Career WISE women in computer science

Walking The Line

tightrope walking-site
Credit: Flickr / Justin Gaynor

I’ve been thinking, and worrying, and talking with other women about the how hard it can be to walk the line between being a bitch, and being a pushover, for a long time.

It took me a long time to realise, that this line isn’t just a line we walk because it is there, isn’t just our problem. It is a line that other people draw for us. And it’s difficult because they draw it in different places, and in different widths.

Take a statement like, “No, I think that is a bad idea.

The woman making it is a pushover when… they get ignored.

The woman making it is a bitch when… the person whose idea it is views it as an attack.

The woman making it is a human when… it is viewed as the start of a dialog, because a smart, reasonable person wouldn’t object without good reason.

For the most part, men have wider lines drawn for them. The presumed competence means they are less likely to be pushed around. There is no concept of being a bitch, they are allowed to be less “emotionally aware”, which broadens the line on the other side.

Then take those situations where you’re expected to drink the coolaid. Is a man more likely to just be seen as having a healthy skepticism? Being “incurably honest”?

But a woman… it’s so easy for her to be a bitch. We have to take care of the lines we draw for each other, and the lines that other people have drawn, that we try to walk between. Figure out where they are, and choose those people that make the lines as wide as possible. Walking a tighrope is hard. An invisible one, impossible.

One of the takeaways I took from The Male Factor is that I should feel OK with 20% of men thinking I’m a bitch, because 20% of them are prone to find women to be attacking them in some way. So I tell myself that too much below 20% and I’m pandering to them. More than that, and I might actually be kind of a jerk. This has been a liberating attitude to take. I know, trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity [Colin Powell], but having a metric is comforting.

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