Men with flaws still get promoted past “aggressive” women: it’s all in the language used

Arguing coupleDid you know that when a meeting ends and the men present are asked how long the women in the meeting spoke, they reckon about 75%.

In reality it’s barely 25%.

Many men – by no means all  of course – have a litany of derogatory words to characterise female leaders. Men are given more ‘wiggle room’ in terms of the behaviours we expect or sanction, but women have less latitude.

A recent Huffington blog post quoted Nic Subtirelu, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Applied Linguistics at Georgia State University who said he found hundreds of examples of certain words being used to describe people — pushy, brusque, stubborn and condescending — and looked at whether they were applied more often to women or men.

Women, he found, are labelled “pushy” twice as often as men.

“Women were already saying they’re called ‘pushy’ more than men. It’s not that I came up with that idea,”  said Subtirelu. “It’s a principled way of providing statistics for the naysayers out there.”

Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be described as “condescending” — but, as Subtirelu writes, that does not suggest a “balance has been struck.” Implicit in condescending is an acknowledgement that the person is in power, looking down. Pushy carries no such connotation.  It’s worth noting that ‘condescending’ can only be applied to those who are or believe they are in power. On the other hand, pushy is comparable to being obnoxiously forward or self-assertive for example Hillary Clinton is often described as shrill, aloof and icy.

Men are given more ‘wiggle room’ in terms of the behaviours we expect or sanction, but women have less latitude.

No one cares or comments on what men wear but women in the public eye are often defined by their outfit – Teresa May’s kitten heels for example or Angela Merkel who’s not only seen as ruthless but also frumpy. The last Cabinet reshuffle majored on the cutaway skirt of one of the promoted women MPs, no man was criticised for a shabby pair of trousers (and yes, on TV coverage I saw one of those going into No. 10).

How can women escape the trap of being called aggressive, bitchy and shrill? Well voice control helps. There was an MP many years ago who had a high-pitched voice.  When she stood up to talk and got excited her voice went higher and higher to the (loud) amusement of the House, her own side included. Unfair? Yes and she didn’t stand for re-election. Unlike a certain Margaret Thatcher who had voice control lessons to lower her tone by several octaves and we all know where that led.

Confidence will also assist because when you know your subject and realise you do have something to offer, your audience will listen. Women are far more collegiately minded than men but  could this come across as being pushy when all you are trying to do is to get through to them?

I guess though it will take a lot more time before men get used to our voices, our way of doing business and the fact that we always striving to do better.

After all, men have been in charge of UK PLC for hundreds of years – and don’t you agree that they could do with some help?

About the author

Lady Val is our Life of a Lady Blogger. Lady Val is also the founder of 'Lady Val's Professional Women's Network.' You can Reach Lady Val on: Life of a Lady Blog, Lady Val's Professional Women's Network

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