Are you a woman who wants to "get ahead"? Perhaps you've seen a recent article in The Wall Street Journal titled, helpfully, "Nine Rules Women Must Follow to Get Ahead." Perhaps you, like us, have read the article and found it oddly not really for "women," but for "all people." Perhaps you've wondered why "women" in particular are called out in the headline of a piece that suggests that in order to get ahead individuals should "work hard" and "know what they want" and "go for it." Perhaps you realized, upon reading, that the woman-specific elements of this piece involved telling women to "do work no one else wants to do" (because men don't get that advice, right?) and to "dress well and play golf" (because even if you're CEO of IBM and you dress really, really nicely, you're probably not going to get offered membership into Georgia's Augusta National).
The problem with articles like these is not that they consist entirely of bad advice. Certainly, anyone with aspirations and the will to Google "How to Get Ahead" could do well with some practical tips, like wear the right clothes for your profession, know how to talk about yourself in an appropriate way to further you in your career, know how to "network" (or not network, depending on your profession), and know when to quit your job and move on. But these are not rules for women—these are "rules" (and not even rules, they're generic standards that should be bent or even ignored to fit the situation)—that apply to everyone, generically. So why do they have to be presented as rules for women?
The answer is that it's a stock, servicey way to cleave to a news peg: Women are still, by and large, making less money than men. There are not as many female CEOs, nor women in the highest positions at companies. These are facts backed by stats. But the response to these facts is woefully subpar, even so far as to be sexist in itself. Are we to believe that women aren't CEOs because they haven't learned to dress properly, to swing a golf club, or to work hard? Because that's not just the subtext of The Wall Street Journal piece; it's the text itself. We need to stop writing these articles from another time (and no offense to the author, Julie Steinberg; I'm willing to bet this was assigned, not pitched) because they simply don't further the conversation at this point. Instead, they set us back to a time and place in which the context is that men are in power and women need to catch up by acting more like men. With that in mind, here are eight more types of articles that need to go:
The world is dangerous for you, woman! Forbes has crunched the numbers on the cities that are most dangerous for women, and number one is...drum roll please...Saginaw, Michigan. Now, this is not to say that the information or work done to come up with this list isn't important—but making it a top 10 list with photo gallery is both an obvious pull for page views and undermines the valuable content within. Beyond that, what are women supposed to do with a list of most dangerous cities? Not move there? Quake in their boots? Yes, call attention to this! But let's talk not only about why these cities are dangerous and what made them that way, but also, what people are doing to change that, or what they should do. Ending the piece with "More foreboding: all the attacks are becoming more violent" makes what could be a great piece into something primarily just fearmongery, which we assume was not the author's intention.
How to be a good mom & wife & working gal & supermodel (aka, YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL!) This is the how to be a superwoman article, and you see it all over the place. Problem one is, it plays into female insecurities about what, exactly, their role should be, and if they don't have "it all," are they not any good? Are they, actually, failures then? Problem two is, no one can be superwoman. And you can't have it all. No one can. That's why we have this word, "compromise," a word that, oddly enough, men understand too. You have to make choices, and, really, unless Wonder Woman herself is penning this piece on how to be a superwoman, I don't want to read it.
You can't have it all, actually, because housewives are better. Or career women are better. Or whatever you are is better. Look, it's fine if you think this (keep it to yourself), but there's no need for an article (or articles) about it. You being you is what female empowerment should be about, not "I'm better than you," other woman. And "career women" and "housewives" come in very different forms these days, and in many shades of overlap. To assume you have to be one or the other and do that perfectly in your apron or " 500 S-class Mercedes-Benz" is silly. You can't be superwoman, but you can be a mom and have a career, or be some combination of many things. Again with that word, compromise.
How to be great i.e. keep your man happy in bed. Cosmo is probably the most obvious big-name perpetrator here, but others exist as well. Beyond the fact that there are so many versions of this article that we could live 'till eternity and never finish reading them all (even though, oddly, they all say much the same thing), shouldn't we have moved on from expectations of women "serving" men and men as the passive recipients of such service? These pieces also assume all men are alike, which is rather insulting to dudes. What about, instead, how to talk to your man (or partner?) about sex? Or, how to talk about the kind of sex you want to have? Providing lessons about communication and figuring out what both people want in a mutual activity is actually helpful; fulfilling old stereotypes about male-female relationships is not. See also, "How to Keep Him From Cheating."
How this woman is better than you. No more lists of 50 hottest women, top 99 women, 20 women who have it all, beautiful people who are blah blah blah. First, there's the objectification—almost always, these pieces are about "hotness," and maybe the problem would be solved if the lists were about, say, intelligence or who is the funniest or best whatever, though we still resent a direct implication that there are "standards" for this sort of thing that we have to compete with or fit to. We are all snowflakes! But also, this kind of article gets us started on the fact-checking questions, and once we start that, we can't believe anything else you say. Really...these are the 50 most beautiful women in the whole, entire world? What's your methodology, please?
How to look 10 pounds thinner instantly. Come on. This is just marketing. Must we fulfill the trope that all women want to look 10 pounds thinner, without really doing much to actually make that happen, in order to maybe sell some pants and shirts and dresses and shoes? If you're going to go this route, give a selection of clothes that flatter different body types, as some ladies' magazines do. Don't start off with the perception that the body is already flawed.
How to change yourself to date the person you think you want to date. Remember that "dating expert's" piece about how to date a Wall Street guy, which gave instructions on how to snag yourself an i-banker? (Charm him out of talking about work! Tell short stories so that he'll actually listen! Adapt to lack of romance!) Can we stop insisting on manipulations like these to attract someone? It's confusing for men and also women. Be yourself. Be yourself. Be yourself. What follows will be what it should be. Unless you're a sociopath, in which, take yourself off the market completely, please.
How to "make him" do something. Whether it's marry you, pick up his socks, or just be a completely different person, the definitive fact is you're not going to change anyone, not substantially and perhaps not even minimally, nor do you particularly want another person to change you. This is an exercise in futility, and not worth the paper it's printed on, even if it's nonpaper on the Internet. Also, pieces like these set a terrible precedent for how men think about women, and possibly worse, for how women think about themselves. Though that's the truth, I'd guess, about all of these pieces.
Image via Shutterstock by Demid Borodin.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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