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Collide this story with Clay Shirky's piece, on hacker news two days ago: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1056689

What flies out of the wreckage is the idea that it is not really about, in Clay Shirky's words, "Not enough women are arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks." The issue is actually how to triumph over imposter syndrome. Men are doing it by "cheating" and claiming to be able to do things that they actually can do even thought they think they cannot and are merely imposters. Women are failing to triumph over imposter syndrome.




There may be some truth to that, but I think it is more complicated than that.

In the US, women who are childless and unmarried make about 98% as much as men with similar education and experience. Women who are married and/or have kids make, on average, about 2/3 what men make which means men make about 50% more than women make. About 90% of women have kids, sooner or later. Those who don't, are likely to adopt. When a man moves, it is usually because he got a job elsewhere. When a woman moves, it is often to follow her spouse or boyfriend to his new job. This means when a given couple move, he is probably taking a step up in his career and she is very likely taking a step down. Given that women are much more likely than men to stay home with the kids for a time or otherwise take time off from work to attend to the children, for most women it makes sense to favor supporting his career goals over hers.

Additionally, most jobs and education are geared towards a schedule that works well for your typical white american male with his own car and with a woman attending to details like grocery shopping so he can focus on his job/education. This hurts not only women but minorities who have fewer resources and/or a different lifestyle/different values and cannot readily conform to such expectations. Benefits also tend to line up with the expectation that you can work full time for a number of years at it. So a woman who works part-time (even 30 hours a week) at the same company for 20 years will have nowhere near the resources that someone working full-time would have. She is not likely to get tenure, she may not qualify at all for many of the benefits programs, etc.

Additionally, studies show that male traits, like being tall or having a deep voice, are generally viewed as "authoritative". This can be an insurmountable obstacle. For example, high heels may make a woman appear taller but they are not generally associated with being in charge. They are more likely to be interpreted as "sexy" rather than "authoritative".

My personal experience has been that behavior which is viewed as normal and acceptable in men is often interpreted as extremely aggressive in a woman and is socially censured. The fact that I tend to sit up front in classes or large meetings often gets noticed by other people and seems to be viewed as "aggressive". The truth is, I do so for reasons like: I don't see that well and I have some hearing problems. Other people don't necessarily know that and seem to assume I'm some brass balls bitch....or some such. Even if they did know it, I don't know that it would be viewed as more acceptable. The last week of GIS school, I realized that most women consistently sat in the back two rows of class. Given the amount of negative attention I get for doing "aggressive" things like sitting up front, I really can't blame other women for avoiding such behaviors. <shrug>


I thought that the Clay Shirky piece had two flaws. First the examples were mostly about people getting a key break by pretending to have a higher level of skill than they actually possessed. His headline grabbing phrase went far beyond the actual insight in the piece. Second the insight lacked plausibility. If you claim skills that you lack, you get caught.

This second flaw required amplification. There is a huge issue with creeping credentialism. This includes asking for skills that are not infact required. Naturally people lie about possessing these skills and escape detection because the question was bogus to begin with. However Shirky's article focused on examples where the skill was actually required and assessed. So there is a problem.

I respect Shirky so a question got lodged in my mind. He has seen and written about something real, but what? Two days later: a post on Hacker News about imposter syndrome. Now it makes more sense. You can draw but feel like a fraud, so when asked if you can draw, you say no. Then you are asked "how's your drafting?" It is good enough, but again you feel like an imposter and answer no. That is how opportunities are missed.

My badly written toplevel comment was intended to focus very narrowly on this area of intersection between the imposter piece and the Shirky piece.


No sweat. I've just read a lot about women's issues over the years and I think it very often gets short shrift. Even if women are 'more arrogant and self aggrandizing' or 'better at overcoming impostor syndrome'...or whatever the issue is here... That whole baby-bearing thing tends to trip them up. I've been close to some women who didn't initially have any particular plans to settle down and have kids and were all too happy to pursue life in a man's world on the terms offered. They did very well -- until they had a baby. Then it all came crashing down and they wound up enormously frustrated with their lives and bewildered at their inability to escape the fate of so many women that they thought for a time they had already escaped.

In contrast, European women have generally faired better than American women. Historically, they didn't fight for "rights". Instead, they worked for support and assistance for the burden of bearing and raising their kids. Getting that has allowed women in some European countries to close the wage gap to some extent and to do a better job of balancing career and family. They also generally have more family support and lower divorce rates. The typical historical American attitude of "Don't tread on me" (and the general F... You attitude that goes with it) works okay until you have a baby and then need community support of some sort. Then bitchy positions about not needing a man (or anyone else) suddenly don't work so well.

Um, I'll just stop here. Consider it a pet topic of mine. Okay? :)




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