Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Arrogance Is A Ballroom Dance, Part 2

Part 2, because I wrote on this topic earlier. Noni Mausa sent me a related post on the topic. A snippet or two from it:

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.


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.

Some in the comments to the quoted post did point out that women who act like self-aggrandizing jerks don't get a pat on the back but a kick in the backside, more often than not, and studies have shown this to be true. So the act of being a jerk might not pay as well for women as it still seems to pay for men.

This does NOT mean that women shouldn't go through their recent acts of self-promotion (or the lack of those) to see how they can do more. After all, when we use fairly objective standards of achievement women do well. It's in the subjective standards that the problems arise, though of course any sexist responses are there, too.

This post and my earlier post are both linked to the invisibility of women, something I wrote about in my Why-Feminism-Is-Still-Needed series. I see that invisibility all over the Internet, in various odd forms. I don't think that just yelling loudly "Hey! I'm here, too!" will work as the total answer but it's a start.