Do We Need To Be Jerks?

hope
Credit: flickr / alicepopkorn

From “A Rant About Women” by the awesome Clay Shirky (emphasis mine).

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 have changed the world.

It’s tempting to imagine that women could be forceful and self-confident without being arrogant or jerky, but that’s a false hope, because it’s other people who get to decide when they think you’re a jerk, and trying to stay under that threshold means giving those people veto power over your actions. To put yourself forward as someone good enough to do interesting things is, by definition, to expose yourself to all kinds of negative judgments, and as far as I can tell, the fact that other people get to decide what they think of your behavior leaves only two strategies for not suffering from those judgments: not doing anything, or not caring about the reaction.

Part of this sorting out of careers is sexism, but part of it is that men are just better at being arrogant, and less concerned about people thinking we’re stupid (often correctly, it should be noted) for trying things we’re not qualified for.

He’s right. I am afraid to go out and put myself out there. I don’t want to be arrogant, and I don’t want to be a jerk. Are the downsides in missed opportunities worth it? Maybe not – but can we find a better way?

This post by Tom Coates gives some perspective – from the beginning of his article [talking about Shirky’s post] (emphasis mine).

I’ve been reading responses to this piece on Twitter and elsewhere, and I’ve become increasingly horrified by what I’ve seen. Generally, it’s being viewed as a call to arms to create a new breed of women who are as self-important, self-promoting, shameless and arrogant as some of the worst (and most celebrated) men in the industry. This attitude is being viewed as the ‘way to get ahead’ for any individual wanting to make their mark in the world.

… he finishes – and I like this –

The right thing to do is to get it into the heads of our VCs and companies that a hunger to win at any cost is not the main attribute of a creative or productive person. That the ability to be intelligent, think through problems, work with other people, develop ideas effectively – that all of these traits are better indicators of success than how big they tell you their testicles are! That the person who comes to you with the biggest pitch is not necessarily the person you should be listening to.

And while encouraging people to spot the talented and the creative, we should also be considering how we shame those people who self-promote without creating. The financial collapse has taught us that rhetorical bubbles divorced from reality are a danger to us all. We’re already approaching this point – our industry has become venal, insular and dominated by marketing. We have come to value the wrong things. And if we want a continued vigorous, creative, free, open and equal environment, that’s something we have to fix. It’s not something to aspire to.

5 thoughts on “Do We Need To Be Jerks?

  1. Thought-provoking indeed. Again it boils down to navigating a really thin line and whenever you attempt to do that you will at times fall off. I mean even the tight-rope walkers fall off, and our line is not that thin…..i hope.

  2. Exactly! The WISE talk the other day really helped in my thoughts about this, too. Determining the width of the line is probably the trickiest part, and will be different for everyone, too.

  3. Exactly! The WISE talk the other day really helped in my thoughts about this, too. Determining the width of the line is probably the trickiest part, and will be different for everyone, too.

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