By Caitlin Kelly
David Brooks, a conservative columnist in the liberal New York Times, asks four related questions in today’s column:
My perception in college was that more men were seminar baboons — dominating the discussions whether they had done the reading or not. But now, when I visit college classes, the women seem just as assertive as the men.
But I’m not sure that this classroom assertiveness carries out into the world of work, or today’s family and friendship roles. And I’m not sure we’ve achieved parity when it comes to elemental confidence. When you read diaries of women born a century or centuries ago, you sometimes see
them harboring doubts about their own essential importance, assumptions that they are to play a secondary role on earth, and feelings that their identity is dependent on someone else. How much does that mind-set linger?
….how do you combine the self-critical ability to recognize your limitations with the majestic confidence required to struggle against them? I guess I’m asking how to marry self-criticism and self-assertion, a blend our society is inarticulate about. I guess I’m wondering, as we make this blend, whether most of us need more of the stereotypically female trait of self-doubt or the stereotypically male trait of self-promotion.
I’ve blogged about this issue many times — here, here and here, on why men seem happier to blog more than women.
Brooks is not a stupid man, but, dude seriously?
Women harbor doubts about their own essential importance, single or not, child-free or not, because so much of our value is placed on other people’s firm and fixed beliefs that we are still at our best when:
–– safely neutered/married
— earning less
— far from corporate power (like C-suites and boards of directors)
— absent from political seats of power
— polite, quiet, obedient, quick to defer to male authority
Women’s putative (or real) lack of self-confidence also fuels billion-dollar industries: fashion, cosmetics, plastic surgery, diet foods and methods, many of which focus on our external appearance, not the intelligence, drive, ambition and people skills we also need consistently and in abundance to succeed, certainly in any competitive professional setting.
I recently saw a perfect example of this difference. I met a man, a bit younger than I, when we were both honored with the task of judging a journalism award. Within minutes of meeting me, he felt the urge to tell me he had earned more than $100,000 in his last magazine job and now had two $8,000 writing assignments at the same time.
Really? I needed to know this?
More like he really felt the need to fan his gleaming little peacock tail before me.
My husband has a Pulitzer prize, a fact I am too happy to tell people, while he (bless him) never mentions it. I have a National Magazine award and two well-reviewed non-fiction books, and hundreds of published articles, to my name. Whatev!
And yet…..and yet…In the United States, modesty is a career-threatening approach. Blowhards like Mr. $$$$$$ above seem to be the ones winning the brass rings.
If I choose to keep my mouth shut about my many accomplishments, it’s a choice of being modest — not a lack of self-confidence!
And women who peacock are often treated as pariahs, by men who find them threatening and women who often loathe them for proudly speaking out when they’re too damn scared to do the same.
I’ve lived this issue since my teens, when I sold a photo of mine to my high school and began writing for national publications at 19, neither of which could have happened without a shitload of self-confidence.
How about you?
How do you balance these two things in your own life?