Join 3,558 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.
January 16, 2010 9:02 AM   Subscribe

A great Rant About Women by Clay Shirky: (Women) "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."

The conversation in comments is also very enlightening, like Caterina Fake's "it takes a certain willingness to be hated to do what you describe. Being hated actually takes a lot of effort, and can be tiring." and Shirky's take on redesigning women's invitations to conferences.
posted by bru (167 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
My favorite part is when the man defines what women's best interests are!

okay okay I'll go read it....
posted by jessamyn at 9:08 AM on January 16, 2010 [35 favorites]


I wish this essay was about asking men in the tech community not to be such blowhard assholes instead of the opposite, though I understand his core story of overstating his talents at just the right time in his development was important and people should learn the rare self-preservation techniques to know when to pull such a stunt, saying overall that more people should be brash bragging assholes rubs me the wrong way.
posted by mathowie at 9:08 AM on January 16, 2010 [19 favorites]


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.


Yes! The nerve of a student acting like a PR department! It's almost like they think the process of hiring involves promoting... oneself... uh. Anyway, yeah, WOMEN! tell me about it!
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:08 AM on January 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


I foresee great things for this thread.

I liked the comment that said, "Winning isn't everything. In fact, it's hardly something."
posted by Countess Elena at 9:10 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


(by the way, I saw that the whole essay is actually saying "oh you should do this" but it strikes me as so mind-glaringly obvious and taught in every school everywhere that the fact he wrote an essay about it, and tried to make a big gender commentary, it is laughable.)
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:10 AM on January 16, 2010


"...until women have role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead..."

Lost me here. Anyone willing to risk incarceration to get ahead isn't someone who should be a role model.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:15 AM on January 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


if one must read about how to better position oneself, if one has been graced in life with woman's body, then Harriet Rubin's Princessa has valuable perspective
posted by infini at 9:15 AM on January 16, 2010


I'm surprised that otherwise intelligent seeming people find Shirky worthy of praise.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:15 AM on January 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


If anyone else is in the tl;dr camp, you can skip to the end which is a lot more ... normal-sounded than the hot-headed pullquote in the post
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.
In the rarified air of tech punditry people seem to be able to get away with saying hotheaded things that they have no idea how to seriously address and act like it's a thought experiment and not a deeply entrenched social problem that people have been working on for millennia. Arrogance works out okay for individuals, some individuals. There is also value to being non-arrogant and working for your community as a whole. Both genders do both of these things, by the way.

As Shirky himself accedes in his lengthy follow-up comment, a woman acting arrogant and aggressive is enduring different social costs than a man doing the same thing, on average, and this is not an insignificant details for many people (speaking for myself, the hate mail I get here is very very different from the hate mail mathowie and cortex get). Just getting to go to a cool conference or have a cool job isn't the end-all be all in life.
posted by jessamyn at 9:16 AM on January 16, 2010 [73 favorites]


Here is my anecdotal experience of people who do not act according to your generalizations.
Here is my refutation of Shirky's credentials, or a comment on how he misses the point and why.
Here is my example of why his rant/article is good thing.
Here is my statement on why these things are ultimately never in someone's best interest...
Here is my comment on an old boys network.
Here is my comment on changing times.
Here is my witty comment on the subject matter.

Ok... now that I've listed several over-generalized metafilter comments, does anyone have any new over-generalized metafilter comments on these comments, or some generalized refutations of the generalized comments I've made. We can probably make a lot of generalized statements about generalized statements and be generally on topic.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:16 AM on January 16, 2010 [12 favorites]


...until women have role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead...

Martha Stewart, Sheila Dixon, Monica Conyers, Tonya Harding...

Oh, right, we're speaking about WOMEN and not any actual women.
posted by billysumday at 9:17 AM on January 16, 2010 [10 favorites]


The advice for women to be more like men is nothing new.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:17 AM on January 16, 2010 [11 favorites]


I hate arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.
posted by philip-random at 9:17 AM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


"There is no upper limit to the risks men are willing to take in order to succeed." Wow, I'm a woman. Who knew.
posted by crazylegs at 9:20 AM on January 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Clay Shirky seems pretty damn smart, to me. He was one of the few who took away the correct lesson from the #amazonfail Twitter debacle, before people started to realize how wrong they were, let alone admit it. This article seems no less insightful than the writer himself.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:20 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


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

...

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.

...

Not caring works surprisingly well.

So, if I'm reading this correctly, the author thinks that the world would be a better place if more of us, especially women, act like criminals, liars, and sociopaths.

Please excuse me from this thread. If you need me, I'll be in a corner weeping softly and despairing for humanity.
posted by TBAcceptor at 9:23 AM on January 16, 2010 [17 favorites]


I suspect there's a grain of truth here, but this is a massive generalization. I've met many conceited women. And I, a male, suffer from the "women" problem. It's really, really hard for me to blow my own horn.

I don't think I suffer from low-self esteem. I think I suffer from seeing myself as a complex being (with good points and flaws), from having a hard time lying or simplifying, and from getting easily bored (and embarrassed) by discussions of what I'm good at.

I am a better programmer than some people I know, but am I an AWESOME programmer? Even if I was better than everyone I know, I still wouldn't think I was awesome. Because I'm SO aware of the many ways I need to improve. I almost never dwell on things I'm good at, because that's boring. What can I say about those things? It's much more interesting and productive to talk about what I'm bad at. My boss will say, "How are things going with the slide-show app?" I'll reply, "Well, it's done and it works according to the client spec, but there were so many things I could have done better. Next time, I'm going to have to organize the code better, and I'd like to optimize it so that it's less of a resource hog..."

This continually gets me into trouble. We'll have some meeting at work, and we'll be assessing our progress on a project. When it's my turn to speak, I'll briefly describe the things I've finished and done well (briefly, because what is there to say?) and then, at length, I'll discuss the things I haven't yet finished, the things I botched, the things I need to get better at, and why I think I fucked up the things that I fucked up. It always seems to me that it's important to talk about fuck ups, because how else will you improve?

But no one else seems to do this. And when I describe myself as sucking at stuff, other people tend to pile on. I don't know if I become a scapegoat or what. In any case, I should know by now that this is a bad practice, but it's very hard to quit. It's so ingrained in how I view the world and myself. And, in general, it helps be work better.
posted by grumblebee at 9:24 AM on January 16, 2010 [52 favorites]


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.

Regardless of gender, this is some solid advice right here, especially in any field that could be described as creative.

And while I'm sure any of us could brainstorm a list of exceptions to the rule (Leona Helmsley, Oprah Winfrey, Tyra Banks . . .), the truth - irrefutable to my mind, and a constant worry as the father of a wonderful, highly assertive little girl who at the moment lists her preferred career choices as astronaut, jedi knight, gymnast and Spiderman - is that in the aggregate girls are socialized in a million ways big and small to be modest, passive, demure, to use feminine charms over bluster and naked force, etc., etc. It comes to them from the classes they attend, the peer groups they join, the mass media, the well-meaning neighbour or daycare worker characterizing their behaviour as bossy or pushy instead forceful and courageous. And and and.

And much as I wish I had some magic spell that'd reverse many generations of socializing and a certain amount of natural testosterone-driven aggression to teach boys to tone it down, I tend to agree with Shirky that the most effective route to righting this balance is to teach girls to tone it up.
posted by gompa at 9:27 AM on January 16, 2010 [18 favorites]


Here is my anecdotal experience of people who do not act according to your generalizations.

and

Here is my comment on changing times.

I teach teenage artists. I see no difference between girls and boys in their manifestations of self-aggrandizement. Is this changing culture or is this an age-related phenomenon which will disappear when they become college students? I don't know.
posted by kozad at 9:30 AM on January 16, 2010


Ridiculous.

I'd define pompous narcissism very much along the lines of the sort of person who takes a single incident and extrapolates that to the behavior of an entire gender.

The piece had the happy upshot of reminding me of why I left academia.
posted by mrdaneri at 9:30 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The article was much less mansplainy and much more thoughtful than I was expecting, which was a pleasant surprise, however much I tend to disagree with the message. Do we really need pointed advice to foment these tendencies? There's a rather specific term for people who lack conscience and empathy and who use charisma and manipulation to get what they want. (Ok, two terms, if you count "politician".)

speaking for myself, the hate mail I get here is very very different from the hate mail mathowie and cortex get

Sorry for the derail, but I love the idea of you guys comparing hate mail. I assume it's mostly reactionary hate mail rather than random rants and crazycakes?

posted by elizardbits at 9:30 AM on January 16, 2010


...leaves only two strategies for not suffering from those judgments: not doing anything, or not caring about the reaction.

I don't get this "advice." It's like saying "if you want to fool the lie detector, believe everything you say." If I just robbed a bank, how the fuck am I supposed to believe that I didn't?
posted by grumblebee at 9:33 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a woman, I found the article very interesting based on my own experiences. I tend to downplay my skills and accomplishments. It's not that I lack confidence in my skills, but rather I don't want to come off as cocky. I have to wonder in interviews and general career advancement, how often that's hurt me especially when directly competing with male peers.

Even more interestingly, I now work in a department of mostly women, and my accomplishments are more noticed and appreciated than more male or gender-balanced work environments. Perhaps because the other women do the same thing so there is no one walking around being a pompous, self promoting blowhard? Of course it could be other things, but it is an interesting idea to consider.

If my case is true, then perhaps the problem is not more self-aggrandizing behavior from women, but more women in positions making decisions? But how do they get there without becoming the pompous blowhards that would run the benefit of that system?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:34 AM on January 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


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

Is this article about happiness and self-fulfillment or about "changing the world"?

If its the latter...who cares? That only Jerks go into history books is an old adage.

If its the former, then this is all wrong. Self-aggrandizement and aggression is the road to sociopathy and loneliness.
posted by vacapinta at 9:34 AM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've dealt with that "Am I coming on too strong/sounding too arrogant?" feeling in some business situations. Of course when women do act more self-promoting, boisterous, aggressive it doesn't go to well.
I remember the thread on interracial dating and how a few guys confessed to perceiving black women as more (or too) independent and tough. Personally, I think black women are less obsessed with "being nice" and worrying about weight which if you think about it, both things deal with being humble, less noticeable, and submissive. This is good and it is not surprising the number of black female owned businesses are growing faster than aany other group. Also the first black millionaire was Madam CJ Walker.

I have tried in vain to see if people can be more specific about which traits are turn offs in the professional and personal world when women do it but no luck.

Smart men in their business and personal lives aren't seriously turned off by someone with a well-paying and high status job, own house, or hobbies, right? Yikes.
posted by Freecola at 9:35 AM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know much about this Shirky fellow, maybe he's an expert on being an arrogant self-aggrandizing jerk and this is good advice.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:35 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, if I'm reading this correctly, the author thinks that the world would be a better place if more of us, especially women, act like criminals, liars, and sociopaths.

Not really, he's speaking about how an individual person can improve her own prospects by selectively acting this way. "The world" being better or worse off because a talented person pursued an opportunity by maybe exaggerating or overselling herself isn't addressed.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:36 AM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


My wife and I talk about this alot. This is what we've concluded. The problem is not that women "can't do X," it's that men regularly do "X," where "X" is something marginally civil, in bad taste, or involving a good degree self-delusion. An additional problem is that "we" put up with it.

I do believe the victim is being blamed here. Guys, just cut that shit out.
posted by MarshallPoe at 9:36 AM on January 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


woman acting arrogant and aggressive

Shirky's essay is OK, brings up some good points, but, as he admits, he doesn't know the solution.

I struggle(d) often with when and if I need to cross the line into being perceived as, let's face it, a bitch. In discussing "being more aggressive" with one of my great managers, he said "Lilly the word you are looking for is assertive, not arrogant" and I'd add "confident, not arrogant" to that. I have held that comment near and dear to me every day since. I've spent almost 20 years working in the software industry, often being the only woman in the room, and I know from a lot of experience and feedback that if I show any negative emotions, I will cross the line to "bitch" a lot sooner than a guy will cross the line to "asshole."

I believe and have observed that women can and have been successful not by having to be jerks, but by behaving with confidence, assertiveness, and respect. I recommend "Women Don't Ask" as a resource for women to learn and remember that it is not only OK to ask for things, but that it is a must for advancement. If you're sitting in your cube wondering why you're not getting invited to the right meetings, given the cool projects, or promoted, and you haven't asked anyone for it, read that book.

If you're a man wondering how to help women succeed, you should read it too. Here's a N.Y Times article by one of the authors.
posted by girlhacker at 9:38 AM on January 16, 2010 [15 favorites]


I have found in life that to be truly successful in your chosen profession, you must

1) lie
2) lie
3) lie
4) blame others when your lies are exposed

On the surface, this sounds like a recipe for disaster, but this method is how our nation's wealthiest and most powerful leaders have made themselves that way.

The truth is, everyone is incompetent. All this successful Type-A suit-and-tie bullshit is just a drag show for the cameras. Shit, things only get done in life because brainless man-children in suits say "Let's try X" (where X is some ridiculously stupid, doomed undertaking), and then blaming some woman, minority or Beta Male when X inevitably goes horribly wrong, or taking all the praise upon themselves in the exceedingly rare instance that it kinda sorta goes right.

It sounds like middle-management, doesn't it? It should, because all those Dilbert comic strips about middle-management are actually complex metaphors for American capitalism and gender/race relations. Or so I tell myself.
posted by Avenger at 9:40 AM on January 16, 2010 [19 favorites]


...as he admits, he doesn't know the solution.

How about Good Management?

Management isn't about sitting around and waiting for your various minions to promote themselves. It's about getting into the trenches with them and seeing what they're doing. If, as a manager, my main way of evaluating a team member is via their self reports, I should fire myself. It's not that self-reports aren't important. But they shouldn't be the main source of data.

If Jennifer never volunteers to do risky stuff, should I, as a manager, just throw up my hands and say, "Oh well..."? What's wrong with talking to Jennifer about it? "Hey, Jennifer. You're really good with math. How come you didn't volunteer to work on that account?" "Because I didn't think I'd do it as well as Mike." "Well, why don't you give it a try?"

Management is about working with people. People skills are the most important tools a manager should have. Anyone with people skills knows that you approach each person as an individual, noting that person's strengths, weaknesses and personality traits.

