The solution to millennia of patriarchy? Confidence building, apparently

Beloved readers, I have some news for you. The BBC is dead. It was not a good death, nor a dignified one. In its last breath, it rasped “Are women their own worst enemy when it comes to top jobs?

Yes. According to some talking heads, the only thing stopping women from getting top jobs in politics, business and even the sodding army is women. Not other women, mind. When we don’t succeed it’s entirely our own fault.

Chief talking head Emer Timmons, who has been promoted eleventy bazillion times and is CEO of the Entirety of Space and Time reckons there are few lifestyle obstacles and it has to be down to the individual. Cherie Blair, whose career includes picking the wrong side in a land dispute involving dispossessed people, concurs and spouts the dreaded “30%” statistic, the proportion of female board members which would supposedly magically transmute capitalism into a functional economic system.

But what of the very real issues facing women, such as the fact that they are still expected to care for children? Not to worry, Timmons reckons there’s oodles of free childcare, presumably going on in the same alternate dimension where the only problem facing women is their lack of confidence and there are actually fucking jobs happening.

I wish I were misrepresenting this article, but sadly this is what the BBC have actually seen fit to publish on their website. It is so far from the reality of most women’s experiences, and thoroughly insulting to boot.

It represents the same line of thinking that pervades Tory feminism, right libertarianism and many other unpleasant ideologies: the shifting of responsibility on to the shoulders of the individual. It is a means by which the privileged can entirely absolve themselves of playing any part in an oppressive system, and as an added bonus can feel good about themselves for earning the position they were probably always going to get anyway.

The fact is–as the closest thing to voice of reason Averil Leimon points out in the article–the world isn’t a meritocracy. Unfortunately, Leimon’s solution to this is the same as the rest of the article: confidence and a go-getting, can-do attitude. This is woefully insufficient when we consider the convergence of factors which can hamper a person: class, race, disability, gender and so on. Were millennia of discrimination simply overcome with a bit of a swagger, kyriarchy would have never happened in the first place.

The pervasive stereotype of a confident professional woman still remains–in the year fucking 2012–a ballbreaker, a bitch, a devil in Prada. While we’re up against this, all the confidence in the world cannot shatter the glass ceiling.

Of course, discrimination is only part of the story, and the lack of confidence is a real problem, although it is not the only factor keeping women down. The root cause of this lack of confidence is not due to the individual, but, rather, an effect of living in a system wherein the odds are already stacked phenomenally against us. It creates a negative feedback loop. This is not our fault: we are not our own worst enemy. Patriarchy and kyriarchy are.

The thing is, this article also betrays a staggering lack of imagination when it comes to aspiration: to the people quoted, it all boils down to just getting a job and earning a lot of money. What of, instead, working somewhere less well-paid but offering a greater degree of satisfaction? What of happiness and personal fulfilment and self-actualisation? What of abolishing the entire sorry concept of wage labour entirely?

The BBC’s death throes represent just about everything that is wrong with kyriarchy, neatly packaged in an uncritical bundle. I shall not weep at its funeral.

14 thoughts on “The solution to millennia of patriarchy? Confidence building, apparently”

  1. …and this barely scratches the surface of how truly moronic the BBC article was. Seriously, you could write volumes on just how wrong it is.

  2. as well as all the points you mention, another thing the BBC completely misses is how women are punished for being confident and assertive. There’s a few studies cited in Living Dolls and Delusions of Gender where women who have negotiated for higher pay, for promotions, for respect are seen as ‘mean’ and ‘pushy’ whereas men are seen as assertive and ambitious. so even if we were all just lacking confidence (which we’re not), as soon as we display that confidence we are at risk of still not getting the job because we’re not conforming to our expected gender role.


  3. Ace. also worth making the argument that *even if* by some magic of confidence and entrepreneurial spirit women managed to occupy 30% of boardroom directorships, say, most women would still be their underlings. somebody has to be at the bottom, as this enterprising bullshit seems to forget.
    I’ll grant you, you did mention abolishing wage labour, but some greater emphasis on simple hierarchy, as well as kyriarchy and patriarchy could fit it in neatly.

  4. “What of, instead, working somewhere less well-paid but offering a greater degree of satisfaction? What of happiness and personal fulfilment and self-actualisation?”

    I’m glad you mentioned this. I don’t like the way the majority of discussion on discrimination in work centres on the frantic climb to the top. Just earning enough to survive is a huge improvement for some.

    Anyway, the article was clumsy and no confidence alone won’t remove discrimination, but I’m at a loss as to what the nature of discrimination of women in the world of work actually is? Genuine question, open to any comments. The pressure to be primary care givers is something I understand, but as for anything else…I’m confused.

    1. A huge number of studies show many ways of unconscious (and occasionally conscious) discrimination against women by both sexes. A lot of it comes down to perceiving that things are balanced when they are not, men repeating a woman’s ideas and being listened to whereas the originator was not, and so on. Sianuska’s comment above names a couple of books which reference such studies.

      1. Thanks. I haven’t read Living Dolls but I’m actually halfway through Delusions of Gender now, it’s a great book.

        I wonder what people feel the world would look like if discrimination were completely erased though? Because although I don’t doubt there is discrimination, I am confused as to what “equality” in terms of the workplace is being discussed here and on the BBC. What are people aiming for? Do you want the system overhauled or just more women in the workplace?

        To be clear, I’m not saying we don’t have issues of social conditioning that influence career choices and the decision to become primary care-givers in a family.

        1. Definitely read both, they’re brilliant books.

          As for “equality”, it’s unsurprising that they’re advocating this highly unimaginative form of just getting more women in high-paid positions rather than actually, you know, fixing anything.

      2. I’d hoped I’d covered it in my “ballbreaker, bitch, devil in Prada” line: it’s an important topic which is probably more worthy of its own post than here. Hmm. Might blog on this soon 🙂

  5. I suppose the article is operating on the unstated premise that one’s “attitude” is the only thing one can change. The history of women’s lib (indeed, the existence of History full stop) shows that that isn’t at all true, though. Personally, I’ve found that a) accepting that we live under an oppressive kyriarchy and b) organising to combat it have done more for my “confidence” and “attitude” than anything, but there we go…

  6. This all links to the awful awful “Women Don’t Ask” pseudo-science movement powered by the book of the same name; it’s victim-blaming of a more genteel kind (although it results in economic violence against women – same old, same old).

    I recommend y’all read this article which takes apart the argument, expressed in the BBC article and in WDA, that women are held back by their weak and shrinking natures, rather than by, y’know, PATRIARCHY:

  7. [comment removed due to irrelevance, tediousness and jaw-droppingly pisspoor application of evolutionary psychology]

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