Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock & Sara Laschever

Women Don’t Ask is an essential read for everyone, but especially females. This book explains how gendered socialization not only hinders women’s voices in many cases, but also thwarts their success in negotiating many areas of their life. Focusing primarily on work, this book showcases example after example (backed by research) of women falling short/not living up to their potential in negotiations when compared to men.

I love this book because it eloquently articulates some concepts that I have been trying to explain to myself and others for a long time. Not only does it explain how society promotes passivity in women–the claims are buttressed with research, which I think is important. This work  along with a very talented Gender Studies professor at Slippery Rock University actually inspired my idea for a masters thesis which is a work in progress involving gendered socialization, but I digress.

Some people just ignore the facts: including the gender pay gap. And I realize that even when backed by research this book will still probably be criticized by close-minded uninformed people, but it is definitely a stepping stone to a more gender-equal society. Awareness is key.

Does biology determine behavior? The short and sweet answer is not completely. Social forces play a really large part in behavior and especially gendered behavior. Research has shown that women tend to take on more “feminine’ characteristics in mixed company rather than just in front of other females.

So why does men and women behaving differently matter? It matters because women are often not asking for what they are worth in the workplace and they are often not given what they are worth even when they do ask. What’s worse, though, is that some women never think to ask for what they want for a variety of reasons. The difference in behavior in and of itself is  not the issue, it is the inherent privileging of one of being (masculine) over another (feminine).

It’s the stereotypical examine of a woman with a type A personality at work. If her boss likes her, she’s assertive. If her boss dislikes her, she’s aggressive and a bitch. As you may have realized in your personal life: the goal of thinking like a woman and acting like  man may not work, as oftentimes women are punished for exhibiting the very same qualities that are esteemed in men, such as being direct and asserting themselves. Unfortunately, it does pay to be liked, if you’re a woman. Men don’t have to worry so much about that/being “nice” in the work place.

From a very young age, parents teach their children what it means to be a boy and a girl. Sadly, girls and boys alike see femininity as something having to do with constraint. In Women Don’t Ask of a class of middle schoolers were asked what it would be like to be the opposite sex. Boys said things like, I’d have to worry about what I look like, I’d have to worry about being pregnant, whereas the girls associated being a boy with more freedom. This sad anecdotal example really speaks to the pervasive issue of the imbalance of power. The playing field isn’t level … it may look more level on the outside now, but more subtle forms of oppression may be actually becoming more pervasive.

Women take their relationships into account when making decisions more so than men. What does that mean? It means that women are more likely to preserve relationships than men, even bad ones. For example, one research study cited in Women Don’t Ask explained how even in the most intimate areas of life, the most personal… women find it hard to ask for what they want. Essentially, many found it hard to ask their partner to wear a condom.

I was furious when I read this. WHAT? My personal opinion on that is if you can’t have open communication with your partner, you shouldn’t be having sex. That’s a different story.

Well, no, it’s really not … because women are taught to supplant their own desires for the desires of others. They are the caretakers– even when it becomes detrimental to themselves. They are taught to “be” their relationships and be defined by them. That has to stop.

But that’s exactly it. Gendered socialization forms unspoken pressures for women to feel bad about themselves for asking what for what they want and protecting themselves. I’m fired up as I type this. Again, awareness is key to dismantling these ridiculous pressures. Spread the word and read this book.

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