By Caitlin Kelly
Have you noticed the recent spate of wealthy, white, powerful women — Arianna Huffington (who refuses to pay writers at HuffPost), Sheryl Sandberg and now Katty Kay (BBC anchor) and Claire Shipman — selling books telling the rest of us to, you know, man up already?
The Confidence Code is a kind of Lean In: Redux, and like Sandberg’s book, its mission is to vault America’s most ambitious women into even higher echelons of power. Also catering to this set: The 10 Habits of Highly Successful Women, a new collection of testimonies from powerful gals, and the just-released Thrive, in which Arianna Huffington advises readers to focus on the “third metric” of success, well-being. (This one’s for women who have already read about securing the first two metrics—money and power, obviously). The Atlantic also took time this month to ask why female CEOS are holding themselves back in comparison to their male peers. (Can you believe Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles made only $403,857 in 2012? Sounds like somebody needs to “lean in.”)
Why is this genre enjoying such a moment right now? A few years ago, in the wake of the financial crisis, the think piece du jour centered on how overconfident men were a danger to themselves and their country. Now, women are being told to ape these poisonous personality quirks for feminist life lessons. Buy these books and you, too, can become a successful blowhard.
Now it’s a cover story in The Atlantic:
We know the feeling firsthand. Comparing notes about confidence over dinner one night last year, despite how well we knew each other, was a revelation. Katty got a degree from a top university, speaks several languages, and yet had spent her life convinced that she just wasn’t intelligent enough to compete for the most-prestigious jobs in journalism. She still entertained the notion that her public profile in America was thanks to her English accent, which surely, she suspected, gave her a few extra IQ points every time she opened her mouth.
Claire found that implausible, laughable really, and yet she had a habit of telling people she was “just lucky”—in the right place at the right time—when asked how she became a CNN correspondent in Moscow while still in her 20s. And she, too, for years, routinely deferred to the alpha-male journalists around her, assuming that because they were so much louder, so much more certain, they just knew more. She subconsciously believed that they had a right to talk more on television. But were they really more competent? Or just more self-assured?
This is simply too rich.
The majority of women living in poverty, working and in old age, never made a decent wage and/or took time off to raise children. Many of the millions of low-wage workers in retail and food-service earn crap money for exhausting work. I worked low-wage retail for 2.5 years and wrote a book about it.
I confidently asked my bosses for a promotion — from $11/hour to $45,000 a year as assistant manager — but never even got the courtesy of an interview, despite a track record of consistently high sales and praise from my customers.
They hired a 25-year-old man from another company instead.
Many women don’t lack confidence.
They lack income. They lack opportunity. They lack internal support. They lack the fuck-you savings fund that allows us to walk away quickly from a toxic boss or environment to find a place that will reward and value us.
Here’s a breakdown of what American women are earning, from Catalyst, a source I trust — the average American woman working full-time makes $37,791 — compared to a man’s $49, 398.
I don’t buy the argument that discrimination alone makes the difference, nor self-confidence. Skills, education, access to networks of people who are ready to hire, manage, promote? Yes.
I’ve met plenty of women — like the 75-year-old designer I interviewed this week — who don’t lack a scintilla of self-confidence.
It’s a difficult path for women to navigate, that between annoying asshole and demure doormat. Yet we all know who walks away with the best assignments, income, awards and promotions.
I judged some journalism awards last year, with two men 20 years my junior. One, driving a shiny new SUV, made sure to tell us he had two $8,000 assignments in hand.
I’ve yet to win an $8,000 assignment. Not for lack of confidence, that’s for sure. But maybe because (?) I don’t yelp out my income to a stranger.
I reality-checked this guy with a few former female colleagues who rolled their eyes. Good to know.
My favorite book on this subject is not a new one, but a useful and practical one — Women Don’t Ask — because it addresses not some faux foot-shuffling but the very real nasty pushback women often get, often from other pissed-off women, when we do assert ourselves with very real confidence.
How dare you?
Do you struggle with feeling confident?
How do you address it?