Women

Shirky: Women Need to Strap On Some Balls

|


Dating Tip #345 -- Men respond to low self-esteem.

World's Most Magnificent Supergenius Clay Shirky can extrapolate Women's Problems from a single data point: an overly pushy male grad student who bullied Shirky into giving him a better recommendation than he deserved. From this experience, Shirky propounds a General Theory of Maleness that is (we're happy to report) fully adaptable to the female subset of maleness:

The difference between me and [Six Degrees of Separation-inspiring con artist] David Hampton isn't that he's a con artist and I'm not; the difference is that I only told lies I could live up to, and I knew when to stop. That's not a different type of behavior, it's just a different amount.

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.

Fun, fun, fun — and remember, it's daddy who takes the T-Bird away. I'm too much of a sniveling gamma/epsilon male to draw a conclusion as beefy as Shirky's, but I am surprised to see what levels of subordination some professional women remain willing to accept, at least in traditional office environments. But I would emphasize the some back there, and in fact the biggest self-promoter I ever met was a female of the opposite sex. Maybe things are different at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, but I'm not sure how representative of the private sector ITPANYU is.

Dating Tip #179 -- If there's no menace, men get bored.

Before addressing the issue of what women don't want, I note that narcissism has never in my experience added to the magnificence of any project, nor has self-aggrandizement created any wealth, nor has self-advancement achieved anything other than capturing a bigger share of an existing pie for the self-promoter. It may be true that these qualities are well represented among world changers, whoever they are. And I presume the majority of world changers have been men up to this point. But we don't have a counterhistory wherein some effort to protect equal rights for women has been in place since ancient Greek civilization (or I should say: the matriarchal civilization that the Greeks stole everything from!). So I'm not sure we should complain that the workforce might be seeing comparatively fewer of these male virtues in the future, or expect that the world will be changing any more slowly as a result.

As to whether women need to be more pushy, less pushy, or just right, I believe this falls into Cavanaugh's General Theory of 33.3. About a third of women are Daddy's Girls; another third are dominant, secure, self-confident, nasty, violent, selfish, independent, proud, thrill-seeking, free-wheeling, arrogant females; and the rest don't care enough to have an opinion. These percentages vary with events and movements, but regress to stability. There are mirror categories for men, and for the most part members of each group mate and procreate with members of their corresponding categories.

The recession has revealed more brittleness in the job market for men than for women. In school, girls are outperforming boys at rates that alarm the squares. Women's relative financial attainment continues to grow at a rate remarkable for an economy as advanced and sclerotic as America's. So I'm not sure we have a problem, other than the ancient problem that men continue to give women something they don't need: advice.