Clay Shirky’s rant about women

/ 29 January 2010

Clay Shirky has written a “rant about women” that explores his observation that the graduate student women in his program are not as good as the men at being self-promoting:

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.

Now this is asking women to behave more like men, but so what? We ask people to cross gender lines all the time. We’re in the middle of a generations-long project to encourage men to be better listeners and more sensitive partners, to take more account of others’ feelings and to let out our own feelings more. Similarly, I see colleges spending time and effort teaching women strategies for self-defense, including direct physical aggression. I sometimes wonder what would happen, though, if my college spent as much effort teaching women self-advancement as self-defense.</blockquote>

I've been thinking along these lines myself, in very personal terms, because for several years now I've wanted more ability to influence institutional practices at our place, to make a real difference in our shared culture. My suggestions/advice/even nagging of specific authority figures hasn't helped. And I have not been invited into any kind of structural leadership.

I have to wonder: have I been too unwilling to push myself forward? If so, what could I do to change that? It's a difficult puzzle, because there's a clear price to pay for stepping over specific boundaries of "appropriate" behavior in our place.