It's about making sure your team is strong, efficient, growing and happy. You shouldn't expect all team members to be self promoters. If they're not, YOU need to promote them.

So I agree that victims are being blamed. But I don't think the bad guys are the arrogant men -- though I wish they were less arrogant, because arrogance is distasteful. The bad guys are the managers who let squeaky wheels get all the grease. Absolutely unacceptable management fail!
posted by grumblebee at 9:49 AM on January 16, 2010 [33 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I've heard this song before.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:49 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, if I'm reading this correctly, the author thinks that the world would be a better place if more of us, especially women, act like criminals, liars, and sociopaths.

I got more or less the same read which, in light of the thus far agreeable tone of the commentary, leaves me in a quandary. Is there something serious I've missed in my thirty years or so of "professional life" by generally not pursuing the BIG DEAL corporate realm, some generalized pathology that's so widespread there that it's become The Norm?

Yes, I read the papers, saw the Enron movie, followed the rise and fall of the Bush Administration etc but I've always believed that these squalid criminals caught in the spotlight were exceptions, not the rule.

Please do educate me before I dig out my old Rolodex and start looking up my old Al Qaeda connections.



(finally sentence is intended as hyperbolic satire and should not in any way be interpreted as advocacy of actual terrorist activity)
posted by philip-random at 9:50 AM on January 16, 2010


I wonder if Shirky is familiar with Women Don't Ask, a book about womens' career salary losses due to failing to negotiate for their first job (and it was actually written by women! women with degrees! and book deals! guess we're not so helpless after all).

It's a long time since I read it, but as I remember it covered some of the same ground.
posted by Monsters at 9:52 AM on January 16, 2010


I think it's fair to say that this is reasonable advice for a lot of the more introverted people of either sex. I'm a man doing a PhD at an Ivy League school. I am not really what you'd call outspoken, but I definitely recognize that many of the most successful people around here--again of either sex--tend to be those who are both intelligent and, for lack of a better word, a bit pushy. (Whether this characterization is fair is another issue entirely. I think introverted people tend to conflate any grossly extroverted behaviour with arrogance.) The point is, when you're in a sea of similarly qualified and talented people, it's the ones who yell the loudest who are going to have the greatest impact.
posted by dubitoergosum at 9:55 AM on January 16, 2010


The bad guys are the managers who let squeaky wheels get all the grease. Absolutely unacceptable management fail!

Agreed. It's a two way street though. I've been helped very much by great managers who provided encouragement and opportunities. But poor management is a common problem in certain high tech companies (*cough*) where men get promoted for being technical, not for being good managers. Women do need to learn to look for resources to help themselves, manage up, and network.
posted by girlhacker at 9:56 AM on January 16, 2010


Well at least he's consistent. Don't have the experience, training, or sensitivity to write about complex gender issues? Just fake it till you make it?

That being said this feels like an over think on his part of having written a better recommendation letter for a male student when there were similarly qualified female students. Sort of armchair sociology as exoneration.
posted by edbles at 9:59 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


"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."


Okay, as someone who has taught college students, mentored interns, and has been asked to write recommendations in the past, he lost me right there. I truthfully did not assume the self-aggrandizing was coming from a male student.

Also, this?
"I’m worried about something much simpler: not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.

Feature, not a bug.
posted by stagewhisper at 10:01 AM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anyone interested in this topic should read this book.

"The curse of the Good Girl erodes girls' ability to know, express, and manage a complete range of feelings. It expects girls to be selfless, limiting the expression of their needs. It requires modesty, depriving the permission to articulate their strengths and goals. It diminishes assertive body language, quieting voices and weakening handshakes. It touches all areas of girls' lives and follows many into adulthood, limiting their personal and professional potential."
posted by jfwlucy at 10:02 AM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Be more assertive." Got it. I'll add that to my to-do list.
posted by limeonaire at 10:05 AM on January 16, 2010


Next up : Rant About Negroes.
posted by Neiltupper at 10:06 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


A great Rant About Women

I knew this was going to be chock-full of insightful commentary as soon as I read those five words.
posted by grouse at 10:07 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


1) lie
2) lie
3) lie
4) blame others when your lies are exposed


I don't know how much of this is a problem in other fields, but I find that, as a programmer, there's CONSTANT pressure for me to lie. I almost never give in, but I suffer for it. And on forums for programmers, my peers encourage each other to lie.

It's very, very hard to write good code (code that works, is optimized AND is readable), especially when you're under a tight deadline. Yet managers continually ask me to assess my code. If I'm honest about its flaws, that generally doesn't go down well. What the managers really want are happy tales to tell THEIR management. They want me to lie so they can lie. But Being A Good Liar wasn't in my job description. If it was, I never would have applied for the job.

Coding, like any highly-intellectual work, is exhausting. There's some "housekeeping" stuff that I can do in my sleep, but the really rigorous stuff, the complex debugging and creative problem solving, I can maybe do for three or four hours before my brain burns out and needs down time. But I can't start work at 9am and quit at 1pm. I have to "look busy."

Originally, I thought that I was just worse at brain work than most people. But I've discovered that many good programmers have the same problem. They solve it by lying. They tell their bosses that projects will take longer than they'd actually take if those projects were being worked on full time. Then they spend half the day secretly surfing the web or whatever. They tell each other to lie about how much time they're actually spending writing code, and I guess it's good survival advice. But I can't do it.
posted by grumblebee at 10:09 AM on January 16, 2010 [15 favorites]


Well-intentioned as it may be, this essay is a perfect example of mansplaining. As soon as I saw this article, I knew that I'd heard a great new term for this kind of thing, but I didn't recall it until now.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:10 AM on January 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


I agree, Countess Elena, but can we please banish the word "mansplaining" from our kingdom? I'd never heard it before, and it made me a bit nauseous.
posted by grumblebee at 10:15 AM on January 16, 2010


Thinking about this a bit more, perhaps the differences could also be due to (and I am only speaking for myself here) many women being more attuned to, and therefore less impressed by, self-promoting bullshit from either gender. I find this type of bravado off-putting and it makes me suspicious of the actual skills behind the bluster. It's smarmy.

This is pure speculation on my part, but most women grow up having to constantly fend off those "self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards" at bus stops, street corners, in bars etc. and can spot that personality trait a mile away. It's unsurprising that fewer women than men would want to emulate this approach to life.
posted by stagewhisper at 10:18 AM on January 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


I don't really think this blog post is a very thorough dissection of the problem, but I also don't see why so many people are having such a huge a problem with the idea. I wouldn't call it "victim blaming" either, because I think it's true to some extent. Our society is set up to reward people who self promote. Which means that unless you're exceedingly luck and you have a habit of being in the right place at the right time a lot, you need to self promote in order to get ahead.

It seems like a lot of people are getting stuck on the part about lying and missing the bigger picture where he talks about risk taking. To me, that's the important message.

Incidentally, I'm a woman who has worked in some facet of IT or some tech-related fied for over 10 years. I spent the first 5 years of my career wondering why I was always being paid less than everyone else (aka the men, usually) when I was consistently cranking out much better work and getting things done faster than the people I worked with.

At some point the light came on and I realized that I needed to stop waiting for people to notice how good I was at my job. A lot of the reason I didn't speak up for myself was due to the fact that I was young and female, working with a male majority and so I felt that I really needed to prove myself. My first job was doing network support in a very "old boys" environment with a bunch of former mainframe guys who had been around for 30-ish years. Once I stopped being afraid to be wrong and stopped being afraid of getting called over for some minuscule detail, I started sticking my neck out more. Because I knew I could back myself up. After that, my career took off.

Not all of us have good managers who do things like grumblebee talked about, who would recognize our strengths and involve us in things we normally wouldn't try to do. It's probably statistically more likely that you are going to have to work for a poor or indifferent manager for a good portion of your career. So it would be doing myself a disservice to not self promote. Nobody is saying you have to be obnoxious or anti-social about it either. Just assertive.

I'm a freelancer now and I do mostly tech writing these days. A good deal of my work comes from me being able to do what Shirky is talking about in his post. I have to be able to pitch myself with confidence, "I am very good at my job. This is what I'm capable of doing for you. Here is how I can do it."

I had to develop this skill or my kid doesn't eat and our lights get shut off. Some of my work comes from referrals from past clients, but I've had to go out and get the majority of it by myself. It's forced me out of my comfort zone in a good way and I think I'm much more confident for having learned this skill.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 10:20 AM on January 16, 2010 [10 favorites]


This makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Somerset Maugham: we women would be lost if not for the overweaning vanity of men.
posted by Rubbstone at 10:22 AM on January 16, 2010


I agree, Countess Elena, but can we please banish the word "mansplaining" from our kingdom? I'd never heard it before, and it made me a bit nauseous.

Yes. It's just a thought-terminating cliche.
posted by dubitoergosum at 10:24 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


This makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Somerset Maugham: we women would be lost if not for the overweaning vanity of men.

Well, you'd certainly have less sunlight to bask in. ;)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:28 AM on January 16, 2010


Also, I am going to take the advice given in this article and lie through my teeth right now about how I never make any typos, ever.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 10:29 AM on January 16, 2010


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.”

If Clay Shirky simply wrote the recommendation as requested -- without trying to get the 'good former student' to do the work for him -- there'd be no need for this rant.

Oh -- and for women who need "role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead", don't miss The Girl Who Conned the Ivy League.
posted by grounded at 10:34 AM on January 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


It seems like a lot of people are getting stuck on the part about lying and missing the bigger picture where he talks about risk taking. To me, that's the important message.

Maybe, but then Shirky's a pretty awful writer because he drops that bit about NEEDING to overstate one's qualifications very early in his piece. I'd quote it precisely right now but we seem to have overwhelmed his servers.

If the issue truly is that women, in general, are not very good at communicating their willingness to take risks to improve their abilities in the workplace, then why not state it as such?

Again, maybe I just don't get it. Maybe the current corporate workplace is a place where only suckers bother to tell the truth.
posted by philip-random at 10:39 AM on January 16, 2010


"I’m worried about something much simpler: not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.

Feature, not a bug.


That's right, ladies, we love you for your demure, ladylike nature and wouldn't it be just awful if a few of you acted more like men. Err, no. The game may be distasteful, but women can play, too, if they like, and Shirky is point to how.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:39 AM on January 16, 2010


You want successful 'role models' among women in tech? Try Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman who have gone on to become Republican politicians running in California. No, on second thought, don't.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:39 AM on January 16, 2010


jessamyn: (speaking for myself, the hate mail I get here is very very different from the hate mail mathowie and cortex get)

All right, who remembers Metafilter comments vs. Youtube comments? Who wants to set up a similarly presented Men's hate mail vs Women's hate mail?
posted by Anything at 10:41 AM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request.

Please contact the server administrator, webmaster@shirky.com and inform them of the time the error occurred, and anything you might have done that may have caused the error


Anything I might have done. Oh, I see how it is with this mofo NOW, yes I DO.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:43 AM on January 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's a two way street though. I've been helped very much by great managers who provided encouragement and opportunities. But poor management is a common problem in certain high tech companies (*cough*) where men get promoted for being technical, not for being good managers. Women do need to learn to look for resources to help themselves, manage up, and network

Word word word. Perhaps girlhacker and I are cut from the same cloth, both being confident women in a male-dominated field, but she seems quite on the mark here. To act as if because managers should be better at identifying talent and promoting people that don't promote themselves and therefore introverted ladies and gents, no need to change anything! just feels so naive. I work very hard to find underpromoted talent in my groups and try to help promote those people, but it is a lot of fucking work and I'm not going to be able to catch everybody, because my full-time job isn't identifying your hidden potential and bringing it out. Part of putting yourself out there is also the matter of leaving your comfort zone and actually learning new things. If you are unwilling to do this at all, ever, are you really as valuable as someone with the same base level of ability that volunteers for something new and gains new skills as a result? No, you probably are not.

Managers are always going to prefer the equally-skilled self-promoter because they make the manager's job easy. It is easy to write a good review for someone whose self-review is detailed and glowing. It is easy to feel good about putting a person in front of a senior audience when you know that person is going to speak up and participate in the conversation. And human nature is always going to want to take the easier path, nine times out of ten. I think it is a shame that women are raised to be more meek than men, but in this case I think it is the women that need to get their head in the game. I really do wish that this worked as well in the more public sphere that bloggers and people like Jessamyn have to deal with, though. I don't blog or even bother to comment most places because of the casual dismissal of women, but I think that is a somewhat separate issue from that of the white-collar workplace.
posted by ch1x0r at 10:49 AM on January 16, 2010 [12 favorites]


marginally civil, in bad taste, or involving a good degree self-delusion.

Since when is self-delusion any kind of crime?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:55 AM on January 16, 2010


Threads like this tend to move in the direction of all sorts of artificial dichotomies.

"Men can act like assholes and get ahead, but if a woman acts like an asshole she's called a bitch." tends to come up either explicitly or in the subtext of a lot of comments.

I've seen assertive men and assertive women succeed in the workplace (generally it has been larger workplaces where a single sexist asshole on the wrong level of power can't dominate the entire corporate culture).

I've seen asshole men and asshole women succeed in the workplace as well. But I also know that the assholes of either gender don't garner any actual respect from the people they work with. Far from it, they're talked about behind their backs constantly. And yes, the "bitch" word is often used for the women. But the "asshole" word is used for the men.

There is a big, bright line between assertiveness and being an asshole, and it would do men and women well to pay attention to where that line is, and not fall prey to the "if I act like an asshole I'll succeed" mentality.

Places where being an asshole or a jerk or domineering brings promotions and advantages to the assholes are toxic workplaces for both genders.
posted by chimaera at 11:02 AM on January 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


As Shirky himself accedes in his lengthy follow-up comment, a woman acting arrogant and aggressive is enduring different social costs than a man doing the same thing, on average, and this is not an insignificant details for many people

Favoriting this so hard.

This was an interesting read. I'm not in IT, but I've noticed that I definitely shy away from...well, tooting my own horn, as it were.

I teach college students, and I once participated in a project that involved learning a little bit of educational theory in regard to middle schools. One thing I learned from some study or other was that it's important to not always call on the first student with their hand in the air. On average (and like all averages, this is a generalization and doesn't apply to all individuals), male students had a greater tendency to immediately throw their hand in the air and then think through their answer out loud when called on. Female students, on the other hand, had more of a tendency to want to think through their answer completely before committing themselves with a hand raise - which left them behind in the discussion if the instructor always went with the people who had their hands up immediately. Again, this is a generalization, but it reminded me to take a pause - maybe ask a follow-up question as clarification - before calling on students.

