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More evidence that assertive women are perceived as abrasive?
August 28, 2014 5:29 PM   Subscribe

"The abrasiveness trap: High-achieving men and women are described differently in reviews" A study of 248 performance reviews of 180 people found that women received a much higher ratio of critical feedback than men. Moreover, the reviews of women were much more likely to contain criticisms of their personalities in addition to constructive criticism. According to the article: "This kind of negative personality criticism—watch your tone! step back! stop being so judgmental!—shows up twice in the 83 critical reviews received by men. It shows up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women."
posted by jazzbaby (35 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
*Tries to look surprised*
posted by bearwife at 5:35 PM on August 28 [22 favorites]


From the article: "Abrasive" alone is used 17 times to describe 13 different women. Among these words, only "aggressive" shows up in men’s reviews at all. It shows up three times, twice with an exhortation to be more of it.

Oh, I'm sure those women are just reading too much into it. {/}
posted by scody at 5:38 PM on August 28 [22 favorites]


This is a call to action to bring the same rigor to the review language itself.

The language of the review or the discomfort with women being aggressive, stepping up, etc.?

I am so, so afraid of this perception I'm constantly second-guessing myself, even when I have legit concerns I never know if I should voice them or be more protective of how I'm perceived. I have this half-kidding/half-not fantasy of turning into one of those historical women who wore men's clothes and passed as a dude. Then I could do whatever I wanted, apparently. The shit dudes get away with is unbelievable in comparison.
posted by bleep at 5:44 PM on August 28 [15 favorites]


I prefer "terrifying," myself.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:58 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Everyone should adopt the New England model, where 'assertive' is a milder synonym of 'asshole,' regardless of gender.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:59 PM on August 28 [5 favorites]


Ugh. I've been in situations where, if I brought up issues at work, or let people from various departments know when something they've done has hampered me in doing my job, I needed to walk a fine line, else I heard through the grapevine that someone though I was abrasive and SASSY. I actually caught a guy at a job I had in mid neck-roll standing behind me once while I was letting a co-worker know that by not communicating with me, now there was a problem with the client on a project. Darn tootin', I told my boss, and she called him in and let him have it for being racist and sexist. Unfortunately, I heard through the grapevine that my boss was too bossy, and I thought "Huh?" She WAS the boss, though. Of our whole department.

I've never rolled my neck in my life; moreover, I get teased by my black friends for being a female Carlton. Even if I were to roll my neck in indignation and in giving someone a tongue-lashing, well, so what? The whole idea that women have to always be agreeable, kind, and express themselves in gentle ways has got to stop. I don't know how to make it stop and it's frustrating. It's all a form of abuse, in my mind, to force perpetual docility from a sentient being.

I feel as though, at this point, everyone actually does know better, everyone actually knows that the BS stereotypes they operate under and express through things like performance reviews and so on is wrong, but they're too lazy to examine their actions and their "beliefs". They're too attached to whatever advantage they have over others, so they continue to act on these stereotype and beliefs.
posted by droplet at 6:21 PM on August 28 [23 favorites]


Since I have pretty decent job security, I try to be extra "abrasive" and "shrill" on behalf of the women who have to put up with horseshit like this on the job:

“Sometimes you need to step back to let others shine.”

Uh huh, step back and shine this.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:33 PM on August 28 [25 favorites]


This is a huge issue that my partner has been dealing with her entire working life, and it is incredibly hard to get senior male administrators to even acknowledge that it could be a possible issue in some cases in some slight ways, much less the serious thing that it is.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:35 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


I have a good friend who is dealing with this problem. I sent this to her earlier today, and now I kind of regret it, because it's just made her hurt and furious all over again. And I hate to say it, but the "abrasive" comments are not mostly coming from male supervisors. They're coming from female supervisors who really ought to know better but who still hold her to a different standard than they do men.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:42 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]


Serious question, what is Neck-Rolling?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:02 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]


I've been the highest-ranking woman at work for the last four jobs, and fifteen years. (HR, of course. Mostly manufacturing and construction.) I have been told I lack tact. And I DO definitely speak my truth, even to a room of ten guys all older than me.
I'm a lesbian. I wonder if the fact that I'm kinda butch or at least not femme, and certainly fall outside of whatever het/cisgender paradigm people have, gives me a pass to be more assertive? Even, occasionally, abrasive?
That said: YES TO THIS, generally. I see this "bossy/aggressive/abrasive" BS pulled on women all the time, and call it out every time. As we all should.
posted by pomegranate at 7:05 PM on August 28 [8 favorites]


I also enjoy "firespewing Hellbeast."
posted by louche mustachio at 8:36 PM on August 28


Neck roll: Black Girl Stereotype
posted by jaguar at 8:37 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


More proof that the myth of capitalist meritocracy is a deluded fantasy if something this stupid regularly prevents businesses from figuring out who their best employees are.
posted by straight at 8:48 PM on August 28 [9 favorites]


People need to get over this and women need to continue being aggressive when they feel like it until it is the new normal.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:43 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


women need to continue being aggressive when they feel like it until it is the new normal.

