Ms. Moneybags: Gender Judo Isn’t Such a Bad Thing

Welcome to Ms. Moneybags, Lady Clever’s column on finances, careers, and the headaches that come from thinking about that kind of stuff.

Image of businesswoman breaking bricks with hand-Edit

forget glass ceilings, break concrete walls.

TO NEGOTIATE OR NOT TO NEGOTIATE — that is the question: whether ’tis nobler in the workplace to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.

In a recent Forbes article, Katherine Reynolds Lewis argues that women cannot successfully navigate their workplaces as men do. They cannot negotiate salaries or delegate tasks like men. Nor should they necessarily try. Instead, Lewis suggests using “gender judo”: harnessing “feminine wiles” and turning gendered expectations to one’s advantage.

Jennifer Lawrence’s essay, “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?,” is the impetus for Lewis’ article. After discovering that she was paid much less than her male American Hustle co-stars, Lawrence expressed regret for not negotiating her salary, for taking what she was offered because she “didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.'” Her piece, published in Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter, has revived mainstream discussions on the gender wage gap.

It isn’t that Lewis thinks Lawrence is wrong for wanting equal pay, nor does she suggest that the actress — who has become a powerful draw since she skyrocketed to success in The Hunger Games — won’t get what she asks for on the next go-round. But Lewis does find the idea of “fired-up young feminists” failing spectacularly by trying to strong-arm salary negotiations disconcerting. And that’s where gender judo comes in.

Gender judo has been around for centuries. Despite the tendency to depict disenfranchised women as docile bodies, third-wave feminism embraces the philosophy that women of all backgrounds do the best with what they have. So, if a woman like Fanny Price wants to take a gamble on marrying for love, more power to her. And if a woman would rather be like Charlotte Lucas and secure a husband for the sake of stability — that is, engage in gender judo — more power to her. It’s just that simple.

But what does gender judo look like in the workplace? It’s all part of a tenacious balancing act, in which you must straddle femininity and masculinity in order to succeed.

For example, recent research has revealed that anger lowers a woman’s credibility and raises a man’s, but we all know it doesn’t take much for a woman to be labelled “angry.” Lawrence writes of a recent incident: “I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bulls**t way; no aggression, just blunt. The man I was working with (actually, he was working for me) said, “Whoa! We’re all on the same team here!” As if I was yelling at him.”

To gender-judo your way out of the anger scenario, you’d want to frame your disagreement in a friendly manner. Rather than saying, “That won’t work,” try “I don’t think this will work.” Defer, defer, defer. Or, do as my mother does: don’t talk about what you “know,” but about what you’ve “read.”

Lewis provides this example:

[W]hen negotiating your salary, instead of pushing for more money for yourself — which is accepted masculine behavior — frame the request for money as resources needed for the group or organization to succeed, which is more in line with typical, nurturing female behavior. Another tip: Dramatically ramp up your level of personal warmth.

I know, I know. The idea of having to show group benefit for an increase in my salary rubs me the wrong way, too. All of this rubs me the wrong way, to be honest. But it gets better, I promise.

What we have here are two paths to female success. You can be a Peggy Olson or a Joan Holloway, and it’s up to you to figure out which approach will work for you. As Lewis notes: “If you already have an assertive style that’s working, then don’t change a thing.” Similarly, if you’re already a gender judo master, you shouldn’t feel compelled to alter your approach, so long as it’s working for you.

If you’re put off by the gender judo idea, you should know that the only way to make it palatable is to understand that you’re outsmarting the system. If your boss is foolish enough to think you’re a b**ch for speaking your mind, kill him with kindness instead.

With all that said, I want to offer a caveat here. In no way am I saying that we should not combat the need for gender judo, nor am I suggesting that there is a hierarchy of worth dividing those who use it from those who do not; neither is Lewis. What we are saying is that success sometimes means playing by the rules — no matter how unfair — and using the loopholes to your advantage. You might not be able to dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools, but no one said you couldn’t tunnel your way out with them.