I'm this way myself - I want to be sure I have the right answer before I say something out loud. I also have a horror of giving the impression I don't know what I'm talking about. I know I have a tendency to underplay some of my accomplishments so that I never come across as that particular kind of asshole who knows a lot, lot less than they think they know. I have no idea how much of this is related to the fact that I'm a woman - or that I've been socialized as a woman (which aren't the same thing). I'm sure that at least part of it is a socialization issue - the horror of not being thought of as "nice". Luckily, age tends to mellow that tendency a bit - the older I get, the more comfortable I feel asserting what I know and not caring so much what other people think.

I'm not comfortable insisting that women as a whole should be more assertive and self-aggrandizing, comfortable looking like jerks to get ahead. When you have men in power (in business, in government, in academia), they tend to favor the kinds of attitudes that helped them get where they are - and so they look favorably on the particular kind of arrogance that the author describes. But why is this attitude "better"? When you cherish values that a (traditionally masculine) culture does, you get an unbalanced view. This would be true if we lived in a matriarchal culture instead of a patriarchal one.

And frankly, if the example of Hillary Clinton is anything to go by, there are still way too many people who see a blatant power-grab by a woman as something incredibly distasteful - and I'm a fan of hers, so I don't think she was a "jerk". The world isn't ready for women to act like this.
posted by Salieri at 11:04 AM on January 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


It is easy to feel good about putting a person in front of a senior audience when you know that person is going to speak up and participate in the conversation. And human nature is always going to want to take the easier path, nine times out of ten.

I'd like to expand on this, speaking from twenty years in marcom, advertising, marketing launch and strategy as well as Head of dept for students - admission to graduation for a graduate school that is not unheard of in Chicago:

You make me look good with what you do, I will promote you to the skies.
posted by infini at 11:09 AM on January 16, 2010


Now, can you guess the gender of the student involved? Of course you can.

No, I can't, actually. Maybe you could come right out and make your point in the first paragraph, instead of halfway into the essay.
posted by usonian at 11:20 AM on January 16, 2010


I teach teenage artists. I see no difference between girls and boys in their manifestations of self-aggrandizement. Is this changing culture or is this an age-related phenomenon which will disappear when they become college students? I don't know.

kozad, in my experience, they'll carry this confidence with them until they finish college, when they start working and start getting ground down by gender-based prejudice.

I work with graduate and post-graduates, most of whom work in academia. It's interesting to see that the graduate students and even some postdocs don't perceive gender discrimination to be a pressing issue and don't necessarily have any interest in women-specific networking and mentorship. When they are looking for a job and especially in their first junior faculty position, the scales fall from their eyes.
posted by desuetude at 11:28 AM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


A great Rant About Women by Clay Shirky: (Women) "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."
Right, because women aren't human. Apparently. Sheesh.
posted by Flunkie at 11:30 AM on January 16, 2010


What a strange coincidence, my SO and I were just talking about this the other day. We both work in professional kitchens, which are arguably some of the most macho places one can work. We were both lamenting the fact that in our chosen field women pretty much HAVE TO act like men to get ahead. If they don't they get ridiculed behind their backs for being "too sensitive" for the kitchen.

Regardless of the field, I wish to God people would come to the realization that the answer is NOT for women to act like--as one poster put it above, liars and sociopaths. But until men decide that's not the best way to go about things, or they stop earning higher than women on average, then that's going to be the standard, I guess.
posted by kaiseki at 11:38 AM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know this is the internet where everyone is pure & righteous but is there really a job in America where there's no lying or trying to make yourself look good/painting a rosier picture of your work?

And is IT a magical career field where women are somehow unable to do this as well as men?

Or maybe Clay Shirky has just never really interacted with women in a meaningful way.
posted by hamida2242 at 11:46 AM on January 16, 2010


Tom Coates also posted a response to the Clay Shirky piece with a post of his own 'Should we encourage self-promotion and lies?'
posted by Z303 at 11:52 AM on January 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


[from the article]: 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.

And a major part of it is that we live in an odd, fucked-up world where people are often rewarded for being arrogant and stupid, and for doing things that are to the detriment of society. Perhaps that's the part we ought to try to change, rather than encouraging even more people to go down that destructive path.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:17 PM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


The server's not working for me... so I didn't read the article... but, I do want to say this:

As a programmer, I've gotten many of my absolute best jobs by saying, "Oh, yeah, I know how to do that; I did this thing that was sort of like it this one time." And then I get the job, and go home and read like fucking crazy. Because I've never even thought about the problem before or seen anything like it. I'm definitely lying about what I've done, but then I back it up.

I don't know about a difference of sexes in that, but I have noticed that the people who are unwilling to make such claims tend not to get interesting work. Similarly, the people who get interesting work seem to have mostly gotten it the same way I did. If you confine yourself to the type of work that you've already done, it's literally impossible to learn something new. But nobody wants to hire somebody who's never done the work before.
posted by Netzapper at 12:19 PM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Filed under "Not more X, less Y!"
posted by tommasz at 12:20 PM on January 16, 2010


Thank god he self-promoted in order to land a gig teaching at one of the most expensive colleges in the country; otherwise, I fear, he would have very little going for him.

As it stands, he gets to encourage a generation to be _even more full of shit_. Thank fucking christ! I know that I hate it when I meet someone who is skilled, confident, and respectful--especially in technical fields.
posted by shownomercy at 12:21 PM on January 16, 2010


"The world isn't ready for women to act like this."

And if they don't, it never will be.
posted by Irontom at 12:26 PM on January 16, 2010



Space Cayote:

That's right, ladies, we love you for your demure, ladylike nature and wouldn't it be just awful if a few of you acted more like men. Err, no. The game may be distasteful, but women can play, too, if they like, and Shirky is point to how.

This misread of my comment is condescending on so many levels that I'm at a loss as to how to respond. But big ups to you and Shirky for showing all us shrinking violets the error of our way.
posted by stagewhisper at 12:27 PM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe, but then Shirky's a pretty awful writer because he drops that bit about NEEDING to overstate one's qualifications very early in his piece. I'd quote it precisely right now but we seem to have overwhelmed his servers.

If the issue truly is that women, in general, are not very good at communicating their willingness to take risks to improve their abilities in the workplace, then why not state it as such?

Again, maybe I just don't get it. Maybe the current corporate workplace is a place where only suckers bother to tell the truth.


I closed my tab with the post and yeah, it looks like we walloped it so I can't go back and read it again for the additional context right now. I know he specifically mentioned lying at one point and I will admit that it was pretty sloppy to do that. When I read parts of it, I felt like he was being somewhat hyperbolic in order to make his point. I think that parts of the post had a lot of validity, but the lying about stuff part was crap.

If I recall, later in the article he does frame the problem as less of a willingness by women to take risks, and more reliance by women on garnering recommendations rather than playing up their own achievements. But blowing your own horn, so to speak, is not the same thing as lying. And I don't think there's anything wrong with doing it. So I can concur with that point he made.

I've also done the thing that's like what netzapper talked about where I've said, "Oh, I've done X similar thing, so I can do Y." I don't think that's lying either. Because I can do it. If I never stretched like that and said things like this, I'd still be in a job like my high school summer job- sitting around clearing paper jams from the fax machine and fetching coffee for some dickhead who screams at everyone all day and doesn't even know my name.

When I pitch a client for work, I am stating the truth about my skills. Just maybe in a bit more of a glowing way that I'd describe them to a normal person. The important part is that I can put my money where my mouth is, or I'm going to keep it shut. Sometimes people need to be convinced to take the chance on me before they even crack open my portfolio, and that's where I have to really talk up my skills. Which is why I think self promotion has its place.

At the moment, I'm a bit removed from corporate America. However, in all of my career I have never found it necessary to lie about my accomplishments. I can spot a bullshitter a mile away and I used to get really mad when I would work with that one person who does nothing and who was always getting promoted.

I'm not ever going to be That Guy, but I've found that I can take some elements of how he operates and use them to make my own career better. I can framed my skills in the most positive light possible while still telling the truth. I can back this up, so I don't think that it is ethically a problem. Nor should it be something that is limited to the realm of "what men do". I feel like there are a lot of women out there who do fantastic work and who would probably be better served in their careers to do it too.

Blatant self-promoters have existed since the dawn of mankind. I think it's naive for people like Tom Coates to act like that's ever going to go away. Like if we're all just nicer to each other, everyone will stop. I also feel like you can self promote and not be an asshole about it and you can also do it without just flat out making stuff up. I'm really failing to see where all the outrage over this idea is coming from, aside from the remarks about lying. Which is bad. But there's a lot of handwaving about something that I think should be a skill that more people- especially women develop.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 12:33 PM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe the current corporate workplace is a place where only suckers bother to tell the truth.

Hyperbole but essentially true. You are judged not by your performance but by others' perception of your performance. Managing that perception, the optics of what you do is a skill like any other.

There is a vast middle ground between narcissism and Milton from Office space and the debate is not well served by immediately driving to the most offensive extreme of any given character trait.
posted by Skorgu at 12:36 PM on January 16, 2010


After decades of hearing what men think women want, and how men think women should behave in order to benefit in some manner, I won't apologize for skipping this one.

I'll be kind and assume that this isn't just another sexist blowhard conflating personal observation and prejudice with social realities, but I'd rather stab my eyes out with a fork than read another treatise on The Sexes And How They Is on a random blog.

So, paint me with the tl;dr brush and put me outside with the smokers and other sinners. I don't have the patience for this facile shit anymore.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:48 PM on January 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


You know why women low-ball themselves? Because women are more likely to be penalized for trying to negotiate a higher wage/etc. than men. This is not born out of women simply not asking. If it were, don't you think women would just do it and reap the benefits?
posted by autoclavicle at 12:51 PM on January 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


Whoa, that Shirky fella sure likes his own words. Having to put dinguses in to break up your own text isn't a good sign.
posted by scruss at 12:56 PM on January 16, 2010


I don't necessarily think outright lying or sociopathic behavior are the answer, but there is definitely some substance to being willing to declare oneself "awesome."

As a young child, when I was proud of something I did, I would declare it so. I would frequently be scolded for "bragging." So I stopped, I never said anything about the quality of my work, and I took it to heart that maybe it wasn't really all that great, it really wasn't good at all. I would raise my hand in class, but when I was outspoken, I was teased for being a "know-it-all." and I took that to heart, to. Maybe I didn't know. Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut.

I stopped speaking up, and declaring my work was good, and saying what was on my mind. For years. I completely subsumed my personality. I had had it hammered into me that believing that what I was doing was good and saying so was a Very Bad Thing.

It was destructive, it was eating me up, I never got anything done. What's the point, if it's not any good, right?

I was miserable, and it was total bullshit.

It took until relatively recently to break out of that pattern. Now I do speak my mind, and people listen to me and respect me. I declare my awesomeness, and people believe me. Because of it, I have forged alliances with incredibly talented people who absolutely blow me away. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had been more assertive all this time; how much more successful I would be. But I'm really happy now, with myself and with the people around me. They are fantastic.

It's not about lying. It's not about stepping on other people. Is it about bragging? Maybe a little.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:19 PM on January 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


I hate arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.

We don't care.
posted by doublehappy at 1:21 PM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not about lying. It's not about stepping on other people. Is it about bragging? Maybe a little.

I see what you're saying, and it's great that you've found a practice that works for you, but it IS about lying if you don't feel like you have anything to brag about.

Let's see: what do I have to brag about? In 2009, I got a new job that pays well. I directed a play by Shakespeare and a play by Webster, both of which got glowing reviews. I co-wrote a book that is actually beginning to pay royalties....

Ah, that's all bullshit! None of that is stuff to brag about. The job is something any number of people could do, some way better than me; Maybe the reviews of my plays were positive, but there are countless moments when they could have been much better plays than they were; When I read through my book, I cringe. So much bad prose!

I get that it's all a matter of how you think about it, but if go with my "let's see:" paragraph, then I am lying. I am lying because that's NOT how I think about it -- it's 180 from how I think about it.

I would also be lying if I said, "God, I'm a total failure!" I don't feel like a failure at all. I feel like I normally do -- like I want to do better next time. It's actually a very exciting, positive feeling. And it's totally borne out of dissatisfaction with my current work. If I could somehow force myself to frame the work I've done as "awesome," I don't think I'd be as motivated to do better work in the future.
posted by grumblebee at 1:31 PM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Did not read all the comments. Did anyone note Sarah Palin as someone self-promoted beyond her capabilities?
posted by Cranberry at 1:35 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


As Shirky himself accedes in his lengthy follow-up comment, a woman acting arrogant and aggressive is enduring different social costs than a man doing the same thing, on average, and this is not an insignificant details for many people.

Yes, this. There is also something to the point that this sort of behavior might be charming in a 20 year old student, and less in a 40 year old manager, gender aside. My own experience is much more akin to girlhacker & ch1x0r above - yes, we need to be assertive and confident, but there are different boundaries of acceptability for expressing that assertiveness.
posted by judith at 2:05 PM on January 16, 2010


With the deepest respect for those women in this thread who say that a bit of assertiveness and willingness to self-promote has done wonders for them in their career, I can't honestly say that I have had the same experience. Any attempt to speak up, take initiative or self-promote has been met by my bosses with, at best, disdain and disinterest, and at worst, an outright stomping-down that led to a two-hour screaming fit from the boss behind closed doors. The attitude has been, very clearly, "who the hell do you think you are?"

I will say, however, that I have had better results from successes and achievements I have done but not bragged to anybody about. These things have a way of being noticed, quite apart from any attempt on my part to promote them.
posted by LN at 2:07 PM on January 16, 2010


LN, how are the men treated where you work? Is the problem sexism or just generally asshole-ish bosses?
posted by grumblebee at 2:13 PM on January 16, 2010


Cranberry -- I was thinking the exact same thing. Didn't see her mentioned yet, though. I hope someone will explain why Sarah Palin being self-promoting is bad while other women self-promoting is good.

