Magazine article The American Prospect

Swagger like Us

Magazine article The American Prospect

Swagger like Us

Article excerpt

Ever since women began making serious workplace gains in the 1970s, there has been a debate about the best way for them to climb the professional ladder. More often than not, the answer has been to "act like a man"--if you can't beat the boys' club, join it. Oversell yourself in job interviews. Ask for more raises. Demand a better title. Be assertive in expressing your opinion. You're gonna make it after all.

Women have made only marginal professional and political progress over the last decade, yet this simple refrain--be aggressive! B-E aggressive!--still makes for a convenient, can-do solution. In January, new-media guru Clay Shirky published "A Rant About Women" on his blog, summing up this view: "I sometimes wonder what would happen, though, if my college spent as much effort teaching women self-advancement as self-defense....Now this is asking women to behave more like men, but so what? We ask people to cross gender lines all the time."

Even after decades of women suiting up in shoulder pads and trying to cross that line, we continue to simultaneously embrace the idea that powerful women promise to be different, somehow, from powerful men. Supposedly, women are natural mediators. Women know how to multitask. Women are more levelheaded. If women ruled the world, it would be more stable, less violent, and color-coordinated.

The idea that what's between your legs determines your management style is also nothing new. LouAnn Brizendine generated a flurry of style-section articles in 2006 when she released her book, The Female Brain, about how every woman is "a lean, mean communicating machine." Anti-feminist crusader Christina Hoff Sommers has written that "a practical, responsible femininity could be a force for good in the world beyond the family, through charitable works and more enlightened polities and government." And in December, The Economist reported on a new breed of "feminist management theorists" who are extolling the virtues of women's kinder, gentler leadership style.

So which is it? Should women be amplifying their aggression to mimic successful men? Or should they try to get ahead by playing up what supposedly makes them different from the testosterone-fueled CEOs who fed one financial bubble after another? The more time you spend thinking about women's stalled progress in the working world--they were only 6. …

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