I think one problem with trying to gain the success and position professional men have traditionally enjoyed is possibly having to act like them. Let me explain…a reoccurring complaint I heard from older women’s rights activists and trailblazers is about the lack of credit they get from my generation (these are baby boomers—I’m Gen Y). The thing is, I am ready and willing to give credit where credit is due, but I don’t know where that is. And I don’t think that’s entirely my fault. I think successful women aren’t necessarily inclined to crow. And that means their accomplishments aren’t as well known. For example, before going on an interview for a summer position I read the bios of my interviewers (they were two women). The bios covered the basics – education, publications. But they failed to mention a number of remarkable accomplishments of which I learned once I started work in the summer. One of my bosses had helped write a major piece of legislation, another had litigated groundbreaking civil rights claims. I heard about all of this from other co-workers, never from them. Their accomplishments were like gossip, whispered by the water cooler. I want to be recognized for my contributions and I want to acknowledge the work of other women. Yet I fear being that guy (I know you know him too) who can’t stop talking about the deal he just brokered, the test he just aced, the opposing counsel he just bested, etc. Can I achieve without telling you about it? Will I appreciate my success if I don’t?
I know there are some obvious alternative explanations for why my foremothers are so under-appreciated. For one thing, women have traditionally received less attention in everything from textbooks to newspapers for their work. But these days that’s not as true as it once was. I think you probably always need pride, or at least self-respect, to overcome prejudice. But how prideful are women willing to be to achieve their goals?