I also wonder if it has something to do with women's ages or relative attractiveness. Maybe it just doesn't seem fair to people for a woman to be both beautiful and full of zesty braggadocio about her cleverness and efficiency. Would people like Taylor Swift more if she comported herself like Mohammed Ali?
posted by amtho at 2:19 PM on January 16, 2010


Did anyone note Sarah Palin as someone self-promoted beyond her capabilities?

No one's mentioned Omarosa yet either, although this comment was interesting.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:21 PM on January 16, 2010


Admittedly, the offices I've worked in are mostly female, but with men mostly in positions of authority (manager, director or above). Male co-workers are either called "up-and-comers" and promoted quickly, or driven out to find work elsewhere. Female co-workers tend to stay in the same job for much longer. I should also say that the women I've worked with allow themselves to be micromanaged much more than men are, and put up with worse treatment.
posted by LN at 2:22 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


<jumping the shirky>
posted by kuatto at 2:29 PM on January 16, 2010


Can't seem to get the article, but based on the commentary in this thread...

Isn't it sort of adorable when someone first starts to get introspective about gender and the workplace? Granted, most women go through this period of their life a lot earlier (say, 14 or 15, the first time anyone calls them "a bitch" for speaking their mind or having an opinion about something). But maybe it's understandable that it takes 30 extra years for some people to be cognizant of the fact that nearly every force in society has been grooming them to succeed in that society.
posted by muddgirl at 2:44 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


What an irritating piece.

First, as many have noted, it makes no sense to conflate lying, which is what one is doing in claiming a skill one doesn't possess*, with being willing to accurately report one's qualifications. For one thing, after getting the foot in the door, one generally has to perform.

Second, it is obnoxious to link the ability to self promote with gender. That generalization just isn't accurate. For example, I have no trouble touting myself when I need to, while my husband feels that he may be struck down with lightning if he admits he did something well.

Third, I'm tired of people who justify gender discrimination by saying women don't do something or other (here, lie/grossly exaggerate their qualifications) and hence somehow deserve it. Maybe the author should ask himself why he responds well to and supports his male students who do misrepresent themselves, but isn't able apparently to generate the same positive attitude toward and support for his female students.

* which is not the same thing as saying one has confidence in one's ability to learn the skill
posted by bearwife at 3:02 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


He's somewhat obnoxious here but he's actually right.

Check this out. Only 20% of submissions to op-ed pages-- which are basically the most influential pages in the newspaper-- come from women. Those op-eds lead to book contracts, tv bookings, and other important aspects of influence.

A tiny proportion of those horrible bloviating Sunday morning and cable talking heads are women-- and yet those people tend to have a huge influence on public opinion and on politics. How many Senators are women? I can't imagine that it's 20% even-- and female governors and representatives are disproportionately low, too.

My friend Katie Orenstein has started a wonderful project-- disclosure, I'm doing some work on it-- called the OpEd Project, which trains women to speak up and to recognize that *not* sharing their opinions and expertise is *more* selfish than sharing them. It's about much more than op-ed, but rather about becoming thought leaders.

I was just having a conversation about this this afternoon with a friend who is a female neurosurgeon and even she can fall prey to this. Women tend to qualify their opinions, tend to speak as though they aren't certain, tend to look at uncertainties and recognize how much they don't know. All of that is valuable in academia and in making sure you are understanding problems accurately but it is *not* helpful in public discourse where it is seen as wishy-washiness and washed out by confidence.

So, while this message would have been better coming from a woman, it does reflect a real problem.
posted by Maias at 3:13 PM on January 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


All of that is valuable in academia and in making sure you are understanding problems accurately but it is *not* helpful in public discourse where it is seen as wishy-washiness and washed out by confidence.

So if we start training women to be as "assertive" as men, how do we retain those good aspects of being "wishy-washy"?

I know I don't want to live in a world in which everyone is promoting him or herself. Ugh.
posted by grumblebee at 3:22 PM on January 16, 2010


Really really interesting post!

You'd think nobody had this perception of Hillary Clinton (who I admire a lot) and hated her guts for it... :) I'm glad I read this. I was considering applying for a new job at a tech company that was, I heard, trying to hire more women, and was very hesitant because I don't feel like I know what I'm doing and they'd laugh at my qualifications. I feel like it's unbecoming and dishonest to act like I know all the answers when I don't, and yet it does seem society puts a premium on acting like a know-it-all. Certainly a lot of TV talking heads are in this realm, they get stuff wrong all the time and just keep on with the certitude every time they open their mouths.

I think he goes too far in negatively characterizing people who self-promote.. I am thinking of someone I know who relentlessly self-promotes, social media, networking events, any and everywhere he can, even though IMHO his work is pedestrian. But he's a friendly guy and not a jerk, and he's not saying his work is stunningly awesome, he's just saying, read it, and people do, and the contacts (and site traffic!) are valuable. I can't really begrudge him doing what he's supposed to be doing.
posted by citron at 3:25 PM on January 16, 2010


Tech blogger says uncontroversial thing on controversial way, gets lots of hits. But actually I think this has a lot to do with the fact that in a male dominated field where there's still a lot of sexism and more dudes you're more likely to see women try to keep their heads down and be polite, so as not to be thought of as "bitches" Which he talks about a little but doesn't really get into.
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.
Whenever I write recommendation letters, I make 'em way over the top positive. The whole subtext is that if I really liked the person, I would want the best for them, and of course that would mean portraying them in the best possible light. If I got a recommendation letter from someone and it said the person was "OK" "reasonably competent" and "works slightly harder then the median employee" it would not instill a lot of confidence even if I only needed an OK employee for a job.

Of course I'm not a professor or whatever so I don't write very many, just for friends.
I agree, Countess Elena, but can we please banish the word "mansplaining" from our kingdom? I'd never heard it before, and it made me a bit nauseous.
I think it's hilarious. Someone used it upthread and I knew exactly what they meant.
posted by delmoi at 3:25 PM on January 16, 2010


My favorite part is when the man defines what women's best interests are!

I'm not sure why that's any worse than an author of either gender defining what anyone's best interests are. On one hand, it's an inherently presumptuous thing to do, but on the other hand, it might actually be true/insightful/useful depending on the author's perceptiveness and empathy and experience and articulateness. Or not. ... *yawn* ... But people can judge that for themselves based on the specific content of the piece -- an author shouldn't be disqualified right off the bat based on gender. That said, this FPP was pretty much asking to be torn apart on intensely gendered grounds, so ... whatever.

Also, what grumblebee said, multiplied by a lot of people (including myself).

I wish people could write articles like this just about the different types of people, not how "men" are different from "women." But it's not surprising that the gendered approach is so prevalent: an essay framed in terms of gender differences is likely to get a lot more web traffic and comments than an essay with more nuance and less stereotyping. *sigh*
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:38 PM on January 16, 2010


To expand on what a couple people here seem to be hinting at, I think a lot of people in any given workplace have a good sense of when someone is being assertive or being an asshole.

Someone who is being assertive is clearly doing so from a position of confidence, it's not a matter of their personal ego, they're merely stating things unambiguously as they see them -- but being an asshole (or a bitch) stems from being in a position without confidence, it's blowing smoke, it's braggadocio, it's being a dick to hide the fact that they really DON'T know what they're doing, and it's ALL about their ego.
posted by chimaera at 3:39 PM on January 16, 2010


When I moved to NYC for my first library job in the early nineties, and eventually got a computer, one of the first things that I wanted to do was set up an internet account. Unfortunately, I had graduated from library school without having knowledge about how to do certain things, mostly because I went to the University of Illinois, which has plenty of computer boffins that set things up for you. Luckily, I set up an account with Panix, which had plenty of people who were willing to help out because the online community was still small enough that people did that; one of them was Clay Shirky. I had trouble downloading a utility to decompress files with (the problem may have been that that file was, itself, compressed); Shirky sneaker-netted the floppy over to my brownstone himself, even though he was already kind of a big deal (he did lighting for the Wooster Group, meaning that he'd probably rubbed shoulders with Willem Dafoe).

So all of the Shirky haters out there may feel free to put a sock in it, is what I'm getting at.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:51 PM on January 16, 2010


I've know a lot of people who lie and exaggerated at work: from the guy that receives mail addressed to "director" of the lab in his first month in computer maintenance, to the person overheard at an industry forum to say "when I invented that widget," about some widget that, for instance, I may have invented. These people become the people you love to hate, and everyone talks about their latest howler. About half these people have become industry laughing stocks and pariahs, the other half are in senior positions way out of their league.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:52 PM on January 16, 2010


Our society is set up to reward people who self promote.

Well, why is that? The best self-promoters believe their own self promotion and thus can do it convincinly. This surrendering of the critical faculties makes them less likely to doubt other self-promoters and thus will reward them, so it's a self-perpetuating system. What's more, they trust people who they perceive are like themselves. And as long as things seem to work, it feeds back the truth of their competence and superiority to them. This is how our economy did so well, until . . .
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:10 PM on January 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


"are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards"

Clearly he's not heard of Margaret Thatcher.

I swear I must be living on another planet. On my world there have been no shortage of women ready to promote themselves and their work. At my university I've seen grad students male and female not at all afraid to toot their own horn (or take all others down a peg, overtly or covertly.) I've seen competitions among men and women for department headships that were as cutthroat as any political electioneering. Oh, and arrogance? It knows no gender limits in academia.

Funny; before I read the link and thought about it I was going to chalk such a silly conclusion up to ivory tower-ism. Except that he is an academic. In an alternate universe perhaps.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 4:16 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Margaret Thatcher was a very sick man. (Quote from a UK commentator...)
posted by sneebler at 4:42 PM on January 16, 2010


Our Commercial society is set up to reward people who self promote. Fixed that for me.

I find this whole thing weird. I just watched a woman project manager leave our company because they wouldn't give her any real responsibilities. Yes, she's a new PM, but a) she's obviously - well, to me anyway - competent and hard-working, b) we say we're having a hard time hiring anyone with PM experience. WTF? Here we have a person who fits the bill, is young, well-educated, and (I'm a guy who might end up working for her), not threatening. And after she leaves, the various managers line up to bad-mouth somebody who's been cleaning up their messes and making sure things ran smoothly for the last six months. Serious fail, in my book.
posted by sneebler at 4:55 PM on January 16, 2010


Hmmm. Well, women might be more likely to act like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks if the rewards were the same. They're not. Sometimes the results are the polar opposite.

It will probably be a long time before all people will view a woman expressing elevated self esteem (or blind confidence, "arrogant jerkiness", let alone hardcore professionalism) through the same lens. I've gone through this myself a number of times and right now I'm watching some incredibly talented colleagues of mine suffer through the same thing. Confident behavior which would likely be seen as smart and even admirable for men in business still can earn the label of "bitch," so very unfairly. Especially if you work in a field that is still built upon a long-established old boy's network -- *or* on the flip side -- if you are in a work environment which is populated with mainly middle-aged females (sadly, girl power is often easier said than actively encouraged in an estrogen-fueled environment). I actually had a woman complain about me once because I exclaimed in fake joy that an ad layout I created was better than the Sistene Chapel. I was actually asked to explain to her that I was kidding and apologize in order to make peace. (Seriously? You think I'd actually believe my rushed supermarket ad layout is in competition with three years of effort by Michelangelo? Tell me more, Miss Petty McGullible!)

It's frustrating and annoying, but you eventually learn that to survive you sometimes have to choose your battles... make 'em big enough to matter and small enough to win. You have to plan your behavior differently. Whereas a man may fight every fight to the death (even if he's not sure he's right) and be seen as a confident warrior, in a woman that behavior can be seen as being difficult and bitchy or not knowing what she's talking about. Expressing overconfidence in your opinions can be seen as stubbornness or being full of yourself. In order to be really heard when it's important, sometimes you have to learn to step back and be selective about when you open your mouth. Unfortunately, that means sometimes you also have to not push ahead when you REALLY want to, because at times you know full well that there's a brick wall in front of you and if you push it will just grow taller. When you just need to get a job done, it doesn't do any good to spend all of your energy tooting your horn like Tito Puente if Helen Keller is your demographic.

From my heart I can just tell you this... nothing has been more heartbreaking and degrading in my career than the handful of times I've realized that the only way to get an idea really heard and quickly approved by a particular audience was to put my ego aside and simply direct a male coworker to present it. I've had this happen a few times over the years, even somewhat recently. It SUCKS, but the number one priority for me is that I've got deadlines to meet. Even though I hate it at times, I have to do whatever it takes to get work quickly approved by making it palatable to the specific people who need to like it. Then afterwards, I move on and secretly hope those specific people get jettisoned at high speeds back to the 1960s sometime soon, never to return. 'Cuz doublestandards really DO suck rocks, dammit, and I haven't seen them going away 100%. Unfortunately.

My designs *ARE* better than the Sistene Chapel, though.

Just kidding. Geez.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:37 PM on January 16, 2010 [12 favorites]


BTW, please don't attack me for what I said about having to have a man presenting work to someone. You have no idea how rough that experience was for me on so many levels and you didn't see how disgustingly well it was received compared to when women said the same ideas the week before. Still makes me queasy to think about it. Sometimes we all have to figure out how to effectively work in difficult environments. It doesn't mean you'd use the same technique by choice if you were working with someone less sucky.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:48 PM on January 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've noticed this kind of thing in the classroom, although it was toned down to just "female engineering students tend to be less bold with their wild guesses than the males", and while my own personal sample size is small, another woman who has been in the field longer also noted it. When I've managed to gather the courage to take wild leaps, I haven't noticed any ill effects ostensibly due to my gender, but people seem to be making the same assumption I used to make about my other [male] classmates, that they knew wtf they were doing. I'm not sure if perhaps gender played a role in the beginning with being reluctant to try and to guess, or if that was more of a social anxiety thing, but there definitely seem to be rewards for upselling your assets. I haven't ran into the downsides yet, but for now, I'm going to pretend there aren't any and act accordingly. I'll tell you all how it goes.
posted by rubah at 6:32 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


This thread went really well. We should have more rants about women.
posted by hermitosis at 7:45 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Clay writes:

"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."

The problem is that Clay doesn't get women. He doesn't get that we operate differently from men. He doesn't get seduction. He doesn't get nuance. Unless you hit him over the head with a hammer, he doesn't get it.

He didn't get it at panix, he didn't get it on ECHO, and he undoubtedly misses it at ITP too.

