Scott Adams just had an interesting piece about how the Uncanny Valley might apply to women trying to get a raise:
The Uncanny Valley concept comes from the field of robotics. The idea is that a robot that looks like a proper metal-and-plastic robot can be cute, but if you make an artificial creature that is a-a-a-almost exactly like a human, yet slightly different, the effect is horrifying. That’s why horror movies use zombies and ghosts more often than proper monsters. Nothing is more scary than a creature that is almost human but not quite.
When men negotiate the way society expects men to negotiate, the picture is entirely compatible with expectations. But when a woman negotiates in an assertive style we associate with men (to pick one example), I hypothesize that it causes an Uncanny Valley problem that is slightly repulsive to observers on some level.
I think this analysis is interesting, but I don’t think it goes far enough.
This isn’t just about professional women and salary negotiations; it applies wherever women are “acting like men”.
The best capture of this is the phenomenon of calling women “bossy”. Men and women alike seem to react poorly when they see a woman at work take on the behaviors expected by men, such as forcing one’s opinion, interrupting, and generally being aggressive.
My theory is that this is simply a discord with internal expectations, and that it takes place at a level that is not even available to scrutiny. Just like seeing a robot face that almost looks human.
It’s as if men and women expect women to do X, and if they do Y they are repulsed—and often against their own will.
It seems like the only way to counter this is to reverse (or avoid) the programming that generates those expectations in the first place. Unfortunately, that also seems the hardest, since outside of work the entire world is reinforcing the traditional idea of how women should behave.
In short, the world outside work is dramatically different than at work, and the outside world is winning. So when a woman behaves like she should at work (promoting her own ideas forcefully if necessary), she is punished for violating expected norms for outside of the office, as determined by the common person.
It’s fascinating, and it’s sad. But maybe we at least understand the problem a little better.