Clay Shirky has a rant up about women and the gender based expectations of behavior. The general theme is about how he’s noticed men are typically more self-aggrandizing than women, and that women would be better served if they represented themselves more aggressively.
As Shirky often is, it’s a good read. The comments are rough, as folks are responding less to his sentiment (there is an unfair problem that should be fixed) and more to the specifics of his arguments, which, given the title, are easily read in a gender-biased way.
But there’s one passage that bounced around in my mind more than others:
And it looks to me like women in general, and the women whose educations I am responsible for in particular, are often lousy at those kinds of behaviors, even when the situation calls for it. They aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.
First and foremost, I have met plenty of women who act like self-promoting narcissists. I’d never say this was a common trait, but I have definitely seen it. Someone in the comments suggested going back stage at a beauty show or field hockey game. I’ve seen it in every job I’ve had, both in men and in women.
Second, I’m not sure changing the world is worth the price of having to work with a person of any gender who is a pathological asshole or pompous blowhard.
Third, the correlation between being an arrogant self-aggrandizing jerk and changing the world is not the cause of their impact. In most cases their lack of willingness to compromise, combined with superior ideas. You don’t need to be a narcissist, you just need to be confident and effective. Being a jerk is perhaps the lamest way we have to be confident and effective.
Also, there is changing the world vs. being famous for changing the world. The later is the one where all the self-aggrandizement and narcissism matters more.
I think it’s a fair bet to say most people, most of the time, struggle with the line between self-promotion and self-respect. Much of the advice on how to balance this applies well to both genders I think.
This isn’t to say that women do not have unique challenges, or a more difficult line to walk, it seems clear they do.