After getting home at nearly 9 p.m. last night, I was pretty excited to find my copy of "Time" magazine waiting for me with a cover story called "The Secrets of Ambition," featuring a drawing of a pantsuit clad woman carrying a briefcase and stepping over some skyscrapers. As an unabashedly ambitious woman myself, I immediately tore into it.
Of course, it turns out (according to the article) that women aren't really ambitious at all except for having babies. Excerpts from the article are in italics:
Both research findings and everyday experience suggest that women's ambitions express themselves differently from men's . . .
Ding! Ding! Ding! Of course, that will mean that women don't really want to succeed in the workplace, just at home. We don't care if we actually get paid or have any prestige.
Economists Lise Vesterlund of the University of Pittsburgh and Muriel Niederle of Stanford University conducted a study in which they assembled 40 men and 40 women, gave them five minutes to add up as many two-digit numbers as they could, and paid them 50 cents for each correct answer. The subjects were not competing against one another but simply playing against the house. Later, the game was changed to a tournament in which the subjects were divided into two teams of two men or two women each. Winning teams got $2 per computation; losers got nothing. Men and women performed equally in both tests but, on the third round, when asked to choose which of the two ways they wanted to play, only 35% of the women opted for the tournament format; 75% of the men did.
And obviously a sample of 80 people will tell us everything we need to know about the inherent nature of men and women. And, of course, being competitive in a math quiz that has no relation to the rest of one's life is the exact same thing as being ambitious.
"Men and women just differ in their apetite for competition," says Vesterlund. "There seems to be a dislike for it among women and a preference among men."
Well, of course, the impact of socialization, in which boys are steered towards competitive sports and girls are discouraged from being anything but "nice," is a key factor, right? And we shouldn't forget the competitive drive of the 14 out of 40 women who chose the competitive option in the study, right? Right?
As with so much viewed through the lens of anthropology, the roots of these differences lie in animal and human mating strategies.
Oh, of course . . .
Males are built to go for quick competitive reproductive hits and move on. Women are built for the it-takes-a-village life, in which they provide long term care to a very few young and must sail them safely into an often hostile world . . .
Not a word about culture or socialization, because of course cultural expectations have no impact on how we act, nor are there any differences in how men and women are socialized to behave. How silly of me to think otherwise.
It's not that women aren't ambitious enough to compete for what they want; it's that they're more selective about when they engage in competition; they're willing to get ahead at high cost but not at any cost. . . Import such tendencies into the 21st century workplace, and you get women who are plenty able to compete ferociously but are inclined to do it in teams and to split the difference if they don't get everything they want . . .
In other words, women are not as competitive men. (At least there is some recognition in the article that not wanting to compete at a math quiz for pocket change is not the same thing as not caring whether you succeed at work.)
And mothers who appear unwilling to strive and quit the workplace altogether to raise their kids?
Obviously, any woman who becomes a stay-at-home-mother is simply "unwilling to strive." Her choice has nothing to do with religious or cultural beliefs, or economic necessity.
[Sarah Blaffer] Hrdy [emiritus professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis] believes they are competing for the most enduring stakes of all, putting aside their near-term goals to ensure the long-term success of their line. [plug in example of woman who sacrificed opportunity for plum White House job in order to be a stay-at-home-mom].
Oh yes, women are "ambitious" but they're just not ambitious for the same things that men are like boring old money, power and prestige. I'm so glad "Time" has cleared that up for all of us.