Much of the conversation surrounding the dismissal of Jill Abramson from her post as editor of the New York Times is about how she was punished for “acting like a man.” We really need to stop saying that.
“They are paid less, given fewer promotions and it’s held against them when they act like a man.” — Amy Joyce in the Washington Post“So when a woman tries to act like a man to get ahead — or, you might say, like a leader — she suffers: liked less by both male and female colleagues, penalized for being “too aggressive.” — Jessica Bennet in Jezebel“In fact, research confirms this fear: Following all that advice to act like a man can backfire and cause your boss to apply misogynist stereotypes to you that you will never get past.” — Amanda Marcotte in Talking Points Memo“So we have to remain in suspense as to whether Abramson was fired because she was a woman acting like a man, or a woman who wanted to be paid like one.” — Jordana Horn in Kveller
The emphasis in each of these cases was on the perceived double-standard when it comes to female leadership, the he is the boss, while she is the bitch whole thing. This is absolutely a real problem, and one that merits much discussion. That said, we need to be more careful about how we talk about it.
In order for us to achieve this great dream of gender equality we need to not just deconstruct our notions of femininity, but of masculinity as well. When we casually repeat, over and over again, that Abramson was “acting like a man” we are doing the very opposite.
Just like women are punished for acting tough, men are punished for acting soft. She’s sensitive, he’s a pussy. It is just as important to get rid of that binary, as it is the boss/ bitch one.
Of course men don’t naturally act any one way. But we certainly reward them for acting one way, and that is the macho one. And so we are left with a culture that doesn’t just reward brashness with success, but often requires it to get anywhere in the first place.
By letting go of the idea that acting like a man means acting tough, we will open ourselves up to different ways of being and no longer will acting macho have the monopoly on what we interpret as powerful and competent. There is more than one effective way to leader, and both genders win when acknowledge this.
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.
There's No Such Thing as 'Acting Like a Man'