I’m Calling Out Clay Shirky On His Rant About Women
A Rant About Women, a blog post by NYU professor Clay Shirky, has raised a ruckus (over 500 comments and many, many, many retweets) because he said that women themselves are in part responsible for being paid less than male counterparts and not receiving as many promotions. He essentially said that our economic position would be improved if we raised our hands more and said “I can do that. Sign me up. My work is awesome.” Agreed, we need to say our work is awesome and based on anecdotal evidence of my many talented, successful and impressive female friends and colleagues many women are uncomfortable with singing their own praises (at least the way many men do it with a bullhorn and swagger). So my rant does not preclude the notion that women need to be willing to speak up more about their talents. That being said I don’t see the cause and effect relationship that Shirky does. His blog post and the ensuing furor made me think of a book I read in college* that starts with this:
“…Zero Mostel [comic actor in 50s & 60s] used to do a sketch in which he impersonated a Dixiecrat Senator conducting an investigation of the origins of WWII. At the climax of the sketch, the Senator boomed out, in an excruciating mixture of triumph and suspicion “What was Pearl Harbor doing in the Pacific? This is an extreme example of blaming the victim.”
Granted, women are no longer blatantly characterized as being inferior or too emotional to run the show. We have progressed beyond that, but in some ways that blatant discrimination was easier to fight. It was visible. It stood before us in all its bold finery of prejudice making it easier to disrobe. But subtle discrimination, couched in concern for our well-being is harder to fight against especially because Shirky and people like him are not intentionally, consciously distorting the realities of the workplace and women in it. But the truth is we still operate in a good old boy system and a generations-old work construct set up by men for men – isn’t that the real problem that needs to be addressed? If the credentials of a woman and man are essentially the same and a woman is paid less, are we now to believe that that’s our responsibility for not speaking up? And should we also believe that the reason a woman didn’t get the promotion that a man did was because she didn’t speak up? In other words that promotion 20+ years ago that I didn’t get and a man with less experience got was because I didn’t speak up or didn’t speak up loudly enough? Bull-dinggies.
Shirky started his post with a story about a man who asked for a job recommendation to which Shirky responded “Tell me what you think I should say.” The man then wrote overly superlative things so Shirky toned it down but later felt the guy got a better recommendation from him than he would have if he hadn’t written overly superlative descriptors. So Shirky’s line of thought continued that a woman would not have exaggerated her talents and therefore not received as good a recommendation. Please explain to me why that becomes the woman’s fault and not Shirky’s?
So Clay Shirky, I’m calling you out. Let’s see what kind of “ovaries” you really have. Are you ranting about women because an arrogant, self-aggrandizing man manipulated you into writing a better recommendation than you would have? Are you blaming women for not getting better jobs when, in fact, as an educator you didn’t educate them on how to do so? Do you really think that simply raising our hands and speaking up will change the tide of gender bias?
So come on Shirky, I’m raising my hand and saying “Put ’em up, put ’em up! … I can fight you with one paw tied behind my back. I can fight you standing on one foot. I can fight you with my eyes closed.”
*Blaming The Victim by William Ryan a book about how victims of poverty are cast as the villains rather than the inequality of an American society.