Yet, god bless him, may he live and be well [tm Borscht Belt comics].
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:55 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Somewhere Dave Sims' ears perk up - his blackened heart beats faster.
posted by codacorolla at 8:07 PM on January 16, 2010


"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."

It is my experience that women are as good at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obessives or pompus blowhards about as much as men are.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:14 PM on January 16, 2010


I believe everyone has the capacity to be "self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards," but some of us are trying not to be that way. Those behaviors seem ultimately to lead to ruin.
posted by kindalike at 8:28 PM on January 16, 2010


I believe everyone has the capacity to be "self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards," but some of us are trying not to be that way.

For some of us, the exact opposite is true. We have to work at being self-promoting narcissists. It is incredibly exhausting for us (for me, anyway) to do that work, and we suck at it. Every piece of self promotion I throw out there is a lie, and it feels like a plate that I have to keep spinning in the air.
posted by grumblebee at 8:35 PM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Any attempt to speak up, take initiative or self-promote has been met by my bosses with, at best, disdain and disinterest, and at worst, an outright stomping-down that led to a two-hour screaming fit from the boss behind closed doors.

If anyone ever started "screaming" at me at work I'd walk out and leave them to their little temper tantrum. I don't care if they owned the company. My mother is not allowed to speak to me like that so my boss sure as hell ain't. Disagreeing with someone once and then taking a verbal beating for it is not very assertive imho.

So many of my colleagues sit around and bitch about their male colleagues and bosses but I simply tell them if I'm not happy with them or they need to let me be heard. Funnily enough the guys rarely have a problem with it but the women take me aside and tell me "for my own good" that I should "be nicer".

I was running a multi-million dollar applied science program at 34 so I say fuck 'em. I do good work, I seek advice from people that I respect and take it, my employees are happy and they go on to bigger and better things and I have sustained good friendships throughout my industry. I call it like I see it, I don't have time for games and I can always get another job if you piss me off. It's an attitude that has made me much happier than if I stressed about every little personal interaction at work.

I see so many of my female colleagues and employees that don't speak up about what they want or what they are worth and it makes me nuts. They downplay their achievements and strengths to the point you would think they had simply wandered into the lab off the street and had no idea how anything worked.
posted by fshgrl at 8:50 PM on January 16, 2010 [9 favorites]



If anyone ever started "screaming" at me at work I'd walk out and leave them to their little temper tantrum. I don't care if they owned the company. My mother is not allowed to speak to me like that so my boss sure as hell ain't. Disagreeing with someone once and then taking a verbal beating for it is not very assertive imho.


This sort of talk always confuses me. I admire it, but... how do you pay the rent? Don't you worry that if you walk out like that you'll get fired, and then you'll be living on the streets? (And it's worse if you have kids or any sort of family to support.)

Not everyone has a nest egg that they can live on for a few months. Not everyone has friends who will let them crash on their couches for several weeks. I would be in serious trouble if I was out of work for a month.

One's dignity is VERY important, so I don't mean to belittle what you're saying, but having food to eat is also important, no?
posted by grumblebee at 9:03 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


This sort of talk always confuses me. I admire it, but... how do you pay the rent? Don't you worry that if you walk out like that you'll get fired, and then you'll be living on the streets? (And it's worse if you have kids or any sort of family to support.)

I pressed the favorite button on fshgrl's comment so hard I almost broke my mouse.

My answer to that question is that I don't really care what happens. I have walked out on numerous office temper tantrums in my day. Nothing usually happens though. Sometimes they've even apologized.

I am not so afraid of the uncertainty of losing my job (yes, even in this economy) that I will sacrifice my dignity to some egomaniac who screams at me like I'm a naughty child. I don't care if I get fired and I have to work double shifts at Burger King for a while until I land back on my feet. I've done it before and I can do it again.

(Also: I've found that over the past year as I've eked out a few months' living expenses in savings, my propensity to put up with annoying people and their emotional meltdowns has fallen through the floor. YMMV.)
posted by howrobotsaremade at 9:58 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't really care what happens

Do you have children to support? If not, would you still take this stance if you did? What about medical issues? Would you be able to get all the meds you need -- all the treatment -- without a job an the health benefits that come with it?
posted by grumblebee at 10:03 PM on January 16, 2010


I am a single mom. I have a daughter and a couple of dogs to feed. Right now I am self-employed, so I buy our insurance myself. I don't have any health problems that require medication, and thankfully neither does my daughter. I also do not get any child support from my ex-husband, which means I don't have that to fall back on either if I stuff things up big time.

When I first got divorced, I had a salaried job with a decent benefits package. What eventually happened was the company I worked for ran out of money, quit making payroll and folded, laying everyone off. In the end, it didn't really matter because I did find myself without that safety net for a while. I worked at a bookstore, babysat, worked at a car wash and delivered newspapers in order to bring in some cash in the short term. We got by.

So when I say that I'm not really afraid of losing my job, I really mean it. I'm fairly certain that I would be ok for a couple of months if I was in a similar situation again.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 10:21 PM on January 16, 2010


I see so many of my female colleagues and employees that don't speak up about what they want or what they are worth and it makes me nuts.

But you don't know what experiences they had the last time they spoke up, before you met them - enough shitty behaviour from bosses makes you learn how to avoid it in future. If the punishment for them in past has outweighed the possible (but never guaranteed) rewards for breaking the double-standard, what's in it for them? Where you work, maybe the rewards outweigh anything else, but they have a history that doesn't involve your workplace.
posted by harriet vane at 11:14 PM on January 16, 2010


131
The sexes deceive themselves about each other—because at bottom they honor and love only themselves (or their own ideal, to put it more pleasantly). Thus man likes woman peaceful—but woman is essentially unpeaceful, like a cat, however well she may have trained herself to seem peaceable.

144
When a woman has scholarly inclinations there is usually something wrong with her sexually. Sterility itself disposes one toward a certain masculinity of taste; for man is, if I may say so, “the sterile animal.”

239
... To be sure, there are enough imbecilic friends and corrupters of women among the scholarly asses of the male sex who advise woman to defeminize herself in this way and to imitate all the stupidities with which “man” in Europe, European “manliness,” is sick; they would like to reduce woman to the level of “general education,” probably even of reading the newspapers and talking about politics. Here and there they even want to turn women into freethinkers and scribblers—as if a woman without piety would not seem utterly obnoxious and ridiculous to a profound and godless man...

Altogether one wants to make her more “cultivated” and, as is said, make the weaker sex strong through culture—as if history did not teach us as impressively as possible that making men “cultivated” and making them weak—weakening, splintering, and sicklying over the force of the will—have always kept pace, and that the most powerful and influential women of the world (most recently Napoleon's mother) owed their power and ascendancy over men to the force of will—and not to schoolmasters!

What inspires respect for woman, and often enough even fear, is her nature, which is more “natural” than man's, the genuine, cunning suppleness of a beast of prey, the tiger's claw under the glove, the naivete of her egoism, her uneducability and inner wildness, the incomprehensibility, scope, and movement of her desires and virtues—


– F Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
posted by koeselitz at 12:21 AM on January 17, 2010


I'll preface this by saying I know and like Clay Shirky.

I understand his point, but this was *not* a good way to make it.

Also, I don't see the point in asking female techies to behave like "anti-social obsessives or pompous blowhards". The fact is, those terms describe the symptoms, without the cause... which, when it comes to the digerati elite, can be best described as functional Aspergers cases... with testosterone.

I mean, what females really can or want to fit that criteria?

As for encouraging them to be "self-promoting narcissists", well, that simply won't get women all that far without serious geek creds. It certainly hasn't helped Carly Fiorina much, who had no technology background or geek cred, and who drove HP into the ditch. It's no wonder that she wants to go into politics... she can't find a high-tech company that would hire her.
posted by markkraft at 12:52 AM on January 17, 2010


Avenger: “I have found in life that to be truly successful in your chosen profession, you must 1) lie 2) lie 3) lie 4) blame others when your lies are exposed ... On the surface, this sounds like a recipe for disaster, but this method is how our nation's wealthiest and most powerful leaders have made themselves that way... The truth is, everyone is incompetent. All this successful Type-A suit-and-tie bullshit is just a drag show for the cameras. Shit, things only get done in life because brainless man-children in suits say "Let's try X" (where X is some ridiculously stupid, doomed undertaking), and then blaming some woman, minority or Beta Male when X inevitably goes horribly wrong, or taking all the praise upon themselves in the exceedingly rare instance that it kinda sorta goes right... It sounds like middle-management, doesn't it? It should, because all those Dilbert comic strips about middle-management are actually complex metaphors for American capitalism and gender/race relations. Or so I tell myself.”

This is the most trenchant typical male bullshit I've ever read. What 'things' that 'get done in life' could you possibly be talking about? The total assault on the natural world? The standardization of supreme forms of violence, and the export of that human weaponry to all corners of the globe for fantastic profit? The systematic and continual despoiling not only of our own lower and middle classes but of the lower and middle classes of other nations by the singularly money-hungry goons who happen to be in charge of the financial system?

This whole infernal system of lies and destruction is maintained because people have some ridiculous inborn notion that it's imperative that they 'be truly successful' in their 'chosen profession,' and because this value is held up as much more important than human decency, respect, dignity, truth, or justice. Clay Shirky apparently agrees, at least in part, with what you say here – he apparently feels that the system of academia is (to use an increasingly common phrase) a 'necessary evil,' unfortunately flawed but ultimately good, with certain quirks that a person just has to be savvy enough to deal with. That's an easy thing for him to think; he's a liberal white male. It simply doesn't occur to him that there are things about academia which are simply untenable, things which no self-respecting human being, man or woman, would ever put up with. He seems to be blind to the massive failures of academia to rise above petty squabbling, to foster a spirit of openness and learning rather than self-aggrandizement and pure, visceral hate. Academia has been viciously and vengefully stomping on anybody that moves, especially women and especially minorities, for the last forty years now.

And now Clay Shirky has the gall to ask why women aren't better at arrogance or haughty, self-serving crudity? Gee, I don't know, Clay. That's a real tough one. Come to think of it, why aren't there more black people who're good with a whip?
posted by koeselitz at 1:02 AM on January 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


Maybe I'm just lucky, or banking is a little different to IT, but I have never had any trouble with getting promoted without talking myself up or being assertive. Working in relatively small teams may also have helped. In fact, in my former job, I think I actually got better treatment because I was female. When my branch wasn't meeting our targets our area manager would ask me why we weren't meeting target and what help I needed to achieve them. The male managers who weren't meeting target would get hauled into his office and screamed at for 2 hours. Perhaps he thought that screaming at a 24yo female would get him done for harassment, I don't know.
posted by Kris10_b at 2:09 AM on January 17, 2010


I am a single mom. I have a daughter and a couple of dogs to feed. ... So when I say that I'm not really afraid of losing my job, I really mean it. I'm fairly certain that I would be ok for a couple of months if I was in a similar situation again.

I am impressed. You're way braver than I am. And I don't even have kids. Not do I have it in me to be brave the way you are. The idea that I might get really sick and be unable to get medical help -- or that this same fate might happen to my wife -- is terrifying to me. There are meds that I need to take regularly. I can't imagine the hell I'd be in if I didn't have access to them -- or if I had to go off the cold turkey.

Do you have any sort of support system that would help you if things got dire? Parents that would pay your medical bills or something? Or do you just have "brass balls"? (Or are you just able to live in the moment and not think about future consequences? I am totally unable to do that.)
posted by grumblebee at 7:53 AM on January 17, 2010


in terms of the content of this rant, i don't have much more to say that hasn't been said, but, well,

i can't help but wonder if this whole gender angle is a big red herring. having met shirky, my impression is that he's absolutely savvy and socially sensitive enough to know the kind of reactions a rant like this would incite. the main rhetorical focus of the piece is on the value of sticking one's neck out and maintaining confidence in the face of negative social reactions - about how, often counterintuitively, we do better by ourselves in terms of influence, clout, relevance, and overall exposure when we're willing to be perceived as jerks rather than not be perceived at all.

then he attaches a few remarks about how he wishes more women were like this and calls it a 'rant about women'. seriously? i can't help but think he knows exactly what a title like this will accomplish, and he's using it to make a point. sure there's a lot of angry feedback on this thread, but i can assure you he'd never have gotten the kind of positive reaction he's gotten from this thread had he not put out an article with an incendiary title. it's doubtful he'd have gotten a FPP at all. shirky is nothing if not a fan of using social experiments to make a point.

i'm not endorsing disingenuous behavior in general, and admit i may well be giving shirky too much credit here. but regardless of whether he intended to, i think this rant is a perfect case in point.

(finally, as regards all the fuming about how society 'should' or 'shouldn't' be, i am curious to hear what options you take yourselves to have aside from (a) working to shape society in the direction you please, or (b) crossing your arms and stomping your feet)
posted by gardenIMPERIVM at 8:50 AM on January 17, 2010


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.

...it wasn't?
posted by pugh at 9:17 AM on January 17, 2010


Well, you know, since the title is A Rant About Women and the entire essay is built around "Men act like THIS and are successful, women don't act like THAT and aren't" I'm unclear on how you've come up with this alternative interpretation that instead lays out how brilliantly meta Shirky is.

(finally, as regards all the fuming about how society 'should' or 'shouldn't' be, i am curious to hear what options you take yourselves to have aside from (a) working to shape society in the direction you please, or (b) crossing your arms and stomping your feet)

This question confuses me. I'm fairly certain that the majority of us on here denouncing the actions of narcissistic, delusional self-promoters who veer into being sociopathic (or as you say, crossing our arms and stamping our feet) are working to shape society in the direction we prefer, at the very least by not rewarding this pernicious behavior with respect, applause, or, as Shirky is doing: encouragement. Finding this sort of personality trait unacceptable and working to change systems that promote those with it are not mutually exclusive reactions, in fact the latter requires the former.
posted by stagewhisper at 9:37 AM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


In my experience as a female techy, women who act like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards are not uncommon. The difference is that such women are considered "bitchs" whereas similar men are "badass." But I digress, because I think that these traits are not the cause of success, but rather co-morbidities of being on the autistic spectrum alongside the real moneymaker, which is obsessive behavior. The thing I notice separates myself from women who aren't techy is that I easily get lost in code and am mentally unable to stop working until I have solved the problem even if it means missing all three meals of the day.
posted by melissam at 10:36 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


the majority of us on here denouncing the actions of narcissistic, delusional self-promoters who veer into being sociopathic

I don't understand how narcissistic self-promotion can be "sociopathic". And, honestly, this sounds like wishing for a world without gravity. No one is psychic: the onus is on the individual to make his or her greatness obvious. Whenever I talk with people who do marketing at my work, I am impressed with their constant self-branding, even if it's a little disorienting at first. Has no one here done and MBA?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:33 AM on January 17, 2010


Do you have any sort of support system that would help you if things got dire? Parents that would pay your medical bills or something? Or do you just have "brass balls"? (Or are you just able to live in the moment and not think about future consequences? I am totally unable to do that.)

