Clay Shirky’s “rant about women” has been on my mind this weekend. Although the blog post is intended to advice women on how to become more successful, there’s something about it that made me feel very uneasy.
Clay’s rant about women begins with his former male student’s request for a recommendation. Clay asks the student to write down what he thinks Clay should say about him. The student returns with his draft peppered with praise, which Clay then tones down a notch “…so that it sounds like it’s coming from a person and not a PR department” before sending it off.
Right. If you ask me, this whole practice of writing your own letter of recommendation is dodgy, but that’s entirely another discussion.
Having signed the letter, Clay is left feeling annoyed. The interesting bit is that he’s not annoyed at himself for getting into this situation, or the student in question for being cheeky – no, he’s upset at us women.
Hang on. “What have we done to get the pointy finger?” I thought to myself reading this. Apparently it is not what we’ve done, it’s what we haven’t done, or will not do. Women, he says, would never write a letter overstating their abilities. And that’s because…
… not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. 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, and if they can’t do that, they’ll get less of what they want than they want.
Clay admire the con artists. Why? Because a risk taker have bigger wins than those who are not. But they also fall harder. With a touch of admiration he mentions David Hampton who pretended he was Sydney Poitier’s son to make people give him money, but also points to the fact that these kinds of lies are not sustainable for long and inevitably lead to failure and “jail”. It’s the risks we can live up to Clay promote: ‘harmless con artistry’, such as lying about your skills in an interview.
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, and if they can’t do that, they’ll get less of what they want than they want.
I’m left with the feeling that until women dare being like men, we’re simply mediocre.
This is why I felt upset after reading Clay’s post. I too agree that being able to speak up for yourself or promote yourself is desirable & necessary qualities. Being able to say “I’m proud of my work” is crucial for someone who wants to advance in their career. It’s just that I fail to see how ‘con artistry’ solves what I think is the real problem:
How do we recognize real talent, accomplishment, skills and ambition fairly?
We’re not getting anywhere by favoring ‘male’ nor ‘female’ behavior. If at all possible, the only way forward is to kill the idea that one of the two sexes is more successful or more right in their actions than the other: Women’s effort and work will never be recognized fairly in society, in the arts or at the work place until we accept the ridiculously simple thought that women should not have to become men in order to be successful.
I’m going to put my hand up and say what I feel: I want to be great and I want to be me. I’d rather not have to become a “Moustache McMasculine” to succeed.
Clay, your rant is not really about women – you’re not annoyed about women’s behavior. You’re annoyed at one student overstating his abilities and upset that you’ve signed a letter that’s not entirely reflective of the truth. And perhaps you realize that by supporting this behavior, you’re part of a culture that is so difficult to change.