In general, the Henry Higgins Argument (see clip) centers on the idea that women have less status, at school and at work, at least in part because we fail to ask for it. Men ask for raises and promotions and get them — if women learn the same behavior, they'll get the same results. The latest in this vein (though by no means the first), is Clay Shirky's "A Rant About Women." "A Rant" is much less assholey than it sounds, and actually pretty sympathetic to women at school and in the workplace. But Shirky's claim that women don't get ahead because "not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks" is still wrong-headed. Three reasons more jerkitude and "con artistry," as Shirky calls it, aren't what women need:
When women do ask for raises/promotions/public office/attention/respect, they often get punished.
See Clinton, Hillary. Men who act "like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards" (again, Shirky's words) often get rewarded, at least with attention if not always with affection. Women who act this way get labeled harpies, divas, ball-busters, feminazi bonerkillers, or bitches. Society has a love-hate relationship with the "pompous blowhard," the "self-aggrandizing jerk," the lovable asshole. It has a hate-hate relationship with the bitch. While men who seek success in an overt, asking-for-shit way are often seen to deserve said success, women who exhibit the same exact behavior are frequently assumed to have something wrong with them. All this has been said so many times before, I can hardly believe I just typed it.
"The squeaky wheel gets the grease" is a shitty way to run a world.
Back in December, Shaun Rein wrote for Forbes that, "Very often bosses don't even think about who should be advanced and who shouldn't. They're busy juggling too many things. You have to sell them on the idea of promoting you." It may be true that corporate bosses aren't paying attention to who actually deserves advancement, but that doesn't mean it's a good way to run a company. Another example: when I used to teach, I learned that kids who didn't raise their hands often had smart things to say, but I needed to remember to call on them. That was my job as a teacher, because the class was going to be less interesting and everyone was going to learn less if I let the most assertive kids dominate all the time. Assertiveness is undeniably useful, and in the future I hope it's encouraged as much in girls as it is in boys. But it's not necessarily an indicator of talent, intelligence, or ability to actually get shit done.
And, finally: "The world sucks, change yourself" is a recipe for injustice.
Shirky writes, "in an ideal future, self-promotion will be a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well. This isn't because of oppression, it's because of freedom." Shirky has an idealistic view of self-promotion — he also thinks it's a marker of a variety of other skills, about which I'm very skeptical (see above). Others take a dimmer view: it's a dog-eat-dog world, and women had better transform themselves into better dog-eaters. This "change-yourself-to-fit-in" advice has been given to pretty much every marginalized group over the years, and it sticks around because, for some individual people, it works. But those people still have to work within the existing power structure. The harpy/diva/bitch archetype isn't going to go away because a few women are allowed to sneak around it, and the culture of rewarding self-promotion above other qualities isn't going to become fair for everyone just because a few women manage to share the pie. Those who are marginalized by a system are often those best able to see its flaws, and teaching those people just to work around their marginalization is a great way to keep them quiet, and to keep anything from ever changing. Let's not fall for it.