Probably just brass balls, so to speak.

My support system is fairly non-existent. I have a disabled mother and almost everyone else in my family is a bit of a hot mess financially. I'm pretty much the breadwinner (or I'm helping out considerably) for a large number of people. On the other hand, I know that I could walk out of my house tomorrow and get at least two shitty throwaway jobs that would sustain everyone at the bare minimum for a couple months.

Overall, I'm certain that sticking up for myself has not harmed my career in the slightest. I think it's probably been a net gain. The last time I stood up to one of those tyrannical screaming bosses, I ended up snagging a $7,000 a year raise shortly after. Because I saved his ass in reality, and once I pointed that out, he realized it was true.

I think that being willing to flip burgers over taking all kinds of abuse from an employer has removed a lot of the fear of failure from the equation. And since I'm not afraid of that, I tend to take more risks in my professional life. I screw up sometimes. I've had a couple business failures and things like that, but in all of those instances, even promoting what I've learned from my screw ups has usually led to bigger and better things.

In all honestly, I know this approach wouldn't work for everyone. Maybe especially not the vast majority of women, given what's been said in this thread. I have that kind of blunt personality where I can seem to get away with calling things as they are. Even if it isn't "nice". It's not my job to make sure everyone feels good about themselves all the time.

I don't really know if anybody has really called me a bitch or anything derogatory, but I don't also care if people think that either. I have a tendency to exclaim things like, "Oh my god, I am a genius!" jokingly at times, but I can't recall that ever garnering more than an eyeroll on occasion either.

I certainly wouldn't apologize for it, not for all the HR reps in the entire universe. I would flat out refuse and if it meant I had to go back to spraying cars off with a hose in the freezing midwest for a suboptimal wage for while, then so be it.

The idea that I owe people apologies or the right to browbeat me or to let them shit on my work is entirely bizarre to me. So is the idea that I should be humble about my work and then wait around for someone to recognize it. If that was the case, how long would I be waiting?

So if the question ever was raised of, "Who do you think you are?" I guess the answer would be, "I'm one of the best people you're going to get. Let me show you why." If that isn't well received, I'm moving on to a place where it will be.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 11:34 AM on January 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


stagewhisper,

like i said, i could be giving him too much credit. all the same: (1) the actual behavioral advice he's giving to 'women' is actually applicable to anybody, and (2) the title and rampant overgen[d]eralizations are obviously meant to be provocative. he's well aware of how people will react to language like that.

it may be too much to assume that the whole gender element is purely a ploy - on second read it's more prominent in the discussion than i was thinking - but that doesn't mean he wasn't trying to make a point by deliberately couching things in language designed to induce reactions. if there's anyone i know who i'd expect to write a blog post designed to propagate itself virally by leveraging well-documented emotional patterns and social habits, it's clay. this is exactly his field. but either way, i'm just speculating.


Finding this sort of personality trait unacceptable and working to change systems that promote those with it are not mutually exclusive reactions, in fact the latter requires the former.


if you believe that getting indignant about behavior you find distasteful is going to provide enough social disincentive to trump the structural advantages leveraged by people who behave the way shirky advises, then you have missed the point (or maybe you just disagree with the empirical claim behind it).

i don't think this behavioral scheme is as caricatured as the moral compasses of many of the posters here would prefer it to be, and i'm willing to bet you're as easily swayed by the selective attention garnered by self-promoting, stick-your-neck-out types as anyone. nobody is immune to confirmation bias, and i doubt that the majority of people affected by self-promotional behavior explicitly hold it in high regard. on top of all of this, part of the point of the argument is that even when this behavior rubs people the wrong way, it still ends up winning out. agree or disagree, but feeling cross with the general state of things is not in itself very constructive.

as for what constitutes 'constructive' behavior on a scale sufficient to circumvent the phenomenon at hand, i sure don't have any answers for you. but i think it's a social-structural challenge that requires more imagination than i've seen wielded in this thread, rant included. my strategy is to change the things i can see how to change, and try to accept, understand, and work with the things i can't.
posted by gardenIMPERIVM at 11:39 AM on January 17, 2010


I used to have brass balls. Then the economy changed. There's been definite shrinkage.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:03 PM on January 17, 2010


I don't understand how narcissistic self-promotion can be "sociopathic".

If you are asking this question in good faith, you can start with a short article from The Mayo Clinic here which points out that there are overlaps between narcissism and sociopathic tendencies.

I am beginning to think there are two divergent discussions going on here, one outlining the challenges of asserting oneself as a female in what is still a male dominated corporate structure and the need to encourage more women to speak up about their capabilities (I agree with this assessment, and I am all for self -assertiveness, trust me on this) and one about the original post, which claims that, in Shirky's own words, that more woman need to become "self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards".

if you believe that getting indignant about behavior you find distasteful is going to provide enough social disincentive to trump the structural advantages leveraged by people who behave the way shirky advises, then you have missed the point (or maybe you just disagree with the empirical claim behind it).

These structural advantages have been conferred by the individuals who historically have built these structures. Over time I believe that yes, if enough individuals decide that people behaving the way that Shirky advises detract from having a healthy, successful work environment, it will put narcissists and psychopaths at a professional disadvantage. Social disincentives do work.
posted by stagewhisper at 1:27 PM on January 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't understand how narcissistic self-promotion can be "sociopathic".

If you are asking this question in good faith, you can start with a short article from The Mayo Clinic here which points out that there are overlaps between narcissism and sociopathic tendencies.


That list of symptoms of narcissism probably applies to most successful people in this world, and I'm not convinced that the world should be any other way. Sure, the meek will inherit the earth, but that's in the next life-- not this one!
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:59 PM on January 17, 2010


Well, we are at an impasse then, future lord of the ruling class.
posted by stagewhisper at 2:11 PM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


lol :)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:16 PM on January 17, 2010


Good discussion. I lost out on promotions for being too much the maverick and not a team player. On the positive side my performance was rewarded with special assignments and additional holidays. Now I'm retired and do anything and say what I please.
posted by carolusal at 2:56 PM on January 17, 2010


esprit de l'escalier: “That list of symptoms of narcissism probably applies to most successful people in this world, and I'm not convinced that the world should be any other way. Sure, the meek will inherit the earth, but that's in the next life-- not this one!”

Somebody didn't read the link. Did your eyes just dance across the paragraph after the list, or did you not even scroll down that far?

Anybody who thinks that narcissism is a necessary quality of a successful leader doesn't know anything about narcissism or leadership. I've known narcissists, and without exception they have the most unhappy people I've ever met, aside perhaps from their friends and families. It might seem trivial to you, but thousands of people suffer from this very real psychological affliction. I encourage you, the next time you're in the library, at least to glance at a fine book on the subject by Elan Golomb entitled Trapped In The Mirror.

As far as narcissism as a quality of leadership and of success in general – I know what you're getting at, but it's a pretty facile view of the world, I think, and moreover one not informed by history. There have, over the past hundred years, been a number of great leaders who took as their guiding principle a narcissistic and self-important charisma. A list of them should be enough to point out the problem with that approach: Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot... the list goes on.

The trouble with letting self-important narcissists be successful and provide leadership is that narcissistic self-importance is directly counter to justice – and justice is, of course, the guiding principle any good society aims at. Justice is the good of the whole of society, all of its members; narcissism, the belief that I am more important than all the rest of the members of society, is so directly counter to that principle that it can quite often be disastrous if the narcissist attains a position of any kind of real importance. This is just as true in the microcosm; narcissistic managers are terrible managers, horrendous at seeing and rewarding the qualities of good employees because they're so caught up with their own, and while the simple charisma borne from narcissism can often help them rise to the top that's never a good thing for anyone working for them. A good manager, and a good leader in general, is above all things just, and furthermore is perceptive enough to see in others the quality of justice and promote it.

In Plato's dialogue The Republic, Socrates makes the interesting argument that those wise enough to govern, and just enough to do it well, are usually quite reluctant, and would rather be doing something else. While it may seem as though I have a rosy view of this, I want to point out that narcissism and self-importance aren't the only things that drive those who aspire to greatness; I think Plato would say that the quality that drives those who aspire to greatness is the love of honor, which is not necessarily the same as narcissism. And even there, Plato encourages us to wonder whether those who most aspire to honor aren't actually pretty bad leaders; in his eyes, the best leaders are those who are forced to lead by circumstances, and who would rather not have to do so. I tend to agree.
posted by koeselitz at 3:14 PM on January 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


Managers are always going to prefer the equally-skilled self-promoter because they make the manager's job easy. It is easy to write a good review for someone whose self-review is detailed and glowing.

In other words, a good many managers are lazy people coasting through their jobs, who are content with being told what they want to hear. As I am currently discovering, sometimes the only thing to do with the staff you inherit from such a manager is to fire them and start over. Managers who buy into self-promoting bullshit fed upwards to them by their staff are incompetent.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:24 PM on January 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


>>Managers are always going to prefer the equally-skilled self-promoter because they make the manager's job easy.
>In other words, a good many managers are lazy people coasting through their jobs, who are content with being told what they want to hear.


No. Not at all the same thing. For one, you're assuming managers are omniscient. They aren't. They don't know everything that their staff is doing, and they don't have gobs of extra time to go seeking it out.

There seems to be a lot of anger from people who think the world SHOULD be different, and of course in that utopia their righteousness and talent would lead them to the top. Maybe. But I've also seen a lot of people reluctant to promote themselves who lack self-esteem or have other unresolved emotional issues. Including me.

Have you noticed how similar this discussion is to arguments about nice guys who don't get teh gurlz but cocky assholes do? Except that a lot of the people angry at Shirky mock the nice guys in other topics. I think there's a similar mix of truth and disingenuous in both discussions.
posted by msalt at 11:48 AM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Have you noticed how similar this discussion is to arguments about nice guys who don't get teh gurlz but cocky assholes do? Except that a lot of the people angry at Shirky mock the nice guys in other topics. I think there's a similar mix of truth and disingenuous in both discussions."

Cite?
posted by stagewhisper at 12:10 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Except that a lot of the people angry at Shirky mock the nice guys in other topics.

Huh? Maybe you're confusing the fact that people like to mock Nice Guys™, who secretly aren't nice at all.
posted by muddgirl at 1:08 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


msalt: “There seems to be a lot of anger from people who think the world SHOULD be different, and of course in that utopia their righteousness and talent would lead them to the top. Maybe. But I've also seen a lot of people reluctant to promote themselves who lack self-esteem or have other unresolved emotional issues. Including me.”

And that would be a fine thing to talk about – if that were the topic at hand. It's not. Clay Shirky didn't say 'I notice women aren't as good at being confident' or 'women aren't as good as men at being bold.' He didn't rant about how people needed to be more confident and more bold and sure of themselves in a professional setting. If he had, we would be having a different discussion entirely, and I have a feeling that there would be a good deal less disagreement.

What Clay Shirky did say, in fact, was that he thought women should be better at being arrogant jerks and self-aggrandizing narcissists. This is an entirely different issue. Yes, I know, every person in this thread who agreed with Shirky thinks that this is about being bold, sticking up for yourself, and improving your confidence; they think Shirky overstated it to make a point, but his point is sound. They figure that, in a certain way, there's no appreciable difference between being a self-aggrandizing narcissist and being confident.

My point here has merely been that this idea – the idea that there's no difference between being a self-aggrandizing narcissist and being confident – is precisely what makes it hard for many people to be confident in professional settings in the first place. I struggle with this, as you do, and I'm not too proud to admit that my internet persona is in some ways a compensation for this. But I also know that if narcissism weren't so often mistaken for boldness, this hill wouldn't be near so damned steep.

I've know narcissists; I've had to face down a person who clinically suffers from the mental illness that is narcissism. They're in a wholly different realm from people who are self-confident and bold. In fact, the narcissistic drive often is a manifestation of a profound self-hatred. In books about the condition, psychiatrists are often saying that it's very unhealthy how much our society promotes narcissistic tendencies; the more I look around, the more I realize this is true. The difference between confidence and narcissism is far from a trivial one. And it's simply odd to promote confidence in this way; when people are bad at multitasking, we don't urge them to "be more schizophrenic," do we? That would be both an insult to schizophrenics and a bad piece of advice for those of us who are bad at multitasking.
posted by koeselitz at 4:09 PM on January 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Maybe you're confusing the fact that people like to mock Nice Guys™, who secretly aren't nice at all.

You're right, I would have been more clear if I'd capitalized Nice Guys or TM it or put it in quotes. But I'm not confusing anything.

Some guys with low self-esteem and/or passive agressive tendencies characterize themselves as "nice guy" victims in an unfair world, and paint romantically successful guys as jerks those silly women keep falling for. And some truly nice shy guys lose out in love because they're too unconfident to make a move, or to project strength, or whatever. Doesn't have to be one or the other.

Just like some talented people do lose jobs to lying cheating win-at-all-cost types, and some people with unresolved issues about success paint themselves as career victims instead of owning their own lack of confidence or effective communication.

In both cases, though, it's a fact that being confident and communicating that to the decision maker leads to success. And I don't see how that is a flaw with the world's fairness in either case.
posted by msalt at 11:27 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Somebody didn't read the link. Did your eyes just dance across the paragraph after the list, or did you not even scroll down that far?... As far as narcissism as a quality of leadership and of success in general – I know what you're getting at, but it's a pretty facile view of the world...

First of all, I'm not sure if you use this tone with people in the real world -- although I recognize that you put a lot of thought into the rest of your post -- this is a pretty ironically arrogant way to start off.

...narcissistic self-importance is directly counter to justice... Hitler, Josef Stalin...

