Thursday, 22 September 2016

Vertical ambition: I don't get it


So a guy from Saatchi* wrote that women lacked "vertical ambition" and then was sacked after a fiery storm of comment. And... I find this strange.

Let me give you an analogy. Suppose, hypothetically, I were to claim that, in my society, women spend more time and effort on their appearance than men. (I haven't even checked if this is true. I am – hypothetically – just trusting my gut.)

What might cause this difference? Is it human nature? Are women born with an innate love of finery and display? Well, someone might claim that, but it hardly seems necessary. Men seem to care about women's appearance a lot. So, if women care about finding romantic partners, they may experience strong social pressure to look good. I don't say it is fair. I just say it would explain why women might spend time on their appearance. The other part of the explanation would be that men experience less such pressure, maybe because women care about men's appearance less.

Back to ambition. For the next bit I must reveal that during my life, I have been single, gone on dates, and frequented dating websites. Shame!

My strong impression is that in the choice of romantic partners, women care a lot about men's careers. I would say that this is not confined to any one section of the population. It is true among materialists who love yachts and expensive cars. But it is also true, in a less blatant and earnings-focused way, among Guardian readers, and those who like long walks with dogs. So, at least, it seems to me. I would even go further and say that, if I had no job or a minimum wage job, I would have very great difficulty finding a romantic partner; I would basically be, in the eyes of the opposite sex, nothing and noone.

If this is true, or if men think it is true, and if they also care about finding romantic partners, it seems that men have much stronger incentives to be rich, successful and powerful than women. In other words, "vertical ambition". Again, another part of the explanation has to be that men care less about women's careers and success. That is also my impression, gleaned from e.g. the high number of females, on dating websites, whose day job is, say, "food blogger".
Material aspirations of American college students, Crippins et al (1991).
This was all the data I could find in a hurry. Make of it what you will.

So I am not sure why the Saatchi dude got pilloried for this. To get to men having more ambition, you don't need a story about male brains or genes or mammoth hunting in the Pleistocene. You just need people caring about the opinions of the opposite sex, and responding in the obvious way.

An alternative story is that men and women have exactly the same levels of ambition, but that women are constantly being stymied by the all-male hiring committee: "oh, we don't want a woman in the firm – let's have more guys!" Personally I have never observed this, or anything like it, and it seems almost the reverse of what actually happens, but I admit I live in the virtuous and PC world of academia.

Here, then, is my beef. I don't hate feminism or want to join the manosphere or think that sexism doesn't exist or whatever, but I have a beef and here it is.

On the one hand, I have a society that tells me: you'd better get to the top; you'd better be successful; or you're fucked. So I work hard. And then I get successful, or more successful than I was, or at least, mediocre. And then I and other guys are told: ah, you benefited from sexism!

I don't know, this just seems like bullshit.


* Advertising agency founded by Charles Saatchi, the famous art collector and wife-beater.