Winning your battles vs. Losing yourself
On to the next self-help book, which is a woman's guide for negotiating.
There is an important topic. But I really don't like the book.
Keep in mind, this is not a book of Feminist-Friendly Negotiating Skills. Quite the opposite. I realized this when I read the beginning, which was a while ago, and at the time I was pretty busy. So I stopped.
I stopped because pretty early in the book, they said that rather than confronting men at work, women would do better to remind them gently and repeatedly until they come around.
In other words, they said we should nag. Nag, nag, nag.
I've tried nagging. Sometimes it works. But it really wears me out. If that's what I'm supposed to do to succeed at work, I'll never make it.
But since I've read almost everything in my house, I thought I would pick up this book again and just see what else they said. Much as I don't like the content, I find it interesting how they spell it out. For example, they never actually use the word "nag", but that is exactly what they're telling us to do.
So I just got to a part in the book where they give an example of a woman getting what she wants.
This woman wanted to go to a professional school. Her father wanted her to get married and have children.
Instead of confronting him on the issue of whether she wanted to ever have children vs. wanting to have a career, she persuaded him that going to school would help her make a living until she found a husband.
She got what she wanted, and her father never knew that he was being a sexist bastard.
Oops. That's not exactly how the book tells it. They just say, look this woman got to go to school even though her father said no.
I was discussing this with a friend who said, well that's just picking your battles.
I have problems using tactics like this. I might win the battle, but then I find I haven't done anything to stop the war. In other words, if you let people go on making assumptions about what you want, you're going to end up fighting the same battles over and over.
Maybe you can't really ever change anyone's beliefs. If this woman's father really believes the place of women is to have children, maybe it's impossible for her to change his mind.
But if you don't even try? And you let him go on thinking he's right-?
This book consistently tells women to use tactics of manipulation.
Another approach they espouse is to get men to think your idea was their idea, and therefore approve it when they would otherwise say no.
And here again, I think this is a very dangerous strategy to use in the workplace.
You might win the immediate battle, but you'll never move up. You're guaranteeing that this guy will take credit for your ideas, and in my experience, chances are very good that he'll never make sure you get the credit you deserve.
For example, I have a friend who works in a lab with a really sexist PI. He is the worst kind, because he thinks he's not sexist. Most people who know him outside the lab would say he was not sexist. He doesn't make ridiculous comments about how women should just stay home and have babies. He's a modern sexist: he just doesn't want to work with women unless he feels that he has complete control.
My friend figured out that, if she wants anything, she has to ask a guy in her lab to propose it to the PI. And then the answer is always yes. It doesn't matter what it is. The pattern is consistent: if she proposes it herself, the answer is always no.
I totally understand that she has to do this to get her work done, or get out of that lab.
She went to the office that handles sexual discrimination on her campus, and they said it was too subtle, there was nothing they could do unless she wanted to file a formal complaint, but they discouraged that since it would be very hard to prove.
The only solution I can see is for the men in the lab to tell the PI that his behavior is inappropriate. They are the only witnesses. She has tried approaching other PIs in the department, but they are totally unreceptive (against university discrimination policy, of course, but what can you do).
Although the men in her lab are helping her win the daily battles, and they like to say they're feminists, they're really not.
They're perpetuating the sexism when they're in the perfect position to effect a change. Instead of helping her be treated equally, they're indirectly getting credit for her ideas.
Meanwhile, my friend is stuck using these un-feminist tactics to win these little battles on a daily basis, which is making her hate herself.
Now, the authors of the negotiation book argue that these approaches work well for women because we can't use the same methods that work for men.
Confronting this PI with this pattern of decision-making would not work. It would be impossible to document it effectively and demonstrate it in a way he would have to accept.
Although we have joked about how she should set up a webcam.
Worst of all, this PI is up for a promotion. We are wishing there were a way to send an un-recommendation letter. Unfortunately this is not a department that includes grad students and postdocs as representatives on their hiring committees.