In her first major speech as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador back in 2014, Emma Watson inaugurated the UN’s HeForShe campaign (an odd initiative meant to shift the focus of the feminist project onto men who promise to stand up for the women around them). In that speech, she recalled how she was called “bossy” as a child, because she took initiative and had distinct leadership abilities, while the boys around her were subject to no such name-calling. Downton Abbey star Daisy Lewis has warned people not to call her the dreaded f-word – feisty.
There are lots of seemingly gender-neutral words that are used almost exclusively for women, and a new study shows that this could have far-reaching consequences straight into adulthood, and into the minute workings of women’s professional lives.
Kieran Snyder writes in Fortune magazine that she was inspired to do some digging after sitting in on a performance review and hearing a man and a woman with very similar professional qualities being described in radically opposite ways. The go-getter guy was judged to get a bit impatient, but “who doesn’t”? While the go-getter woman was described as – wait for it – “abrasive”.
This inspired her to study performance reviews in the tech industry (which she’s a part of), and her results are pretty illuminating. From the 248 reviews she studied, she found that the word abrasive had been used 17 times to describe 13 women. No man was deemed abrasive.
She also found that women were far more likely to receive critical feedback in their reviews. 58.9 percent of the reviews received by men contained critical feedback, as compared to the whopping 87.9 percent of the reviews received by women.
Women were also much more likely to be sharply told off and basically ‘put in their place’ (with phrases like “watch your tone”, “don’t be so judgmental”, “you need to step back”) than men in their performance reviews. Snyder observed that this kind of “negative personality criticism” showed up in only 2 of 83 critical reviews received by men, but 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women.
Interestingly, the results don’t seem to change significantly based on the gender of the manager or the person performing the appraisal, which is intriguing, and could point to how deep structural and internalised patriarchy really goes.