Thursday, February 12, 2009

Secret Identity of Successful Women

For the next few posts I will be working through Susan Pinker's The Sexual Paradox.

Pinker is a clinical psychologist. She has worked mostly with boys with problems. She is also a second-wave feminist who knew many highly promising girls. The central theme of this work is that second-wave feminism erred in expecting liberated women to achieve - to want to achieve - the same kinds of things at the same rate as men. Pinker wants to argue that neither sex should be taken as the model for the other; they each have their distinct tendencies, vices, and virtues.

Pinker has been a psychologist long enough to see how many of the children she worked with turned out as adults. Her very interesting finding is that the boys with difficulties often found ways to be successful adults nonetheless; at the same time, many of the girls with great promise chose paths that did not lead them to run the public world.

One small finding that Pinker notes on the way caught my eye. All of the women that she talked to, even the most successful in their public and private lives, wanted her to use pseudonyms for them, and hide all identifying details of their stories. None of the men wanted pseudonyms, even though many had very troubled beginnings.

I am not sure what to make of this exactly. I think, though, that even the most successful women worry that people will not like them "if they knew the truth." Men, on the other hand, expect to pay their dues and make mistakes while climbing the ladder, so are less troubled by whatever past they have.


Kerri said...

I think your comments in the last paragraph sit well with Tannen... as a generalization, women want people to like them, and men want people to recognize their status (to overly simplify it). So I think it makes sense that women are more likely to be preoccupied with concealing their dirty little secrets and whatnot.
Anecdotally, it holds true for folks I know as well (every time I say something like that, I think about how Tannen also pointed out that women are more likely to use individual, from-their-lives examples).

Victoria Crowell said...

You're right; the bit on the pseudonyms is very interesting.

Also, this drive in the assumption that in order to be equal, women must want the very same things as men is a chronic problem I (and everyone else, and their mothers, and their dogs) have had in gender studies regarding second-wave feminism.

It is also absolutely something that is being revived. I worked at the Margaret Sanger Papers Project over the summer, and speaking with the women working there who were very active in the second-wave feminist movement, they're beginning to see in my generation where they've perhaps misjudged some things - particularly regarding the way women approach romantic relationships.

Victoria Crowell said...

P.S. Pretend where I said "revived" I instead said "revised."

Gannet Girl said...

Or perhaps women are more aware of the ripple effect and of the ramifications of their statements on others. They may be quite willing to acknowledge having made their mistakes and paid their dues, but not at the expense of running roughshod over the reputations of others.