At the price of keeping their jobs? Getting promoted? There's a reason women tend to pull into themselves, and it's not because we're genetically programmed to be docile. It's often a logical, rational choice to conform for people in an oppressed class, and it's unfair the put the burden back on them to put themselves at risk to fix the oppressive class's faulty beliefs.
posted by jaguar at 9:56 PM on August 28 [33 favorites]


This kind of thing is why I act sweet and girly. If I don't, people complain.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:50 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


People need to get over this, and men need to call it out whenever they see it happening in order to HELP people get over it.
posted by KathrynT at 11:29 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


You can be as pleasantly assertive as you want but many men will still see it as necessary to win in a disagreement with a woman to maintain their own self confidence. At the very least they won't concede defeat. Lots of silly "well we can do it that way if you want" compromises ensue.

This is only a problem for me if it's someone I actually like and want to maintain a good relationship. Which is, y'know, most of the people I work with. Or my Dad. Or someone I'm dating.

It's actually easier if you have a reputation for being a hardass. Then the men you work with and like and get along with don't get so hurt in the feels when you disagree with them. But, as we all learned from The Sopranos, its tiring maintaining that kind of rep. It's a dilemma.
posted by fshgrl at 11:53 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]


I'm a woman in IT and I've never been called too assertive.

Maybe that means I'm a pushover. :(
posted by Xany at 12:58 AM on August 29


I'm a woman in IT and I've never been called too assertive.

Me neither, it's phrased differently: "fraula, you're very direct."
In response I smile, continue holding eye contact, nod, and say, "yes."

What also works, in meetings, is raising my voice (assertively, not shouting, just talking louder, y'know kind of the bombastic thing) and saying "are we here to criticize personalities or are we here to get work done?" (it helps that I'm known for getting shit done and doing it well...)

Sometimes it's roundabout, too. Recently dealt with a team taking over work for which they didn't have skills, and whaddya know, they tried asking me, by email, to do it for them. I reminded them it was their responsibility. Two weeks later: "fraula wasn't very nice! It would have been NICE if she had done what we asked her to do!"
Me: "I'm not here to be nice, I'm here to do my job. Can you give a date for delivery of your work?" (no, they couldn't. and no one ever asks any of my male team members to be "nice".)
posted by fraula at 1:07 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]


Maybe the women in the study just had a case of Bitchy Resting Face
posted by Perko at 2:37 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]


women need to continue being aggressive when they feel like it until it is the new normal.

I have complicated feelings about this. I wish I thought it was that simple. But quite often I find myself toning down and trying to strike that complicated balance of pushing for what I think is right for the particular thing at issue but also trying to be nice and sweet enough so that I can both win my point and also continue to function effectively with the (usually) majority male group that are involved. It doesn't feel great, but it's what seems necessary to get the job done. It is sometimes really tiring.... And, of course, I'm socialized to "be nice" anyway, so many times I do it without conscious effort. Ugh.
posted by Cocodrillo at 3:37 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


I understand that the article is talking about certain behaviors being labelled abrasive for women when they're considered acceptable for men, but this also feels like the Overton Window of human relations. Because the dominant culture (however you might label it) is aggressive and confrontational, everyone is dragged into aggressive or confrontational behaviors.

Within this culture, it seems harder to develop the means for consensus building or collaboration (and I say that as someone who really doesn't know how to do that either but personally feels the damage done as I try to undo my habitual brute behaviors). I'd love to figure out how to shift our culture to accepting a greater range of expression from women when it comes to directness and voice while also allowing a greater range of expression for men when it comes to patient listening (instead of leap into action!). Gee, maybe the latter would allow the former and the former the latter, what a nice chicken-and-egg problem.
posted by kokaku at 4:08 AM on August 29 [7 favorites]


I work for a conservative company in a conservative part of the country. I am from Philadelphia and was raised by feminists (my father has always been my biggest supporter). I recently went to headquarters for a week long training seminar and ran into....differences of opinion with several of my male coworkers.

My boss, who is female, brushed it off as "Suffocating Kitty has a very 'east coast' personality" which is now my favorite euphemism for being assertive and opinionated, regardless of whatever connotation for which she was hoping.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 5:24 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


If I am abrasive, it means I have true grit and that is the best way of getting rid of the dirt around me...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 5:38 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]


My boss, who is female, brushed it off as "Suffocating Kitty has a very 'east coast' personality" which is now my favorite euphemism for being assertive and opinionated, regardless of whatever connotation for which she was hoping.

I work in the rural west, and I frequently hear a pushy or abrasive person (or just someone who talks fast*) described as "east coast" or "kind of a city person," and it's not meant as a compliment. Often the person being talked about is neither east coast nor urban (and often the person saying that has never spent time in either the east coast or a major city), but everyone has seen enough sitcoms to know exactly what is being described.

