Monday, October 29, 2007

I'll Give You Aggressiveness!

Sometimes I wonder if the media is on a deliberate and targeted mission to disempower women. Articles like this one, which states that women don't start businesses as commonly as men because women "aren't as aggressive," are legion. It's basically impossible to read the financial press without being hit in the face by some denigrating depiction of women's abilities, motives, moxie or stick-to-it-iveness.

A statement like "women aren't as aggressive" is just stupid. First, it describes an impact, not a root cause. Second, it's far more likely that women don't start businesses as often as men because the business world is still preeminently a man's world, delineated by male rules, personalities, organizational structures, time demands...and men. It's indisputable that women don't have the same access to big-time networks, financing or other resources. Third, is it even true that men start far more businesses? I seem to recall reading years ago that women-owned businesses employed more people than the Fortune 500 companies combined. Fourth, as Natalie Angier points out in the exhilarating and gorgeously written
Woman: An Intimate Geography, watch little girls at play or bands of junior high school girls bully members of lesser social groups and then try to make the case that females aren't naturally aggressive.

You have to wonder if this demeaning characterization of women is meant to be directive or prescriptive. Even if the onslaught is not intentional, the constant attempts to define us disadvantageously are demoralizing.
A woman has to be made of pretty stern stuff to withstand them and choose to succeed anyway. To be fair, I suppose statements like "women aren't as aggressive as men" dictate how men are supposed to be, too, and also in a limiting way. But whether or not anyone likes it in the abstract, aggressiveness is a prized characteristic in the business world we've got. Until our organizations and societies and operations demonstrate parity, the impact of these one-size-fits-all characterizations will always be harder on women. Given the current state of affairs, a woman seeking to succeed as an entrepreneur or, indeed, as a businessperson of any other stripe already has a tougher hill to climb. To call women as a gender "not as aggressive" isn't helping.

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