This week for Role/Reboot I wrote about the advice that women often get (and give!) about approaching workplace situations “like a man.” We think we will be more successful (measured in raises, promotions, respect, etc) if we mimic male peers, and truthfully, research says we probably will. Is that okay? Even referring to traits like ambition, assertiveness, and boldness as “masculine,” is problematic, obviously, but these are traits we actively cultivate in boys and often suppress in girls. Then, decades later, we reward people who exhibit these traits and cluck cluck at people who need to act like them to get recognized for their work. Doesn’t seem exactly fair, eh?
Wouldn’t it be cool if we thought that the traits we cultivate in girls were as valuable (things like organization, neatness, collaboration, creativity)? We might be coaching our male friends to act more like women in job interviews and salary negotiations. Can you imagine?
On a semi-related note, I just finished Their Eyes Were Watching God, as you know, and the critical essay at the end by Mary Helen Washington seems relevant. Many critics wonder why Janie doesn’t speak up for herself during the final trial scene (given that it’s a book about a woman finding her voice). Washington writes:
“Although I, too, am uncomfortable with the absence of Janie’s voice in the courtroom scene, I think that silence reflects Hurston’s discomfort with the model of the male hero who asserts himself through his powerful voice….When Janie says at the end of her story that “talkin’ don’t amount to much” if it’s divorced from experience, she is testifying to the limitations of voice and critiquing the culture that celebrates orality to the exclusion of inner growth.”
Related Post: I read Lean In so you don’t have.