The male voice is what expertise comes to sound like
NPR’s On the Media did a piece about the disproportionate number of men in the media, including NPR and On the Media. An NYU professor did a blog rant on the subject awhile ago, and On the Media brought him (yes, him, and they did the irony-check) to talk about the issue. He said women aren’t quick enough to say “Me me me me look at me I’m good me me me.”
CLAY SHIRKY: I said it then, I believe it now. I think the concern for how other people think about you is one of the sources of essentially work paralysis among women.
One of the big skills that you need, and my institution does not do a good job of inculcating this in women – there are not enough institutions that do – one of the big skills is to be able to do what you want to do without caring what other people think.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You have to acknowledge the fact that when women put themselves out there, they’re called “biatches.” The word “shrill” is applied to them. They are not called “leaders.” They are not called “strong.”
CLAY SHIRKY: That is right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They’re called “strident – hags.”
CLAY SHIRKY: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And it’s a pain in the – butt.
Yes it is. And I’ll tell you why. There is more than one way for people to think about you, and some kinds of indifference are easier than others. Gladstone and Shirky sum up that difference very briskly in that brief passage. Allow me to explain. It is one thing to be considered – however disapprovingly – tough and aggressive and strong and ballsy. It is another to be considered a shrill strident hag bitch.
That’s all there is to it, really. That’s why Gladstone says it’s a pain in the ass. Yes it damn well is. Being considered strong and tough is not all that unpleasant even if the people who consider you that detest you. Being considered a shrill strident hag bitch is a whole different thing. And what Gladstone says is no lie: it takes very little for people to call a woman a bitch – or, as we have seen, shrill and strident.
So women can’t win no matter what they do. Either they hang back and don’t get the top jobs because they didn’t grab for them, or they grab for the top jobs and spend the rest of their lives as shrill strident hag bitches.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You write, “Women 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, 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.”
Okay – I do better with that one. I’m very very very good at behaving like an anti-social obsessive. I’m a *genius at that. Top of the class. And I’m not too bad at the pompous blowhard thing, and I do a fair bit of the self-promoting narcissism routine too.
CLAY SHIRKY: I’ll tell you though, the reaction that has surprised me most is that any number of people, many of them women, have come forward and said, essentially, women have a different way of getting along in the world, we’re more social, we’re more nurturing, and so forth.
And I have two problems with that attitude. The first is, essentially, that if you flowered up the language a little bit, you could dump that into a Victorian almanac.
And the second is that all of that kind of nurturing, social junk imagines that the best role we can imagine for women in the workplace is as kind of middle-management mommies, right?
God yes. I squawked when I heard that part. I squawked and I threw some things. It drives me crazy when women buy into that crap.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In your view, what is the impact of having so many more male voices as experts and sources than women?
CLAY SHIRKY: I think one of the big impacts is that the male voice is what expertise comes to sound like. And so, even from someone who doesn’t go in with a formally sexist bias about whether men are more expert than women in general, you may just unconsciously flip through to those parts of the rolodex.
Someone somewhere has to say, we have to change the fact of the representation before we change people’s mental model of what expertise sounds like because if we just wait, we will always lag the cultural change rather than leading it.
The male voice is what expertise comes to sound like – that is exactly it.