For girls who want to work
Sitting inside a Budapest diner, I asked my best friend; “Is it just me, or do you think boys talk about themselves a lot?”
We had been traveling in Budapest. She was studying in London and I was on a study abroad trip in Copenhagen.
Her eyes lit up as if she had been thinking the exact same thing and finally found someone that felt the same way.
“Yes. Oh my god. Yes.”
I had been at a low point in life where I felt lacking. Lacking of achievements, lacking of cool internships, lacking of desirable skills. I was constantly comparing myself to the stories of my peers who frequently gawk about their summer internships (past, present and even future offers), business meetings at their dad’s office, or offers they have received for next year after they graduate. At one point I realized that there is a common factor from all the stories that I had been hearing and comparing myself to.
They were all told by men.
I had thought that maybe I was just looking too much into things. But that was not the case. Later that summer, I had found that more women felt the same way as my friend and I did (I slipped this question in my conversations with other girls throughout summer break and 6 out of 7 women I asked said ‘yes’).
My friend and I went on to discuss how men find it so easy to talk about themselves. Good grades, the amount of work they put in studying and in student organizations, job searches, interviews… And wondered, why were we not hearing more of these stories from female peers? Was it because girls do less? Were we just surrounded by less girls? Both of us knew girls who do a lot in school, academically and professionally. Both of us had a comparable female to male ratio within our social circles. Thus, at the very least, we should encounter the same phenomenon from either genders in our respective social circles. But that did not happen. If it is not the amount of achievements or effort that is the differentiating factor, then what?
Girls just talk differently.
This means two things that I will discuss further. First, girls have a tendency to gravitate towards non-career related subjects. Second, girls have a way of talking about themselves that is just unlike how boys do it.
1. Also called, “OMG where did you get your lashes done?”
Ask yourself: out of all the conversations you’ve had during girl’s night outs last summer, how many of those were NOT mostly made up of:
a. Gossip, or
b. Shopping shenanigans?
For me personally, most of the girl-talk sessions were about eyebrow threading, relationships, and designer bags. This is especially true ever since I went to the US for college. I‘m not at all against beauty and taking care of one’s self. Heck, I, too, wax my brows, like how fake lashes look, and enjoy petty gossip. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having those as interests (they are hobbies!). But to talk about these things exclusively?
I personally find it concerning. Why so? Think about it this way. Our makeups, bags, and pretty brunches are all consumption goods. I also am a believer of the 10 000 hour principle (loosely translated, says that if you put more time into something you will get better at it). If we spend 10 000 hours discussing consuming, but 0 hours discussing means to produce the income required to buy those goods… then we will be eternally bound to daddy’s (both the literal and not so literal figures) credit card to sustain this way of life. Unfortunately, that is what I frequently see in my girl friend groups.
If you’re in the business of looking for a rich bachelor to marry then you might be on the right track. Finding a rich but nice husband is hard work indeed, and you need to allocate as much capital into it. I don’t find it as less than someone else’s career pursuits, at all. Being a rich guy’s wife also requires hard work and sacrifice (Crazy Rich Asians, everyone) so if you don’t think you can be as badass of a wife as Eleanor Young; stop judging. It is not easy to be a successful in this industry. If anything, it is a full-time job that starts well before you graduate with no retirement.
Economically speaking, it is all about allocating your endowment to receive your personal highest utility — each person has different sources of satisfaction and no one has the right to judge them.
But if you’re a girl that wants to work (hence the title), why give 10 000 fucks about topics not pertaining to your goals? It’s irrational. This is what many people, including myself, often fail to realize. We normalize these topics as ‘things girls talk about’, so we don’t realize how constraining these really are. This status quo is not our fault but is part of our nature and nurture as women, especially in Asia. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept, or, reject it fully. Get this: If I’m a budding vegan, asking for recipes to crockpot rendang will be of less use than asking for vegan quinoa bowl recipes. Doesn’t mean that I should be completely oblivious about meat recipes as I can probably find substitutes for it on my journey of being vegan. Again, allocate your time and effort into things that will bring you the highest utility. If your utility comes from getting a good job after graduation, start putting those 10 000 hours into discussing it, and whatever hours left into discussing sulam alis.
