We’re Complicit in Incompetent Men’s Success
Stop enabling these #glitteryturds
Here’s the thing about incompetent men: they rise. Like a turd in the community swimming pool, they rise and rise till they float on the top. Everyone can see it. Everyone knows it’s there, and what it is, and how it got there. No one will take responsibility for putting it there, of course. Much less will they take responsibility for getting it out. Worse, its continued presence, bobbing along, whether fully self-aware or not, seems to beckon: it’s okay, the shit says, winking. This pool is shit-friendly. Anyone can take a shit all over it!
Who gets out of the pool first (yes, I’m going to beat this metaphor into the ground, TYVM)? The ones who see it and recognise what it is right away — they dash for dry concrete. They might leave the pool and never come back. If they have that privilege. Their own pool at home, maybe a members-only pool at the country club. Everyone, eventually, will clear the lanes and shake their heads at the dastardly floater.
But what about the ones who don’t have an alternative? No pool at home, no lido membership. Maybe not even air conditioning or a sprinkler to run through on a hot day. They might stay away for a day. They might only stay out of the pool long enough for the solid matter to get fished out; but we all know how fecal matter spreads and lingers. It will be days before the filters really clean all of it out. And it’s never really cleaned out. So those who have nowhere else to go, no way else to cool off, they stick around. Swimming in shit.
Here’s where the metaphor is not only beaten but broken: not only do we by and large ignore these turds floating all around us, we polish them. We laud them for being shiny. We note how talented they are, just for being able to float, as if it weren’t mere physics. We give them the top of the pool, and we drown ourselves trying to stay away from them at the bottom.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s 2019 book Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders (non-affiliate link) shows just how much of the perception deck is stacked in men’s favour. Basically, if you’re a white male, an ounce of charm and an overweening confidence will fuel you to success. Women as well as men will wholeheartedly believe you when you tell them you’re not only capable of doing something, you’ll be the best ever at it. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s the strategy of the current incompetent leaders of both my countries, the US and the UK. And neither is particularly charming.
Whereas give us a competent woman, and we’ll treat her with suspicion. Her competency, no matter how profound, will not help her nearly as much as if she simply had a penis. Was anyone ever more prepared or qualified to be President of the United States than Hillary Clinton? Was ever an opponent less so than the gilded turd who “won”? Now bring that down to the everyday level, we schlubs just trying to earn a paycheck. It’s no wonder women earn less, when we just keep failing these men upward.
Despite recent advances in gender and race equality, white cis/het men are still kings of the Western world. We changed the laws thanks to the suffragettes and the civil rights and feminist movements, and white dudes the world over went right then, that’s sorted. We’re all equal now. TBF, we all kind of did. And we took a pause on working on it as a society. What we still haven’t solved is the hardest thing to correct: our innate cultural and unconscious biases.
Kate Manne drills into these in Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny (non-affiliate link). She redefines misogyny itself to refer to actions rather than attitudes. Actions (by anyone) that serve to uphold the dominant patriarchy are misogynistic. Quitting your job so your male partner can succeed in his? Misogynistic. Continuing to teach the “classics” despite the artists’ poor behaviour (Picasso, I’m looking at you… but also a bajillion others)? Not taking active freaking steps to correct the inequalities? Misogynistic (and probably also racist and homophobic). Crying more about men’s “ruined careers” than for their victims’ physical and psychological injuries? F that right in the neck, y’all.
Our everyday lives are full of it, and once you see it, you can’t stop seeing it. I started actively choosing what to watch on streaming services by whether or not there was a woman in the preview image; Netflix’s algorithms are the smartest, and gradually started showing me more and more thumbnails with women, even on shows and movies driven by men. I tried to do the same with POC in the images, but it was nearly impossible — there just aren’t enough of them shown to me to truly change the recommendations. I actively seek work by and about women — that’s how I know how hard it is to find in the sewage pile of mediocre men.
There are countless examples and studies and statistics demonstrating the truth of the misogyny endemic to our culture. The gender pay gap (which gets bigger for WOC). The percentage of women making media. The percentage of women in management. In government. Below the poverty line. Bias against women and POC in school and job applications. Negligence of women’s health. Negligence of women’s voices. Regulation of women’s bodies, our emotions, our actions.
I’ve had more men named “Andrew” as managers than I’ve had women. I’ve watched male academics prey on (decades-younger) female students and then turn their vainglory into promotions and accolades (despite decades of research and work of those like the 1752 group, this misconduct continues in professional academia when almost all other professions forbid it). I’ve seen blank male faces when I bring up gendered evaluation bias. I’ve seen outspoken women silenced and bullied out of jobs for having the gall to disagree with (male) management. I’ve seen female colleagues drop from stress and overwork and complete and utter lack of reward or recognition.
Because incompetent men. Because of all of our complicity in letting these glittery turds float all around us even as we flail for dear life. Because we buy into the myth of male genius, because we believe men’s charming lies and glance askew at women’s quiet competency.
The Trumps and Boris Johnsons and Harvey Weinsteins of the world are not the exceptions. They are the dominant status quo, and like anyone who is on top, they have no motivation to change the way the world works. It’s going to take all of us to rise up from the dregs of the pool, to grab our nets and fish them out. To dump them unceremoniously and without regrets into the sewers of society — after all, with all that glitter glommed on to them, they’re not even useful enough to fertilise a garden.
To paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s Joker, this society needs an enema. If you’re not a spiffed-up dingleberry, glove up.