CLAY SHIRKY IS OUR GUEST TODAY AND HE’S WRITTEN THIS POST FOR YOU TO RESPOND TO…
I wrote “A Rant About Women” for several reasons, but mostly because I see my great female students go out into the world and under-promote themselves. For me, the key idea in that essay is that women should get better at “behaving like arrogant, self-aggrandizing jerks”, as I put it then.
One of the key ideas there is the idea of “behaving like”, rather than “being like”, because it isn’t actually up to us whether we come across that way. It’s up to other people.
Imagine a kind of map of arrogant behavior, ranked by time, amount, and social judgement. Now imagine someone who topped the scale on all three axes — someone who always behaves in a completely arrogant way in the eyes of everyone they interact with. We’d have no trouble labeling that person ‘arrogant’ in a pretty uncomplicated way.Similarly, anyone who behaves in ways that no one ever thinks is arrogant would be easy to label.
Between those two points though, Casper Milquetoast and John Q.
Jerk,is the entirety of the real world. And although we ascribe arrogance to people as a personal characteristic, as if it was the behavioral equivalent of being tall or having brown eyes, in fact what we mean when we call someone arrogant is that *we* are making some judgment about how much they behave that way, how much of the time.
Unlike being tall, or having brown eyes, you can’t be arrogant if you are sitting alone in your room — physical characteristics exist independent of other people’s judgment, but social ones don’t.
When you imagine a person who is self-assured and willing to speak their mind, and another person whose an egotistical contrarian, you quickly discover that they can actually be the same person simply being judged differently in different social contexts. In that rant I was very careful never to use the language of existence or essence; I always talked about behavior.
For any class of success that involves public visibility, the threshold at which other people are willing to start hating on you is very very low; I’m advocating that women steel themselves to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks, not because that’s what they’ll be, but because that’s the negative judgment they have to be prepared to receive if their work is good and they say so.