If you've read my posts here, you know that, like you, I am obsessed with justice. However, there is a big difference between the morality of the world leader and the morality of negotiating a better letter of reference. One pernicious effect of egoism does not render every expression of self-interest evil. We are not talking about genocide. We are merely talking about the echo of self-image: people's perception of you is informed by your self-perception. There are different rules for the latter.

I will attest that inauthenticity seems immoral. Yet, there is usually a moment where one is not yet what one needs to be: where self-image precedes self-realization. Would you declare Life is Beautiful's Guido narcissistic for thinking that he can make Dora happier than her fiancé based on a handful of interactions? Yet, go through the list in the eyes of the ex-fiancé.

I used to feel sorry for the kids who got shut out by the more self-assured kids. (A girl once told me that this is why fewer women ended up in her gifted program, which made sense to me.) I used to think it was a nice gesture to let the new guy win at poker -- that it was charitable to back off when a man declares his crush. I used to think that the dominating owed the marginalized the room to develop.

But this is the fern asking the tree to step aside. Like the rainforest, the world is driven by trees. Greatness squandered is a bigger crime than a loss of opportunity. This self-centeredness is not pernicious the way that starving your neighbor from food or shelter or justice or any other fundamental human right is. This self-centeredness is starving your neighbor from realization that he is not owed, and by taking it away, it reinforces the dark reality that encourages his own heliotropism.

You are absolutely right: This is hunger in a single soul, hunger for joy and some security, multiplied a million times. But this is not when the bombs plummet out of the black planes on the market place, when prisoners are stuck like pigs...
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:38 AM on January 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


esprit de l'escalier: “I will attest that inauthenticity seems immoral.”

Inauthenticity is not what we're talking about. Lying about oneself is not in itself immoral; it can even be noble. Cf. Socrates, or Alfarabi's myth of the wise man.

“Yet, there is usually a moment where one is not yet what one needs to be: where self-image precedes self-realization. Would you declare Life is Beautiful's Guido narcissistic for thinking that he can make Dora happier than her fiancé based on a handful of interactions? Yet, go through the list in the eyes of the ex-fiancé.”

I haven't seen the movie, but as I've said already, you're not reading the list at all if you think it can be applied as a diagnosis 'through the eyes' of anybody. It's not a perspective on certain circumstances; it's a list of character traits, and the paragraph below the list is very, very clear that in a narcissist these traits are invariable and thoroughgoing. A narcissist isn't just someone who believes that he is better than others; a narcissist is someone who always believes he's better than others, and must believe that he's better than everyone and in every way. A narcissist isn't just someone who exaggerates his talents or achievements; he's someone who always exaggerates his achievements and talents in every way. Et cetera.

If that list still bugs you, it's certainly not as good as the DSM-IV's list of traits of a sufferer from narcissistic personality disorder, which I heartily recommend.

esprit de l'escalier: “I used to feel sorry for the kids who got shut out by the more self-assured kids. I used to think it was a nice gesture to let the new guy win at poker -- that it was charitable to back off when a man declares his crush. I used to think that the dominating owed the marginalized the room to develop... But this is the fern asking the tree to step aside. Like the rainforest, the world is driven by trees. Greatness squandered is a bigger crime than a loss of opportunity. This self-centeredness is not pernicious the way that starving your neighbor from food or shelter or justice or any other fundamental human right is. This self-centeredness is starving your neighbor from realization that he is not owed, and by taking it away, it reinforces the dark reality that encourages his own heliotropism.”

There are a couple of points here.

First, I think you have here assumed that 'the world' is, in our own society in the present day, as it has always been in this regard. Suffice it to say that many people seem to disagree. Psychiatrists are constantly writing books like The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement which not only suggest but state emphatically that in this particular society at this particular time in history we encourage narcissism and reward it almost more than ever before. Whether those people are right or wrong, I'll only say that I agree in large part; there have been plenty of societies which didn't impress their young with such a drive for self-importance and superiority. This is a large enough problem that I believe it's worth pointing out when people misuse the word 'narcissist' and overstate the real benefits of self-promotion.

Second, it's interesting to me that, whenever I talk about the dangers of narcissism, people almost invariably assume that I'm just trying to 'stick up for the little guy,' and that I'm pleading that we as a society be 'nicer' or 'give way to the meek.' It is, in fact, a sign of just how narcissist our society really is, I think; we assume without a shadow of doubt that narcissists and shameless self-promoters, who tend disproportionately to be lauded by our society, are happy, healthy, well-fulfilled people, and it seems obvious to us that those who aren't recognized for their talents lack real happiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have a friend who has worked at a gas station and lived with his mother since we both left school almost ten years ago; he spends hours every day reading Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas and thinking. He's one of the happiest people I know. I know a professor who probably has more knowledge of ancient philosophy than anyone else now alive; if he so chose, he could be making ten times the salary he does now, publishing books read by millions, or at least be the most well-known teacher in his field and a sought-after lecturer. He prefers the quiet job he has because it allows him more contact with students, and because anything else would be too much of a hassle.

Whereas the narcissists I know – especially those who have achieved some kind of acclaim in their fields – are constantly nervous and agitated. They are at every moment on guard against the slightest insult; they bombastically proclaim their own superiority whilst always being sure to wipe out any real or perceived criticism absolutely. L Ron Hubbard, one of the purest narcissists who ever lived, once said: "The only way to defend anything is to attack. If you ever forget that, you will lose every battle you are ever engaged in." This is one of the guiding principles of the narcissist, who therefore usually has very little time for "happiness" or "joy," and who, because of the deep self-loathing which they are trying to overcome, usually wouldn't be drawn to such states anyhow. In short, narcissists are extremely unhappy and unhealthy; they spend their lives trying to convince us otherwise, trying to convince anyone who'll listen that they are the most healthy and the most happy, but in fact they're generally wretched. I think that sad fact should be remedied; but the only way it ever will be, in any real sense, is if society stops encouraging their narcissism and instead attempts to heal it by encouraging true humility.

A wise man once told me that, to Christ, humility was identical to self-knowledge. I think that is very true. Real humility is simply a truthful recognition of one's own worth. It's not self-debasement, as some people have unfortunately misunderstood it to be; however, it is neither arrogant self-promotion. I understand that you'd like it if people learned to promote themselves more, and that you say this because, in the world as it is right now, there's no way that the truly great and worthwhile people will ever be seen for what they are. But frankly that's not the loss of the truly great and worthwhile people – they're fine, and can handle their own lives perfectly well. It's a loss, rather, to a society which only sees worth in those people capable of very strong self-promotion. For that to change, one factor in the equation would have to shift; my own estimation is that society as it is needs a hell of a lot more changing than those who are less likely to promote themselves. In fact, those who don't promote themselves even now still find just as much reward in doing what they love; they are, as the apt phrase (which you earlier denigrated) puts it, the meek who inherit the earth, quietly and unassumingly taking part in their own spiritual fulfillment while the world around them ignores them completely. That may be a sad situation, but it's not sad for the meek.
posted by koeselitz at 2:30 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some guys with low self-esteem and/or passive agressive tendencies characterize themselves as "nice guy" victims in an unfair world, and paint romantically successful guys as jerks those silly women keep falling for. And some truly nice shy guys lose out in love because they're too unconfident to make a move, or to project strength, or whatever. Doesn't have to be one or the other.

And I think you're making an unfair division between nice guys (who are shy) and confident guys (who aren't nice). What romance novel enthusiasts would call Beta Males and Alpha Males - a distinction that doesn't actually exist in the real world.

That's the reason this whole "bash on Nice Guy" meme got started. Because sometimes, shy guys can be jerks. And sometimes, confident guys can be nice. And sometimes, shy guys can even be confident! But shy! At the same time!

Similarly, there's no reason to divide the rest of the world into "self-aggrandizing jerks" and "unsuccessful people", as Shirkey seems wont to do.
posted by muddgirl at 2:35 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what point you think I'm trying to make -- I think we mostly agree. To be (hopefully) clear: I think both people who push the "nice guys don't get laid" concept, and people who bash Nice Guys (TM), are making a false dichotomy.

I don't think Shirkey is trying to make such a dichotomy (but I don't know the guy, as some folks here apparently do). Here's what I think he's saying, and if he's not, it's what I'm saying. (The analogy to Nice Guys is mine, but I think apt.)

"Success in career and schools tends to go to confident people who are not shy about making the case for their strengths, just like success in love tends to go to confident, charming guys. This seems mighty unfair to a lot of people, who feel their deeper strengths are underappreciated. But it's a fact, and they would do well to get over the "unfairness" -- if it even is that -- and play the game that they know wins. And, if they took that risk, they might have to face the reality that in many cases their own unwillingness to risk, to put themselves out there and risk rejection, is an aspect of emotional underdevelopment.

My sense is that he pushed his desire to be provocative and tweak the shy over their attachment to the fairness issue too far by emphasizing the lying and cheating. But that's just the red cape in this bullfight. Fundamentally he seems to be saying he wishes some of his talented but reticent female students would promote themselves more. It's weird to me how many people are upset about that. Holding out for a world where hustle and networking is unconnected to success seems crazy to me. it certainly doesn't do the cause of feminism any favors.
posted by msalt at 8:12 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


msalt: "My sense is that he pushed his desire to be provocative and tweak the shy over their attachment to the fairness issue too far by emphasizing the lying and cheating. But that's just the red cape in this bullfight. Fundamentally he seems to be saying he wishes some of his talented but reticent female students would promote themselves more. It's weird to me how many people are upset about that. Holding out for a world where hustle and networking is unconnected to success seems crazy to me."

I won't speak for others, but it annoyed me because, in blurring a line to provoke a reaction, he blurred the single most important line in the debate. And if a world where success isn't dependent upon 'branding yourself' seems impossible to us, that means we're focusing far too much on ourselves; ours is probably the only society in the history of the world that's valued those things so much.
posted by koeselitz at 8:39 PM on January 19, 2010


To be little more personal and a little less agitprop about it:

I know that, in my own life, it's taken me a long time to inure myself to being professionally confident and sure of my own work, especially in the academic world. In fact, the biggest reason it was hard for me to do that was because there is such a cacophony of self-promotion, and because anyone who hesitates there is told that it's their own fault - that they have to learn to speak up, to promote themselves, to talk themselves up. And in general, as the game is played, the person who's best at this kind of self-promotion, which usually involves running other people down as much as is politely possible and stepping over everyone else to get ahead, wins.

So as a person who's not naturally talented at self-promotion, and who has moral scruples, I'm always faced with a dilemma: how far do I go? How much self-promotion is too much? And even beyond my concerns about my effect on other people, how can I feel any pride in myself or what I've accomplished when at the end of the day I'm the only one singing all the praises?

In my own life, I constantly find that the most difficult, and the most important, line for me to draw is the line between being confident in my own ideas and bold in their application on the one hand, and being a self-promoter, arrogant, narcissistic, or simply cruel on the other. It might seem as though, metaphorically, they're the same thing, but in very, very important ways they're not. And if I'm going to do this whole professional thing with any kind of dignity or moral scruples, I'd better damned well think hard about where that line between confidence and arrogance is drawn.

It's made even harder by the fact that nobody actually seems to believe anymore that that line exists. And every time Shirky or anybody else repeats this canard about how anybody needs to 'be better at self-promotion,' it gets more difficult.
posted by koeselitz at 8:54 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Koeselitz:

You've put down a lot of text, and I want you to know that I agreed with a lot of it. I think essentially this comes down to drawing that line you mention, the one that separates arrogance and self-assuredness.

The theme that makes me uncomfortable within your points is how easily you judge the behaviour of others using exaggeration. Narcissistic straw men do not prove that narcissism is fundamentally unsound.

For example, I know some marketers whose jobs depend on constant self-branding. It's weird to come out of the gym and buddy you've met once, about a month ago is patting you on the back, "Good workout, Neil?" But, I'm human, and I can't help but find it a bit endearing. It's so easy to dismiss the behaviour as "smily glad-hands," but then you know that it's not entirely fake when you do it. I don't believe that this skill of constant self-branding is making them unhappy. I think it gives them purpose just like being articulate, or analytical, or empathetic.

I liked your examples of the meek and the narcisist, but the tendency of glorifying the individual is only sometimes wrong-headed. There are also many things in this world that we are entitled to if we want them and can take them-- things for which charity and fraternity do not apply. When Christ said the meek shall inherit the earth, I think he meant meek towards the Lord (in other words, towards the Truth)-- not towards other men. You can't just say I'm doing God's will (the right thing) by living on my knees.

So, I wonder if you're not going a little too far in rejecting in yourself the behaviour in others that caused you some suffering. Like people who were made fun of for their appearance taking the nuclear approach and giving up on aesthetics, and people who didn't get a great education making a point of rejecting vocabulary, and hipsters making a point of rejecting wealth by drinking PBR, which is absolute garbage. And what stagewhisper said.

You've given me some things to think about, so maybe this is something for you. Ultimately, the individual (not consensus) is the moral calculator. Society is made of individuals, and by living the sum of our experiences, we make it into what it needs to become.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:48 PM on January 19, 2010


Finally managed to read the article. Most of you are talking about something other than what Shirky is. He's definitely not suggesting that women should become the sociopathic manager that ruins the workplace for everybody. Nor is he suggesging that they become pathological liars who invent work histories from whole cloth, and string along clients.

Here's the gist of it:
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.
I do this shit constantly. This is essentially how I make my entire damn living. I walk in the door, and they say, "How's your Objective-C?" and I say, "Oh, it's passable." And then I run home and buy an O'Reilly book and learn the language over the weekend before the second interview.

And the difference between what I do and what the pathological cases do that ya'll are tangentially discussing is that I have yet to fail in rising to the occasion. I set challenges by making these claims, and then I step up and meet them. I know what my skill level is, what I can produce, and I don't make promises I don't believe I can keep--I'm far happier saying, "I can build most of that, but can help you find a specialist for that video compression algorithm you need.". I'm pleased; my clients are pleased; and the product ships on time, under budget, and (relatively) free of defect.

Similarly, every silly little three-week personal side project becomes a major undertaking when discussed in an interview, with implications (not explicit claim) that somebody paid me for it. Every dead-end research path becomes "I did something similar in grad school". I wouldn't say I'm literally lying in those situations, as I only discuss projects that do actually bear some similarity to the topic at hand. But I'm certainly misrepresenting reality to some degree.

