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December 25, 2012

Slate: Lady jerks of 2012

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is fond of repeating this business world double standard among groups of women: "Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women." So as men gain power, we like them more. As women rise in the ranks, we like them less.

Jessica Valenti, writing in the Nation, has proposed that women respond by ditching their "desire to be liked and accepted" altogether. "Women adjust their behavior to be likable and as a result have less power in the world," she writes. "But the trade off is undoubtedly worth it. Power and authenticity are worth it."

People may dislike powerful women, but being unlikable won't necessarily help women get that power in the first place. One 2011 study found that while acting rude and disagreeable helps increase men's earning potential in the office, the same is not true of women. When it comes to salary negotiation, even nice guys don't finish last — they, too, are better situated than disagreeable women. So women are counseled to act like ladies when asking for a raise.

Sandberg counsels successful young women to adopt the typically male justification for their rise to the top: "What a dumb question. I'm awesome." But at Facebook, she modeled a passive style. When Mark Zuckerberg introduced Sandberg to the company by saying that she "had really good skin," the new COO smiled, and "didn't flinch."

What's a disagreeable woman to do? This year brought a new crop of openly hostile women, real and semi-real, to help us navigate society's intolerance of rude ladies. Here's how the female jerks of 2012 fared:

"Maya," the CIA agent on the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty"; also known as "Jen" in an account by a former member of Navy SEAL Team Six. In Bigelow's film, Jessica Chastain's Maya is dismissed as "not Miss Congeniality" and "out of her mind" as she badgers the agency into following her lead to al Qaida's number 1. After she won the fight, the real-life agent received the CIA's Distinguished Intelligence Medal for her work — and hit "reply all" to complain about the other agents who had won lesser awards. An anonymous tipster said her email related, "You guys tried to obstruct me. You fought me. Only I deserve the award." Colleagues have attributed her surly attitude to frustration at not receiving an expected $16,000 salary bump after her banner year. "Do you know how many CIA officers are jerks?" one former official said. "If that was a disqualifier, the whole National Clandestine Service would be gone."

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