Monday, January 30, 2012


In this corner, representing feminists who are not afraid to be bitchy, is Anna North. North writes for Jezebel.

In that corner, representing women who want to be more effective leaders, is Cheryl Isaac. Isaac writes for Forbes.

Let the games begin.

Anna North wrote her article first so I will allow her to throw the first jabs. Fair is fair.

North wants women to become more assertive. For reasons that North does not explain, after decades of feminist indoctrination women are still having problems asserting themselves.

Given that she's a feminist, North tries to blame it on the patriarchy, that is, on the culture’s expectations about women.

In reality, the ambient culture has been all too friendly to feminist ideas. In my view, feminism is the problem more than the solution.

If a woman believes that she has to choose between being a doormat and being a bitch, which is the way feminism presents these alternatives, she will most likely choose the former.

The feminist party line does not see things this way. It assumes, as North states it, that women fail to assert themselves because they fear being seen as bitchy.

As you know, feminist grievance mongers always make the point that if a woman acts as aggressively as a man she will be disparaged.

They fail to mention that no one respects a woman who is pretending to be something she is not.

North explains that the culture tells women to be nice, to smooth things over, to conciliate and to compromise. Thus, it follows, as the night the day, that women are being socialized to be passive and non-confrontational.

North quotes Dr. Lois Frankel’s typical feminist boilerplate: “What women need to understand is that the fear of being seen as ‘not nice’ or bitchy comes from social messages about how they should behave.  It's the way men have gotten women to acquiesce for centuries.  Just the thought of being considered less than nice makes a woman feel less than feminine.  Each time you hesitate or avoid asking for what you want you've bowed to these messages.  The vast majority of women could be more assertive and still be far from bitchy in reality.  When you're called that, it's usually because you didn't do what someone else wants –- in which case, kudos to you!”

Frankel seems to be a true believer in the social construct school of thought. This school claims that there is nothing about a woman’s genetic makeup or her body that has any intrinsic connection with nurturance.

In her mind women have been induced to be caring and nurturing creatures because men want them to be subservient.

Niceness has been imposed on women by the patriarchy, the better to control and subjugate them. Were they to be liberated from their chains women would happily be bitchy, nasty, aggressive, and confrontational.

If this is being passed off as scientific opinion, then something is wrong with our graduate degree programs.

North herself then adds some bad advice about relationships.

She says: “You may think you're being nice by keeping your emotions to yourself, but you're also depriving the people around you of the opportunity to know how you're feeling. People who care about you — partners, friends, family members, etc. — don't want to unintentionally bug you or make you feel bad. Nor do they deserve the simmering resentment you may start to feel if you never speak up. So while being assertive about your own needs may seem like a more confrontational choice in the short term, in the long term it can actually be the loving thing to do.”

Just in case you were wondering how the therapy culture is doing, it is alive and well in feminist fantasyland. I promise you, if you follow North’s advice you will soon be rushing in tears to your friendly neighborhood therapist.

In truth, a relationship normally involves two people. Those two people are NOT you and your emotions.

Moreover, emotions are not toxic gasses that must be expelled immediately, lest they cause cancer.

Expressing or not expressing an emotion has nothing to do with being nice or bitchy. As an aside, I would note, that within any normal human relationship nice usually works much better, for men and for women.

Aristotle had a better idea here. He said that you should express emotions at the right time in the right place to the right person under the right circumstances.

Before you decide to vent ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. If you are mostly trying to expel toxic gasses, shut it down. If you are trying to show your lover that you are a good feminist you are going to turn your loving relationship into a permanent psychodrama. If you believe that you can improve your relationship without looking like you are out of control, be my guest.

Your choice.

Happily enough, North’s advice is not all bad. She recommends that you prepare for important meetings, start small, and “don’t be a total dick.”

Nevertheless, her advice aims at advancing feminism, so it teaches you how to posture more than to lead.

If you do not care to accomplish anything and if you do not care to have a good relationship, if you only want to look like a feminist rebel asserting herself at the wrong time in the wrong place with the wrong person under the wrong circumstances, then Anna North’s advice is for you.

The first step toward becoming a more effective leader is to think in terms of what you want to get done, not what role you think you should be playing.

I have often quoted Dwight Eisenhower, to the effect that leadership is getting other people to do what has to be done because they want to do it.

And that should be distinguished from getting them do things because you have told them to.

The notion that leaders must be tough, assertive, aggressive, and confrontational is appealing to people who know nothing about leadership.

Leadership exists in the way a company runs, not in the posture the manager assumes.

