New research demonstrates, ONCE AGAIN, that women actively undermine their own careers because it’ll hurt their marriage prospects.

William Iven

Every day, I hear about or read another piece of research that supports how women participate in their own subjugation, often unconsciously. It makes me so angry that these things are still being found today. I get besides myself when I learn that yet another behaviour women have is undermining their careers, their livelihoods, and their independence.

All right, my headline is a little sensational. Of course, women are free to choose marriage over career if they so want. But forthcoming research by Harvard economists shows that women trade off their career ambitions to remain “marriageable”.

Basically, single women responded to questions differently if they thought a man would see the answers, or participated less in class when there were men in the room. Single women who thought their answers would be seen by men lowered their desired salaries by 18k a year, on average. Single women who thought their answers would be seen by men decreased how many hours they said they wanted to work every week, or days they wanted to travel every month.

If the women thought their answers were anonymous, they responded like the married/non-single women, with higher salaries and more ambitious careers.

And we’re not talking about any old random women here. We’re talking about MBA students. We’re talking driven, ambitious women who chose business, a notoriously masculine field, as their career path.

Quoting the article in HBR:

While extrapolating to other settings is beyond the scope of this paper, elite female MBA students are a select group, one that presumably places a higher value on career success than the general female population does. This suggests that the effects of marriage market signaling are perhaps even larger in other contexts.

Okay, let’s unpack this. The researchers found this effect in FEMALE MBA STUDENTS WHO CARE ABOUT THEIR CAREERS AND ARE, BY DEFINITION, AMBITIOUS. If female MBA students reduce their apparent ambitions and decrease their class participation and assertiveness in the presence of men, what does it mean for the rest of us?

Another quote:

Our analysis of participation grades indicated that unmarried female students had substantially lower class participation grades than married ones.

Single women are literally shutting themselves up because it might cost them a partner. Because we know, from a study done in 2007, that men prefer women who earn less and who are less ambitious than them.

I want to note that this study apparently didn’t control for sexual orientation (the full thing isn’t published yet, but the article doesn’t mention it and probably assumes heterosexuality.) Do bisexual, queer or lesbian women undermine themselves to the same degree as the heterosexual ones? The article doesn’t answer that question — and I would be curious to see.

Even though women have access to all kinds of careers that were unheard of only 30 or 40 years ago, we still have this stupid, ingrained, socially normative idea that we should somehow make ourselves lesser than in order to please men.

We should make ourselves quieter.
We should make ourselves less successful.
We should make ourselves more available.
We should make ourselves less ambitious.
We should make ourselves less leader-like.

We should make ourselves always less, always weaker, always smaller, always non-threatening to the poor men who can’t handle the fact that a woman could be more successful than him.

This is an empirically observable fact, not only borne out of social feminist theory, but out of the scientific method of psychology and behavioural studies. Not that feminism needs more studies supporting its stance, because, OMG, like, where have you been?, but we have yet another confirmation of our subjugation and our own participation in the system that oppresses us, that forces us to achieve less than our full potential.


Clarke Sanders

At the end of the article, the authors suggest that more research is needed to develop interventions to reduce or eliminate this effect.

Here are some suggestions:

Reduce the importance of marriage, celebrate single women

Men do not feel like they must give up anything for marriage. Women are asked, constantly, to give up things for marriage, potential earnings being only one of them.

If only we reduced the importance of marriage in a woman’s life, maybe more women would feel free to make choices that work for her, not for her and a future maybe husband. And given that half of today’s marriages end in divorce, is it really worth risking future career prospects on, literally, the flip of a coin?

Let’s stop telling women that they have to get married, or else. Let’s stop telling women that “they’re getting old” and “they will have to settle if they let themselves go” and that having your assets contractually attached to another person, based on something like love, is somehow necessary for a fulfilled life.

Apparently, being single was the common denominator for women diminishing themselves. Let’s stop making that a factor. Let’s celebrate single women, poly women, queer women, women who refuse to marry, women who prefer friends with benefits. Marriage is fine, if you want it, but you have to want it. It shouldn’t be a necessity for social status and success in life.

Implement transparent salary policies, stop making money a taboo subject

You know what is the biggest driver of salary differences between men and women? The fact that women don’t know how much men in equivalent positions make.

Unions have transparent salary policies, where everyone knows what everyone else is making, because it’s in the contract. That way, it’s quasi-impossible to cheat and give men more than women in similar positions.

Corporations have a lot of power over salaries (and the power to pay men more) because salaries are generally secret. Forcing transparency (or even more radical, salary parity where EVERYONE makes the same amount—if the business is successful, everyone wins!) will blow open the pay gap between men and women and make it much easier to fight.

Money is such a taboo topic. When’s the last time you asked someone what they made? It’s the height of rudeness to ask, yet if we do not ask, how are we to uncover inequality and discover our shared state of exploitation?

Support women with ambitions

Everyone is allowed to be as ambitious, or not, as they wish. But ambitious women more often criticized for their ambition than men. In women, ambition is a negative trait. It makes her “pushy”, “demanding”, “shrill”. In men, the exact same behaviours make him a leader, a visionary, a dedicated employee.

Let’s support women with ambition. Let’s hire our women freelancer friends, buy things from our women craftsmakers and artists, and shop at our women-owned stores. Let’s read our women friends’ articles, essays and books. Let’s give our money to women-led companies. Let’s encourage businesses who make gender parity a value, and demonstrate their dedication to it.

Support women with ambitions, because they have a fucking uphill battle. Senior women executives are asked, in front of junior board members, to fetch a drink for the chairman. Pew Research lists about a million fucking things that stop women from reaching the top ranks of business and power.


I don’t know about you, but I’m tired.

I’m tired of being told that my life is less worthy, less valuable and less meaningful than that of a man because I happen to have female genitals. I’m tired of being told, over and over again, that my appearance is more important than my mind, that my relationship status matters more than my achievements, and that my ability to bear children trumps my ambitions.

I’m fucking tired of being a second-class citizen, someone who has to fight twice as hard for every client, every hour charged, every pitch sent, every paper submitted.

So, ambitious women, for the love of whatever deity you believe in (or not), please stop putting marriage prospects ahead of your dreams. Be mindful of your attitudes and behaviours around men. Are you willingly diminishing yourself, your achievements, and your ambitions, simply to appear more desirable to potential mates?

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