Ah, but most of boys’ so-called “business” talks are also BS.
You’re not wrong. A friend getting into Goldman, their other friend’s salary at BCG, and the state of their family business could be total BS. But isn’t information on starting salaries at least a little more professionally valuable than names of a dozen salons where you can get your lashes permed? Talking only about topics we would normally talk about could be limiting. The discrepancy of topics discussed by 21 year old men and women is striking.
Tip 1: Talk about things that you want to gain. Knowledge sharing is cool.
I started trying this out last year by consciously asking my girl friends about their career plans or joining the boys talk about business stuff. You’d be surprised of how much you would gain from this! I have received countless information that I would not otherwise have known had I not spoken to others. If you can’t find enough people to do this with, I encourage you expand your circle to find people who share the same closeted interest. You’d be thrilled to find that many girls actually seek these conversations but do not know who to start with.
2. Girls don’t flex
Maybe this has something to do with being feminine as being meek and gentle. Maybe this has got to do with the fact that girls are desired to be slim and small — not bulky, muscly, or god forbid, big. That is why we downsize ourselves.
When asked about how their internship is going, most of our girl friends would say “It’s so tiring, I don’t know if I can do this anymore” or a simple, “I’m not doing anything much, it’s nothing.” When congratulated for an achievement, say, receiving an offer at a prestigious firm, a girl friend would likely say “I’m just lucky enough to get it.” Girls tend to give their two cents’ worth only if they’re sure that they have their facts right. Girls tend to downplay their abilities and achievements. Girls don’t flex — they just don’t do it. I don’t either.
And this is a problem.
‘It’s a man’s world’
Much like the first point, it is quite obvious that this tendency to not flex is caused by upbringing. Try having a little reflection on yours to see how it had played out.
You’re 12 years old at grandma’s Chinese New Year party. After lunch, you go into grandma’s bedroom to hang out with the women and children while your male cousins hang out in the couch with grandpa and the uncles. You listen to older girl cousins talk about upcoming weddings, aunts talk about baby stuff, and grandma rattle about someone’s cheating wife. You go outside to grab some nastar, overhearing the uncles talk about factories while smoking cigarettes. Your male cousins are still there.
You’re 14. Your mom enters your bedroom and complains about the mess. You say you’ve been busy studying for a final. Your mom retorts with the all-time favorite line, “Mana ada cewe berantakan begini? Nanti gimana kalau jadi istri, mana mau suamimu?!” She still says the same thing when you come home in the summer.
You’re 21. Your mom tells you she’s proud of your achievements in college and your job offers. Laughing a little, she stops and says, “tapi sayang kamu kurang satu… Gak bisa jahit.”
Men are more used to speakIng bluntly about business, money, and consequently themselves in those contexts compared to women. In a situation where I was the only girl and the boys were talking about money, I would usually be quiet because I did not know what to say. It was just not my domain. Most girls are just not conditioned to speak of these matters. Thus, many girls lack the confidence that men have as a result of upbringing. I admit, it is true that some of the things boys flex are, yet again, BS used in a dick-measuring contest. But take a look at this case study:
“Everyone who asked me about the salary of my internship was male. None of the girls asked,” said my friend, still in that Budapest diner.
How would you compare internship offers if you did not participate in conversations that might give you insight? Sure, these conversations can be a hit or miss. But without engaging at all, you would never find a hit. And sometimes, to engage means that you need to flex. Just enough to make an entrance and let the big boys know that you have something to say. If you’re a girl who wants to work, you will eventually need to learn to sell yourself when applying for a job, pitching an idea to your boss or asking for a raise.
Tip 2: Speak up.
It is scary to be assertive as a girl. Double standards are a thing. In the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, addressing the Chatham House London Conference 2018: “In our world, A man is confident, a woman is arrogant. A man is assertive, a woman is aggressive.”
In my words: “A man is bold, a woman is a bitch.”
Perhaps it is the social cost of pursuing something that is not true to our status quo. But let me tell you something;
It feels good to be a bitch.