradley, can we please be friends? And secondly, if my best hope for success is to act like men at their most pompous, self-aggrandizing worst, well, someone please, show me the way to the ashram. Don’t get me wrong–yes, women are taught to be sweet, nice, accommodating. We’re ripped apart when we behave too boldly, we’re judged unfairly. We don’t ask for raises and promotions like we should. But isn’t there a little bit of a leap involved here? In getting from “stand up for yourself” to “the only way you’re going to get anywhere in this life is by acting like a jackass”? And maybe, maybe, could a little part of why we’re disinclined to act that way might have a little to do with how… gross jackasses are? Frankly, I’d be perfectly content to spend the remainder of my days cultivating other parts of my personality–and I don’t see myself withering on my deathbed, wishing I would have done more to develop my hubris.
Or, as Jezebel’s Anna North wrote:
This ‘change-yourself-to-fit-in’ advice has been given to pretty much every marginalized group over the years, and it sticks around because, for some individual people, it works. But those people still have to work within the existing power structure. The harpy/diva/bitch archetype isn’t going to go away because a few women are allowed to sneak around it, and the culture of rewarding self-promotion above other qualities isn’t going to become fair for everyone just because a few women manage to share the pie. Those who are marginalized by a system are often those best able to see its flaws, and teaching those people just to work around their marginalization is a great way to keep them quiet, and to keep anything from ever changing. Let’s not fall for it.
Let’s not, shall we? Don’t get me wrong, if you–at your truest, deepest you–are a self-aggrandizing, pompous blowhard, then goddammit, you go! You blow hard and long, sister. But, the thing is, I just wonder why the same standards we apply all over the rest of our lives don’t apply here. Which is to say, when was the last time you advised someone that their surest route to success was to try to appear to be something that they are not? Shirky, your advice is noted. But I think a wiser, more interesting rant might have a little more to do with when honesty and talent might become surer tickets to success than arrogance. Until then, you can find me at the ashram.