And I don't feel bad about it at all. If project managers had their druthers, and really did wait for the hacker who'd literally already done "one of those" before, they'd be waiting forever. Because I work in a field where the interesting things that get done have literally never been done before--if they were, you'd just buy a copy and save everybody lots of money and trouble.
posted by Netzapper at 12:52 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I do this shit constantly. This is essentially how I make my entire damn living. I walk in the door, and they say, "How's your Objective-C?" and I say, "Oh, it's passable." And then I run home and buy an O'Reilly book and learn the language over the weekend before the second interview.

If this is, truly, what Shirky is advocating that women are bad at, then I'm still calling BS on the whole shebangabang. There's nothing gendered about telling little white lies to get a leg up at an interview. There IS something socially gendered about constant self-aggrandizing. The problem is that Shirky seems to be equating these two, whether intentional or not.
posted by muddgirl at 6:58 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


To mny eye, the problem is the moralistic criticism of self-promoting behavior. I sure don't see where you (muddgirl) are drawing the line between "little white lies" and "constant self-aggrandizing," and I think Shirky is deliberately blurring that line.

Basically, there are two separate questions:
1) would many women succeed more if they promoted themselves more vigorously?
2) is there something morally wrong with doing that, or with a world that rewards it?

I think a lot of folks in this thread agree with #2 and are getting angry about #1 as a result. But I don't see anyone seriously disputing #1, which I think is the valuable point here.
posted by msalt at 9:26 AM on January 20, 2010


Here is my de-provocatized version of Shirky (a direct quote). Doesn't seem that controversial:

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.
....
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.

posted by msalt at 9:30 AM on January 20, 2010


msalt: “To my eye, the problem is the moralistic criticism of self-promoting behavior. I sure don't see where you (muddgirl) are drawing the line between "little white lies" and "constant self-aggrandizing," and I think Shirky is deliberately blurring that line. Basically, there are two separate questions: 1) would many women succeed more if they promoted themselves more vigorously? 2) is there something morally wrong with doing that, or with a world that rewards it? I think a lot of folks in this thread agree with #2 and are getting angry about #1 as a result. But I don't see anyone seriously disputing #1, which I think is the valuable point here.”

I don't know that you're saying this, msalt, but it seems as though you're indicating that Clay Shirky's piece here is about question #1, not question #2, and that, while you respectfully accept that it's an important question, question #2 is sort of beside the point of the rant.

But the fact is that Shirky deals with question #2 constantly throughout the article, and pretty much flatly denies that it's an important one at all. For example:

from link: “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.”

There's no denying that he really and truly says that 'arrogant' and 'jerky' are purely subjective terms, of no really objective meaning at all, and indicates that anyone who holds themselves to a standard on these things is simply bowing to the whims of other people.

That passage, among others, also indicates why you can't ultimately 'de-provocatize' the essay at all; you can't simply read "bold and confident person" where he says "self-aggrandizing jerk" because Shirky actually says there is no real difference between the two. Like it or not, he really means self-aggrandizing jerk.
posted by koeselitz at 1:34 PM on January 20, 2010


muddgirl: “The problem is that Shirky seems to be equating these two, whether intentional or not.”

... and the more I read this essay, the more I get the feeling that it's completely intentional. I think he really believes there is no line between the two. At least he claims openly and explicitly that he believes there is no real distinction between "little white lies" and "arrogant self-promotion" - beyond the lines people subjectively choose to draw.
posted by koeselitz at 1:38 PM on January 20, 2010


koeselitz: My reading of Shirky is that he is arguing against self-censorship and attempting to not be jerky or arrogant, because that makes it much harder to hit the sweet spot.

IE, let's posit a confidence range from 0 (immediate suicide) to 100 (megalomanic psychosis.) Say 62 is milquetoast, 88 is arrogant and jerky, and 76 is the perfect forceful and self-confident. I think Shirky is saying that if you're afraid to go over 76 ever, you'll average 68-70, and lose to reckless guy who tries 85, then scales it back to 76. It's easier to tone it down than to creep up, especially if you think going over 76 is morally wrong, rather than a technique of more or less effectiveness.

Now I could be wrong about Shirky's intention, but so what? He's not scripture. Let's edit his ideas and see if there's a worthwhile point there. I think there is.
posted by msalt at 2:04 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Still Not Invited to the Buffet -- a somewhat related posting on the preponderance of old white guys as invited speakers for conferences.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:17 AM on January 21, 2010


danah boyd:
"...we need men (and anyone with privilege) to consciously and conscientiously account for their own privilege and biases and to actively work to highlight and embrace diverse voices of all kinds.

Your interpretation of others is just as (if not more) important in creating change as their efforts to impress you.
"
posted by bru at 10:01 AM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wish I could put my finger on what annoys so much me about that kind of talk about privilege and overcoming it. I guess it's this: it implies people should be given attention and respect based on how marginalized they are, and that we should be hyperconscious about this all the time. Discussions of, say, cis-gendered privilege just seem like vastly overthinking and overcategorizing something simple.

Seems to me that a better rule is, we should give attention and respect to every one. And if we find ourselves dismissing anyone, it's useful to reflect on why we do that, and what important perspectives we might be missing by doing so.
posted by msalt at 12:30 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


he believes there is no real distinction between "little white lies" and "arrogant self-promotion"

You folks are using "white lie" in a different way than I was brought up to use it. To me, a white lie is used to spare someone's feelings -- something along the lines of "That was a delicious dinner. Thank you."

It's not "a lie that many people tell." For instance, many (most?) advertisers lie about their products and many (most?) politicians lie about what they'll do once they're office. The fact that "everyone does it and we know they're going to do it" does not make it a white lie. It's just a lie.

It's not "a lie that you'll later make true." If I total your car, it's not a white lie if I claim I haven't totaled it -- even if I get it fixed so that you never see the damage. That's just a lie.

It's stupid to argue over definitions, so you can call the above examples "white lies" if you want. My point is that there are lies we tell to spare other people's feelings and there are lies we tell out of selfishness, to keep out of trouble or to get ahead. MAYBE those lies do no harm to others, but that's not really our call to make. When you get my car fixed, the mechanic may alter some tiny detail that is important to me.

I am not claiming I don't tell self-aggrandizing lines. I'm done it plenty of times, in just the situation people here have been describing. In interviews, I've claimed that I know something that, in fact, I don't know. And then I've crammed over the weekend to learn it.*

What I don't do is claim to myself that I'm telling "little white lies." What I'm doing is this: I'm lying. I don't know how to do something. I'm claiming that I do know how to do it. I'm assuming that I'll get away with this lie, because I've done so in the past.

In my experience, being a career programmer involves a lot of lying. You lie to get jobs and you lie to keep jobs. For instance, I've been told by many seasoned programmers to pad the my estimates for how long I think it will take me to get something done. That's good advice (from a keeping your job point-of-view) and "everyone does it." It's also lying.

In Software Engineering departments, they should ask students "Are you willing to lie to your employer?" To a student who says "no," they should say, "Sorry. This field isn't for you." And that's probably true in many other fields, too, especially ones in which workers have specialized knowledge about subjects their superiors know little about.

Many of the women that I know feel much less comfortable telling these sorts of lies than many of the men that I know. Which puts them at a disadvantage in a discipline where such lies are pretty much required.

* When I say, "Sure. I know some C#," I may be able to cover my ass, but I won't write code that's as good as someone who has been coding in that language for a couple of years.

When I've gone back over code I've written after week-end, lie-covering cramming, I invariably find that it's pretty shoddy. And I often rewrite it after I have more experience. So if I'm honest with my employer -- which I'm not -- I will respond to his question about whether I know C# by saying, "Actually, I don't. But after this weekend, I'll be able to write some working C# code. It will get the job done, but the code will probably be sub-par."
posted by grumblebee at 8:19 AM on January 26, 2010


I don't know how much of a lie that is, grumblebee. In a sense, I "know" every Algol-like language. I might not have the exact details of the syntax and semantics swapped in, but I pretty much know what it is that I don't know and need to know, and so I look it up. People who aren't in the field don't necessarily understand this, and it's difficult to explain it to them. Some of them probably think that computer programming languages are like natural languages (they aren't).

If you tell such a person that you don't know the language (without qualification), they will infer that you can't code a month-long project in that language, which is not the case at all.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:39 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


People who aren't in the field don't necessarily understand this, and it's difficult to explain it to them.

Yes. This is why we lie. But it's still a lie.
posted by grumblebee at 4:22 PM on January 26, 2010


In my experience, being a career programmer involves a lot of lying. You lie to get jobs and you lie to keep jobs. For instance, I've been told by many seasoned programmers to pad the my estimates for how long I think it will take me to get something done. That's good advice (from a keeping your job point-of-view) and "everyone does it." It's also lying.

Most people aren't telling you this because you should pad your time with unnecessary waste, they are telling you this because people are REALLY BAD at estimating. You would think after years of delivering successful projects I would be good at telling how long it is going to take me to successfully and completely write, test, and release a project but the fact is, I almost always underestimate. Calling padding your time a "lie" puts a moral judgment on what is, for most people, a correction of cognitive bias and accounting for the real unknown that is inherent in almost all serious intellectual tasks that actually have some measure of correctness.

You keep making moral judgments in this thread that I have to say I find puzzling. Sometimes we do things not for moral reasons but to correct for our own suboptimal behaviors or the suboptimal behaviors of others. I'm not sure what you would prefer people do, for the fact remains that we are humans interacting with other humans, all with their own ingrained foibles and biases. As much as you might wish that people would understand that 2 weeks means "2 weeks assuming no major snafus that I forgot to account for in the design, no major distractions from the deliverable, and 2 weeks assuming perfect focus on the part of the implementers", it is really provably preferable to tell them 3 weeks and please them when you are done in 2, if that is actually the case. This does not make it a LIE. This makes it an estimation based on your better judgment, and not your base instincts. If you hit every single 2 week estimate you've ever made in your career, bravo sir, but you are a unique fellow and most of us are not that good, but that does not make us liars.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:31 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe we're just arguing over the definition of words. But it sounds like to me you're saying, "If you have a really good reason to say something that's untrue, it's not a lie."

What you're saying is untrue because you KNOW it's not the answer to what's being asked. You may think that it's the answer to what SHOULD be asked, but it's not the answer to what's being asked.

Here's a similar (but more fraught) situation. Let's say you're a doctor but you are about to quit your practice, because you have a serious alcohol problem and you know you'll harm anyone you'll treat. One day, you're on an airplane, you've had a bunch of drinks, and a guy down the aisle from you collapses. The person sitting next to you, who saw you reading a medical journal, asks, "Are you a doctor?" You say no.

You're lying. It's probably a good think that you're lying. But you know you're not answering the person in the way he wants to be answered. He would rather you say, "Yes, I am, but if I try to help the sick passenger, I will probably make things worse, because I'm drunk."

He would rather you tell him the truth, because he thinks he's qualified to make decisions with information like that. Maybe he'll say, "Well, you're the best doctor we have here. Please take a chance and help the guy, anyway." You don't think he's qualified to make that call. So you lie.

Your boss probably thinks he's qualified to make a good decision if you tell him the absolute truth ("I think it will take three weeks, but I'm not completely sure. It might take a week longer.") You (who are probably right) don't think he's qualified to make this decision. So you lie.

I understand all your reasoning, and it's my reasoning too. It's exactly why I pad my estimates.

But if what I'm doing isn't lying, what do you think would happen at most jobs if I said this: "I THINK it's going to take two weeks, but you know what, I suck at estimating. It might take four weeks."?

I actually told an employer something like this, once, and he said, "I count on your estimates. Then need to be RIGHT" or "Well, get it done in two weeks!"

So I lie. I make sure my lies come true by adding enough padding so that I know I can get the work done time. So I'm never caught. I'm a bit like a husband who is 100% sure his wife will never find out about his affair. I lie to save us both hurt. And maybe I'm right to do so.

What do I expect people to do in similar situations? I expect them to lie. As I do.

But if we deny that we're lying -- if we just redefine that lie as "an exaggeration" or whatever -- then we lose sight of the fact that the system is broken. If employers understood how coding works, we wouldn't have to lie. We need to keep that in the back of our minds, so that if we ever become employers, we'll do things differently.

If I understand you rightly (please tell me if I don't), you're saying, "padding is not lying, because it's justified in the circumstances." Well, that's what liars always say. That's genuinely how many of them feel. And often they are right. Most liars are not evil villains who rub their hands together and say Boohahahahahahahaha! The are regular, good people, trying to save their jobs, marriages, etc.

But my main point is, whether or not YOU call deadline-padding and resume-padding a lie, it DOES is a lie to SOME people. Those people are less likely to get ahead in their jobs, even if they are equally skilled as you are.

I should note that there are two kinds of ethics. By which I mean that people's ethical senses seem to be arranged in two different cognitive patterns. I wish I could remember the names for these patterns. Maybe someone here can help me out.

In any case, there are people who feel -- and both of these patterns are profound FEELINGS, not just abstract philosophies -- that all ethics are situational. To them, a lie told for a good reason should not be called a lie.

Other people are much more rigid. To them, a lie is a lie, regardless of any reason or justification. Both of these feelings exist (sometimes in the same person), and they're not going away. They are almost certainly hard-wired. The fact that some people feel that a lie is a lie is part of the human condition. If you're born with that feeling (which means you'll feel guilty, even if you tell a justified lie), it sucks to be you in the workplace.
posted by grumblebee at 5:05 AM on January 27, 2010


Maybe we're just arguing over the definition of words. But it sounds like to me you're saying, "If you have a really good reason to say something that's untrue, it's not a lie."

No. I am saying that we are discussing something that isn't a matter of truth. Just because you believe it doesn't mean it is true. In fact, you won't know the truth of the matter until after you have completed the project. Until then, you are just guessing, and you should not use your instincts (which might say "no problem! easy peasy!") but your judgment, which should stop you and say "I have been wrong on this often enough to add a bit of time to what my gut wants me to say". If it makes you feel better, tell your managers "I feel like this will only take 2 weeks, but factoring in the unknown, I am going to give you an estimate of 3 weeks". Your managers don't like you wasting their time with this exacting accounting for "truth" that you feel compelled to give? Well, it is insufferable and unnecessary, but then again, we programmers are an insufferable bunch so what can you do.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:52 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


« Older Brazilian guitarist Naudo has a nice command of hi...  |  Three-time Gramophone Award wi... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments