Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence has admitted that, until recently, she didn’t negotiate as powerfully as a man might because she was afraid of being seen as not “likeable”.
“I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’,” she wrote in an essay for Lenny, Lena Dunham and TV producer Jenni Konner’s new feminist blog earlier this month.
“[Then] I saw the payroll on the internet [after the 2014 Sony email hack, where multiple actors’ salaries were revealed] and realised every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’.”
Bitch or doormat?
Her fear that behaving in a powerful way might backfire was not without foundation. Studies have shown for years that women are penalised for being perceived as aggressive in less glamorous professions, too.
The problem “has to do with social stereotypes about how women should behave”, writes Jessica Chou at Refinery 29, in conversation with social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson. Your choices, as society sets them up, says Halvorson, are: be “competent and cold – the bitch – or warm and incompetent – the doormat”.
Men, on the other hand, are given a lot more leeway to behave powerfully, even aggressively, before it begins to negatively affect people’s perception of them.
The dominance penalty
Academics call this the ‘dominance penalty’: when the exact same behaviour that would cause respect and admiration for a man, causes social rejection for a woman.
What is the solution? One: rather than faking it, and pretending to be sweetness and light, use methods that are shown to authentically improve likability in both men and women. Cultivate your ability to form and sustain good, authentic relationships. Support colleagues – work on others’ behalf, not just your own.
Why it’s okay to be a badass woman
Be a badass, yes – but be a “likeable badass”, says Halvorson – so that when you do call upon your power, you’re doing so from a place of people knowing you and already feeling positively disposed toward you.
What if, like J Law, you do all that, and still come up against this? We may well need the help of the other sex in finding a solution.
Actor Bradley Cooper has pledged wage transparency.
The He For She movement aims to teach men and boys to support women in the workplace and elsewhere.
What do you think?