* Good, productive discussions here require providing a lot of conversational spaces for the other person to reflect before responding, which was very much not my experience when I lived on the east coast. This is true even in business/professional settings, but is multiplied many times over when talking with ranchers and large landowners. I'm pretty mellow already, but I have to consciously dial my pace way down for those conversations.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:03 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]


I understand that the article is talking about certain behaviors being labelled abrasive for women when they're considered acceptable for men, but this also feels like the Overton Window of human relations. Because the dominant culture (however you might label it) is aggressive and confrontational, everyone is dragged into aggressive or confrontational behaviors.

That's not at all the case in my field (academic humanities). It is not a competitive, "cowboyish" aggro environment at all, just one where everyone has a certain level of autonomy and self-possession and a strong voice. But women with those qualities are often regarded as pushy, domineering, or the latest code phrase: "not inclusive enough."

I head a few committees and do some admin duties that require me to coordinate or direct colleagues or lead a team project. I have a male coworker (who likes to tell everyone constantly what a big feminist he is) with similar responsibilities in another area that sometimes overlaps with mine. He commandeers my and other people's meetings for his stuff and substitutes his judgment for everyone else's and habitually does end runs around me and other women in authority, with complete impunity, but anytime I assert myself in my own areas of responsibility and mildly impinge on his ability to enjoy the sound of his own voice, I'm "not being inclusive." So basically, if I don't bend over backwards like a freakin' Olympic gymnast to accommodate him, he makes sure I'm regarded as a problem child who doesn't play nicely with others.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:12 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]


My whole life, I've occasionally been told that I scare people with my demeanor; I remember this most from high school, but I've run into it after as well.

Which confused me profoundly, as I am the biggest weenie and pretty shy. I am not what I think of as "assertive", which I associate with self-confident, extroverted, and demanding.

So I have to assume that it has little to do with how I act and everything to do with how I am perceived. I don't simper or flatter (well, I try not to), I talk about serious things, and I question assumptions (not all the time, but habitually), and for a woman, that's all you have to do to scare some folks.

I don't think I am considered "abrasive" but if I were someone's boss, that might change. I would take that role pretty seriously and would not take it well if people weren't doing their job.

I do know that it discomforts the (many) older men in my company when I refuse to hang back and let them open doors if I happen to be walking ahead of them already. That probably means they think I have "east coast" attitudes (I am stealing that) and am "one of those feminists."
posted by emjaybee at 7:33 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


I'm probably not going to be popular with my opinion. I agree that men and women are different and treated as such in their reviews. However, in working w/ women bosses, I will say that indeed they were abrasive, bitchy, emotional, passive/aggressive, there to prove a point, and just plain ridiculous. Men, it was ver black and white. Either they were complete assholes up front or they were fine. I don't know why it was that way but it was that way. VP level too. Ours is ALWAYS in a political battle and territorial battle with someone. If she doesn't like you, then your ass is grass. The male VPs? You never hear about their personality, them being difficult, them not liking so and so and now the whole strategy has shifted because they are in a pissing match with the other VP.

Perhaps those I was managed by need to get over the "proving a point" behavior and just do what is in the best interest of the work--not them.
posted by stormpooper at 8:22 AM on August 29


stormpooper, an anecdote about your unhappy work experience with female bosses doesn't exactly equal a data point. Nor does it even have anything to do with the article, except that you perceived them as bitchy. I wasn't there, so I don't know - but maybe they weren't and the problem was you.
posted by agregoli at 9:41 AM on August 29 [16 favorites]


Stormpooper, I've had those and other insults thrown at me. Bad night, not enough sleep, and I'm too quiet in a meeting? Passive-aggressive. Being directive to my team? Bitchy, has to have it her own way. I've had male supervisees challenge my competence even though I have been consistently correct in my assertions. They literally don't believe their own ears. I think you have a serious case of confirmation bias.
posted by theora55 at 10:59 AM on August 29 [6 favorites]


However, in working w/ women bosses, I will say that indeed they were abrasive, bitchy, emotional, passive/aggressive, there to prove a point, and just plain ridiculous. [...] The male VPs? You never hear about their personality, them being difficult, them not liking so and so

You kind of just proved the whole point of the article, and you need to realize that your assumptions and inferences are very much at play here.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:00 AM on August 29 [22 favorites]


And I hate to say it, but the "abrasive" comments are not mostly coming from male supervisors. They're coming from female supervisors who really ought to know better but who still hold her to a different standard than they do men.

Queen Bee Syndrome.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 3:20 AM on August 30


Oh for fuck's sake. There aren't terms invented for particularly bitchy male bosses. What a bunch of baloney.
posted by agregoli at 7:00 AM on August 30 [3 favorites]


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