02 May 2013

Follow-Up : Ladies on Top

I will admit that I feel remorse for my post on Lean In and Give and Take from last week. I would be interested in someone who has read either of those books letting me know how they liked/disliked it.

Since that post Give and Take has fallen to #6 on the Times Bestseller list. In its place we have The Athena Doctrine (Jossey-Bass 4/16/13):

"Among 64,000 people surveyed in thirteen nations, two thirds feel the world would be a better place if men thought more like women. This marks a global trend away from the winner-takes-all, masculine approach to getting things done. Drawing from interviews at innovative organizations in eighteen nations and at Fortune 500 boardrooms, the authors reveal how men and women alike are recognizing significant value in traits commonly associated with women, such as nurturing, cooperation, communication, and sharing. The Athena Doctrine shows why femininity is the operating system of 21st century prosperity."

I like to let the copy do the talking up front. Get the PR and author words out of the way. It vaguely makes what I have to say fair.

I said at the top that I felt kinda bad about the post on Lean In. Mainly because I think the book is an honest attempt to address what appears to be a new zeitgeist in business self-help. That of the 'feminist approach to business'. Call it a 5 years late Hilary Clinton effect or something.

We have had moments like this before. In the 80s, there was the rise of the 'power suit' ladies that in retrospect are harshly judged as overly-masculine. The 90s gave way to the Hilary model of no-nonsense but also apologetically feminine power lady. Headbands and all. The 00s sort of brought us into a softer form of business feminism, the fashion-forward kind. That could still kick ass.

If all of this sounds patronizing - I agree.

Women should be taken seriously in the workforce. I all things. And I think Sheryl Sandberg's book is an attempt to say that. I just think it seems focused on a very narrow, very rich, very white part of the lady-population.

My issues with The Athena Doctrine are deeper. The authors - John Gerzema and Michael D'Antonio - are qualified social theorists and consumer experts. They are also men. From an interview they did with Amazon:

"We want to make clear that we're not saying women are "born this way" or that they are "naturally" more empathetic or open. Rather, these are skills that have been traditionally segregated or labeled as part of women's domain, and often are undervalued, when in truth, being "feminine" actually make all people more human, and helps them become the best version of themselves. These skills will help people match the needs of the future economy. In a collaborative world where value creation is increasingly based on services, economic growth and standard of living are enhanced by including feminine values."

Mmm Hmm...

Then, from the same interview:

"We're both dads in all female households with three beautiful daughters between us. We are excited about what we found because feminine values are really a form of innovation and competitive advantage for today's world."

I'm not saying these guys didn't so the research, were not rigorous in their methods. They say they surveyed 64,000 people. I choose to believe this is true. They say that those people called these things 'feminine' and 'masculine'. I would be interested in seeing their survey.

I would be interested in seeing where they think trans issues fall in this debate. Where societal construction comes into play. This all just seems like "death of man" nonsense dressed up in a wrapper that will appeal to a wide audience. A softer version of it for sure, but the same alarm call to all men all places.

Gender norms are a thing. This is not debatable. Thinking in "nurturing, cooperation, communication, and sharing" ways is not feminine. It is just thinking and experiencing outside of yourself. It is just not being selfish.

Maybe the book should have focused on the inherent selfishness in the society? They cite examples of poorer children in London teaching bankers beekeeping. This is not feminine. It is agrarian. Those things are not the same.

A doctor in Pakistan who is compassionate and cares about patients more than his research is not weird.  It is not "lady". It is sensible and makes me want to move there and have him take care of me.

What I'm saying is that the frame of this discussion seems odd to me. It seems sexist. It seems like the say "masculine" and "feminine" when they mean to say "selfish" and "not selfish". It does have a great cover though. But man that sub-title is LAME.

This does nothing to improve my feelings on the best-seller list.