There's a lot of talk about raising the bar on men. We need them to be better allies, we need them to be more inclusive. But there's a bar that we need to raise on women: the skills gap.
When Compliments Fall Short
I feel like any compliment is invalidated by adding in gender. "You're the most intelligent woman I know" has a solid subtext of "Say, you're pretty intelligent... for a woman". The very moment that gender was brought into that compliment, it ceased being complimentary. We are not a sub-genre of attributes.
Recently it dawned on me how frustratingly low expectations are set for women in certain areas.
I was watching Masterchef. All the competitors were semi-professional chefs, and one was a woman in her early 20s. Her skills were impressive for her age, but were very much on par with, and at times less than the rest of the group. The judges praised her a lot more readily than the other chefs, and doled out significantly less criticism. When she was criticised it was softer and more constructive than the beastings others endured.
It was patronising, and it agitated the hell out of me. I thought about other situations where we expect less of women, or are more easily impressed. Attractive YouTube musicians with barely breaking-average skills, literally any woman gamer. It's the same non-compliment "Say, you're a pretty good guitarist... for a girl"
It's Not Just Patronising. It is Limiting
Validation is a significant motivator. We want others to be impressed by us. So we work hard to be impressive. And once we reach that treasured kudos threshold, the motivation to improve wanes, and thus the skill level plateaus.
There are of course exceptions who break free of this and excel. By continuing beyond the applause, the exceptions become exceptional.
But, for many, where the threshold is lowered the skill level follows the same pattern.
There's a reason there are so many female singers who don't play an instrument (full disclosure, I am one of them). The praise threshold for attractive female singers is practically skimming the floor, so why try harder? That's not to say that women have an easy time in the music business. They do not. But that's a different layer of bullshit, for a different blog.
We need to be measured at the same level, in order to succeed transparently at the same level.
This is not an altruistic suggestion. It's not just individuals that benefit. There is an infinite source of potential out there being wasted. So what does society look like when that potential is realised? Pretty bloody amazing by my reckoning.
The Goldilocks Quandary
I'm not blind to the frustrating scenarios of women having to over achieve to get recognition. Female comedians, female politicians, female writers. The list goes on.
I've been there myself, working my ass off in a stiflingly corporate environment for little to no reward. Jumping through endless performance hoops and receiving nothing but increased demands and criticism, all the while watching men "fail up" in the business, and celebrating together with whisky and lap dancers. It wouldn't have surprised me to find pictures of their wives in their wallets replaced with a smug looking Don Draper.
We recognise this behaviour as toxic when we see it. And may even have the courage to address it.
But the flip side to that coin, the patronising low expectations and the impact that this has, is slipping under the radar and urgently needs to be seen, and called out.
Why can't we just exist, and operate on a level playing field? The "Goldilocks of Expectations" if you will. Not too high, not too low. Juuuuust right. Or, you know, equal...
I'm a woman so I write based on my own experiences. Women do not have the monopoly in this dynamic, and I encourage anyone to re-read this with literally any other discredited group in mind. It works shamefully well.
Any time you witness the bar being lowered, question it,
Any time you witness surprise at a person's skill level where there shouldn't be any, call it out.