Bossy Women and the Men Who Draw Them
[Content note: language]
Emma Watson gave a speech regarding the proper treatment of women that was widely shared. I haven’t watched. My impression is that what she said is remarkable because she is the first person to say those things while also being Emma Watson.
Of course, this earned her some amount of grief, including threats to release nude pictures of her [EDIT: jr in the comments notes these threats appear to have been the result of a false flag operation]:
It is real and going to happen this weekend. That feminist bitch Emma is going to show the world she is as much of a whore as any woman.
She makes stupid feminist speeches at UN, and now her nudes will be online, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH
Thankfully, those threats weren’t made good. Substantive critiques were also made though. Scott Adams, for example, doubted her claim that women are disproportionately called bossy:
I have no personal memory of a male ever calling a female “bossy.” I leave open the possibility that I have heard “bossy” a hundred times and had no special reason to remember it. All I am saying is that I have no memory of hearing it. I can’t say it has never happened around me. But I do have distinct memories of women calling me bossy. So the bossy claim fails my personal experience filter.
My observation over a lifetime is that take-charge individuals are always respected, regardless of gender, so long as they are both capable and well-meaning. If not, the gender-based insults will start flying. The take-charge guy will be labelled a clueless dick and the take-charge gal will be labelled a bossy c-word. But in both cases what is being questioned is competence and intention, not gender. That’s just my personal observation and I don’t equate it with truth.
I trust that Scott is attempting to honestly to communicate his experience, but if he had seen this Tweet by me, he’d know that when Kieran Snyder tried to actually investigate what types of things managers say about women and men, she found different results.
In all, I collected 248 reviews from 180 people, 105 men and 75 women.
[W]omen’s reviews include another, sharper element that is absent from the men’s:
“You can come across as abrasive sometimes. I know you don’t mean to, but you need to pay attention to your tone.”
“Your peers sometimes feel that you don’t leave them enough room. Sometimes you need to step back to let others shine.”
“The presentation ultimately went well. But along the way, we discovered many areas for improvement. You would have had an easier time if you had been less judgmental about R—‘s contributions from the beginning.”
This kind of negative personality criticism—watch your tone! step back! stop being so judgmental!—shows up twice in the 83 critical reviews received by men. It shows up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women.
Words like bossy, abrasive, strident, and aggressive are used to describe women’s behaviors when they lead; words like emotional and irrational describe their behaviors when they object. All of these words show up at least twice in the women’s review text I reviewed, some much more often. Abrasive alone is used 17 times to describe 13 different women. Among these words, only aggressive shows up in men’s reviews at all. It shows up three times, twice with an exhortation to be more of it. [bold added]
There are always ways to rationalize these results away. Maybe men are shy and didn’t want to submit reviews in which that type of criticism was present. That doesn’t pass my bullshit detector.
Maybe women in tech really are more bossy and abrasive than men in tech, and the reviews are simply reporting this fact faithfully. If this were true, why would the women in these positions be bossy to begin with?
It is possible, I think, that to be taken seriously women have to be more aggressive than a similarly situated man might be. It’s easy to imagine a man who is a quiet leader: friendly and relatively undemanding. I don’t have a picture in my mind of a woman leader like that. Sweet and well-behaved boys can grow up to be managers, but I’m not sure the same can be done by sweet, well-behaved girls.
I think it might be instructive to look at Scott Adams’s own work.
I like Alice the engineer. She seems to even meet many of the litmus tests that feminists look for. She has agency and good as well as bad characteristics that matter to the storyline. She may lack her own life independent of the story, but I think that’s understandable given Dilbert’s in-the-office format. Dilbert himself barely has his own life. Things don’t just happen to her for the sake of motivating a plot any more than things just happen to any other character.
Yet, she can have moments like these:
Dilbert is a cartoon, so it makes sense that personalities need to be exaggerated to be interesting.
In Dilbert, Wally is the slacker, and Alice has the hot temper. Could Adams have switched these? Can you imagine a Wally with Alice’s propensity for anger? How about a leech-like, slacker Alice?
I don’t think this works. Wally’s low standards for his work and personal hygiene is an archetype owned by men. Roseanne Barr is an exception, but it’s one thing for Barr to pull that off and another for Adams to. Note the genders of the actors in movies like Animal House. Can you imagine making a Dumb and Dumber or Friday with two female leads?
A slacker female engineer doesn’t fit. Not fitting is OK when it can be done for humor. Dogbert is an adorable evil genius who can’t help but wag his tail when he thinks of something particularly odious, which is hilariously incongruent. A slacker Alice wouldn’t be funny though. It’d just make the workplace Dilbert occupies less relatable to his audience.
I think similarly a Fist-of-Death Wally wouldn’t work. Violence by women isn’t the same as violence by men. Fist-of-Death Alice works because, being a woman, her capacity for violence is assumed to not be actually threatening to the men she might use it on. I don’t think we’d find Fist-of-Death Wally threatening Slacker Alice funny.
The most prominent woman in Dilbert is violently “bossy”. As a reader, I enjoy this personality flaw, but I also recognize that it only works because of what Adams hasn’t consciously processed: women are at greater risk of being perceived as bossy.