Since both North and Isaac address the question of women leading, it’s worth thinking about a great woman leader: Oprah Winfrey.

As she was taping her final season Oprah allowed her team to record the behind the scenes activities, the better to show how much hard work went into making the show seem effortless.

Note especially that two of the last shows, at the United Center in Chicago, were organized by Oprah’s staff without Oprah’s knowing anything about what was going on.

Oprah was not posturing. She was not asserting herself. But everyone knew that she was in charge.

Oprah had no need to prove anything to anyone. She had one interest, shared by her staff, and that was to put on great shows. And, she never acted bitchy.

Moreover, she always acted like a woman. She did not pretend to be a man.

As Cheryl Isaac pointed out, the first and most important lesson about women leaders is that they should never forget that they are women. They should not even try to act like men, or to mimic a male leadership style.

Perhaps it is more difficult for a woman to exercise leadership in certain industries, but that does not mean that women should be encouraged to act like ersatz men.

A woman who tries to act like a man is not going to fool anyone. And she will lose respect. No one respects you for not knowing who you are or for pretending you are someone you are not.

If a kind word gets the job done, then offer a kind word. If a scowl motivates, then use a scowl. If a smile of approval or a frown of disapproval is needed, there is no law that says that a woman cannot do it.

Women should not run around cursing like truck drivers, but then again, male leaders shouldn’t either. Women should try to negotiate differences, but men should also do so. Women should not bark orders, but men should not either.

Isaac, however, seems to see leaders as charismatic. There, I do not agree with her. A charismatic leader leads with emotion and that is far too New Agey for my taste.

I can offer some better advice. It applies equally to men and women, but we’ll refer to women leaders.

A good woman leader is trying to get the job done. She is not trying to make a political or ideological point. If she sees herself advancing the cause of feminism she will never be able to lead.

A good woman leader is in charge of herself. If she has no discipline or self-control no will have confidence in her ability to take charge of a situation.

A good woman leader is clear, firm, and precise. She is capable of articulating policy so that everyone will understand it. She does not waffle, hesitate, or inject any unnecessary emotion.

A good woman leader lets her subordinates know what their jobs are and she ensures that they have the tools they need to do them.

A good woman leader allows others to make mistakes. She also allows them to correct their mistakes.

A good woman leader is in complete command of her brief. She knows everything there is to know about her company, its operations, its markets, its sales, its production schedules, its staff, its history, and its mission.

Running a company or a department is not the same as running a private equity firm.


Jennifer Kehoe said...

Love this post. I worked in a sector where practically all those in authority were women, all of whom had the attitude that the only way to 'lead' was to be bitchy, unkind, sarcastic and demeaning to those in positions they deemed 'beneath' them. Some would only address junior staff through a grade closer to their own. It was a horrible atmosphere to work in and for sure productivity was adversely affected by it.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, Jennifer. I very much appreciate your contribution of life experience with women who were not afraid to be bitchy.

David Foster said...

Encouraging people to be overly assertive-demanding-complaining at work is doing them no favors. See ambition and opportunism.

David Foster said...

Jennifer..."Some would only address junior staff through a grade closer to their own."

I have to wonder where the next level of management was. If a manager working for me behaved in this way, the rest of their association with me would be dark, nasty, brutish, and quite short.

Dennis said...

The fact is that in management there is no one style that fits all. It also depends on the job, and a variety of other factors. The fact is that if you have trained your people well they want to do a good job and require little supervison. All they need is direction. For those who need more supervision you provide more.
The more one has to lean on their "bitchiness the less affect it has because people turn you off. A manager gets his work done through those who work for him/her. They are not your slaves. Treat them this way and they will undermine you by doing exactly what you say and no more. No order can contain all that needs to be accomplished.
I am not sure how this became a male thing to be emulated. I can count the number of times I had to "chew" someone out as a Senior NCO on one hand and that was done in private for the most part. Even in the military life is not like "bootcamp."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, Dennis, for underscoring the way these arguments about assertiveness use caricatures of, for example, military commanders.

It's a sign that the people who are making the argument never really participated in an organization that had strong leaders.

I am assuming that most of the caricatures come from the movies and television dramas.

Dennis said...

Interestingly, if one has to keep asserting their position then they are well on the way to losing their leadership position. It is too bad that many people got their idea of leadership in the military from movies. The vast majority of which had an anti-military bias. One would get nothing accomplished if one had to spend so much time keeping people in line.
I do have to admit that I appreciated the professional officer far more than the entreprenurial officer that was in vogue during part of my tenure in the military. The profession of arms is an important one.