Breaking: Gender discrimination and power equals sexism

I know, you might already know this, but Victoria Pynchon at Forbes is still trying to figure out which came first, gender oppression or internalized reactions to gender oppression.

via Forbes.

Which came first – discrimination against women in pay and power or women’s own failure to negotiate the pay and power we deserve? If you ask this question of most business women today, they’ll say discrimination came first.

But if they’ve been paying attention to press coverage about the social science on women and negotiation, they’re likely to blame themselves for failing to achieve as much as their male counterparts.

I’m afraid to negotiate, they’ll say. And when I donegotiate, I’m more likely to get blowback than a raise. What I’m supposed to do is negotiate nicely, to be relentlessly pleasant, to use we and not melanguage so that I’m not crossing gender boundaries.

And Pynchon is fed up with what George Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” What Pynchon is indirectly suggesting is the core argument in conservative attacks on affirmative action and any other form of state sanctioned support of historically disenfranchised communities–that if they just tried harder they would succeed.

The problem with this position is that it ignores the very core of what causes oppression–that it is not about whether you work hard or not but that the person you were born and where you fit into the world determines what you have access to–broadly. Sure, there is something to be said for hard work, asserting yourself and pushing yourself, but statistically, women, have to push much harder than men and it is that deficit that is at the core of sexism on a structural level.

If women are not negotiating in the world of business as aggressively as they could on behalf of themselves it is most likely because they are called a bitch when they do and/or they have internalized the belief that they are not able to. That is not a personal failing but a response to a culture of sexism. So, we can just bury the hatchet with this one: sexism is a product gender discrimination and power together, they survive off each other and without dismantling one, we can’t dismantle the other.

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  • Victoria Pynchon

    Really? Did you read the entire post? The question “what came first discrimination against women in pay and power or women’s own failure to negotiate the pay and power we deserve?” is rhetorical. I go on to explain that women are being told to be “relentlessly pleasant” and to change their negotiation style so that they don’t experience gender “blow back.”

    I suggest that “commerce needs to change more to accommodate the styles of its new diverse workforce than its workforce needs to change to accommodate it.” I also quote sources that argue women’s alleged “negotiation deficit” is a “woman-blaming approach that holds women responsible for both the problem of the gender gap in pay and for resolving gender discrimination.”

    Women have been telling women that they need to be “nice” and “inoffensive” to get what they want because when they’re assertive and ask for raises or promotions they get gender “blow-back” because they’re crossing gender boundaries. I say that if we hadn’t crossed gender boundaries in the early seventies we wouldn’t have entered business and the professions in droves. I included my favorite feminist quote that “no well-behaved woman ever made history.”

    My “core argument” is not that “if [women] just tried harder they would succeed.” My “core argument” is that women do not have a negotiation deficit, that they should not be told to soften themselves to match the culture’s gender expectations and that they should learn the most effective negotiation techniques to get more of what they want by negotiating effectively for it. This is akin to suggesting that women improve their economic status by going to law or medical or engineering school. It is not an anti-affirmative action piece by any stretch of the imagination.

    Feministing is one of my favorite blogs. So it troubles me more to feel misrepresented here than in, say, the Daily Kos or even the National Review.

  • Andrew

    thanks for the post, “lift yourself up by your own damn bootstraps” is an easy way to dismiss and distract and heck even MANSPLAIN away inequality

  • Rick

    Yes, Andrew, and that doesn’t change the fact that it’s also good advice. Assuming no one is going to give everything to you and that you need to (and usually can) take it for yourself is not only empowering (at least as I hear that), it’s the only thing the would-be successful woman can do in those circumstances. I agree that a large part of the problem here is the way many (most?) women are socialized: be nice, never confront anyone, never be demanding, etc. And part of the problem is that there are still many people (apparently) who view a woman who stands up for herself as a bitch rather than as a person with rights. But while those of us in a position to challenge that aspect of our culture certainly ought to do so, it would behoove the woman who wishes to advance to do her best to pluck up her courage and ask for that raise.

    I think that a lot of these “don’t tell women what to do; this is purely a cultural problem!” responses are an (understandable) overreaction to historical victim-blaming. But these responses are impractical and, I think, patronizing. While men and women work to correct cultural problems and while we ask men in particular to stand up to their sexist friends, the process can be hastened by courageous women who ask for raises/stand up for themselves/refuse to be harassed/etc. Certainly, not every woman will have the courage to do so — just as not every man who respects women will have the courage to stand up to his friends. (I’ve certainly failed at this, and each failure pains me — and rightfully so.) But we should encourage both men and women to attack sexism as best they’re able.

    And frankly, there are many things about the way I was socialized when I was young that were probably unhelpful. There were many more unhelpful social habits I’ve probably acquired as an adult. This does not absolve me from the responsibility to do what I can to fix them and confront my problems. So why do we feel the need to tell women that they’re powerless and that, rather than learning to attack the problems themselves, they should simply wait for men and sexist women to fix everything? That seems utterly counterproductive.