It’s become a commonplace observation that women often get called a ‘bitch’ for doing exactly the same things that earn men a reputation for strong leadership. It’s a good observation. Whatever the mental twists and turns that explain this tendency, there is something about gender that seems to skew perception of assertive behavior, making roughly the same conduct objectionable in women and laudable in men.
The problem is ubiquitous. If you think you are an exception, then you probably aren’t. It isn’t necessarily a function of cognitive bigotry and political commitments to support feminism don’t in and of themselves resolve the matter. I expect many well woke folks have caught themselves grumbling at that bitch over there even as they admired this man over here for behaving in roughly comparable ways. (I expect many more never caught themselves doing this at all.) It’s a latent bias hard-wired into the social patterns of our daily lives and reinforced by countless layers of stereotyping and gender-based norms, many of which don’t come with obvious red flags telling us, “this way lies misogyny!” You have to think your way out of this kind of bias.
And then you probably have to do it again.
…and (you get the idea.)
One thing that does bother me about the observation in question though, is that it’s practical significance is usually taken as obvious. When this observation is made, it is usually made in the service of getting us to reconsider harsh evaluations directed at assertive women.
“Okay, fair enough,” I usually find myself thinking. But I think there is at least one other implication here that doesn’t get near enough attention. If perhaps a lot of us should rethink our condemnation of misbehaving women, I think it’s at least as important to consider that maybe a lot of us are far too easily impressed by obnoxious behavior from men. Perhaps, we need to get a lot better at telling the difference between a man showing great leadership potential and one who is simply acting like an asshole.