Strong opinions, weakly held

Chutzpah and the gender gap

Clay Shirky wrote a whole essay about chutzpah without using the word. In it, he argues that men tend to exhibit more of it than women do, and it prevents women (in general) from enjoying the success they otherwise might. Here’s the crux:

There is no upper limit to the risks men are willing to take in order to succeed, and if there is an upper limit for women, they will succeed less. They will also end up in jail less, but I don’t think we get the rewards without the risks.

Tom Coates is somewhat disgusted:

Generally, it’s being viewed as a call to arms to create a new breed of women who are as self-important, self-promoting, shameless and arrogant as some of the worst (and most celebrated) men in the industry. This attitude is being viewed as the ‘way to get ahead’ for any individual wanting to make their mark in the world.

Both essays hit close to home for me. I don’t think of myself as someone who engages in self-promotion, and I am in the tribe that tends to look down on people who I see as self-promoters. I try to do my best, and if people notice and and come back for more, that’s great. If they don’t, I move on (occasionally with some bitterness). That’s how I was raised.

The problem is, when you decline to ask for recognition, you often find your work going unnoticed by people who would probably appreciate it. It’s easy to err on the other side and come across as a preening jerk, at least to people like me, other people don’t seem to mind so much, but most people who are averse to self-promotion rarely run the risk of going that far in the other direction.

Both posts are worth reading, but what I really wonder is whether adults can even recalibrate themselves on the self-promotion axis? At one end are people who go so far as self-promoters that not only do they brag about everything they can do, but they also brag about things that they can’t even do. On the other end are people who toil in obscurity, doing great work and waiting for someone to finally come along and notice and give them a pat on the head. But once your position on the axis is set, I believe it’s hard to change it.


  1. There are a lot of ways to manifest your talent publicly without coming across as a self-promoting empty suit.

    Writing one of the earliest and longest running blogs and some well regarded technical books (I still have your SQL book on my shelf!) are not the acts of a shrinking violet nor a boor.

  2. Changing your position: perhaps you can never change your initial reaction or instinct to act in a certain (non)selfpromoting way. But you can definitely make a wildly varying decision if the decision is made in a consciously, literally considered way. And I’m certain that you can train yourself to hesitate before any kind of decision and think about it rather than running with your instinct. I don’t know if after years of habit of considering and then acting a certain way, that will ever become ingrained, but it’s of secondary importance.

  3. I think you mean Tom Coates.

  4. Ben Coates used to play tight end for the New England Patriots. So, you know, they’re easy to get mixed up.

  5. Waiting for someone to make the inevitable connection with Ayn Rand’s Virtue of Selfishness.

    Coming in from the other side, we should all ask ourselves what sort of behaviors we reward in our industry. We definitely reward perception over tangible achievement in this industry a little too much for my liking.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


© 2024 rc3.org

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