E&M’s Friederike Sandow and Nicoletta Enria are back with a fourth instalment of their female rage series. In this issue, the rage is directed towards womxn’s capacity of praising themselves (or rather, the lack thereof).
In school, on CVs, in job interviews, in normal interviews, in conversations with friends and just generally: womxn are statistically better at downplaying their assets and successes while men are statistically better at pretending they know everything. We have all been conditioned to act a certain way, but it’s time we take this into consideration.
The amount of times I have received job searching advice from men who do not work in my field is astounding. The complete and utter confidence that they can throw some names of companies or organisations around and expect me to answer wide-eyed ‘oh wow yeah I should look into that’ is fascinating. If I say it’s difficult, trust me that it’s difficult. Or make it clear that you’re interested if I have thought of this and that, don’t present it as if I surely haven’t thought of it yet and verbally pat me on the head.
The amount of times I have seen men misbehaving in official settings (at work, mostly), not delivering at their job but being great at selling themselves, being the loudest and the ‘funniest’ and thus get promoted over that is disheartening.
The amount of times I haven’t applied to jobs because I thought I am not good enough, the amount of times I haven’t written an article because I thought what I have to say is not important enough, the amount of times I have said nothing in work meetings or with friends or family or whatever kind of get-togethers because I thought what I have to say, disagree on or debate is not worth everyone’s time is, actually, sad.
I dated a guy for years who often told me when I tried to talk about some issues – our long distance relationship or worries – that he will ‘figure it out’ and that if he would ‘burden me with what he is thinking about’ I would not be able to cope.
My parents’ marriage ultimately failed because my Dad was stuck in a job for years and years that he did not enjoy but that brought the money home. When he finally said something, the damage was done, the marriage to shits. Him not wanting to ‘burden’ my mother or us, as a family, with his worries about money, job prospects and his unhappiness contributed massively to their separation.
Who the fuck do those men think they are? (sorry, Dad. But seriously.)
I have had superiors at work refuse to give me the bigger picture of stuff I am working on to ‘not overwhelm me’ with tasks, or not telling me what I might be doing in the upcoming months because they wanted me to focus on the ‘now’ and that it ‘was a lot already’ so they didn’t want me to get ‘stressed out’ – using these words. Who the fuck do those men think they are? (sorry, Dad. But seriously.)
I admire my male friends and colleagues for their absolute trust in their capabilities, or better said, I envy their trust that they will figure things out quickly enough to get by at the beginning and to thus emphasise their dominance over subjects they might know little about or to blatantly lie or exaggerate their performance in whatever field or task. I would like to be bolder, be able to exaggerate more and trust myself a little better so I can shoot for the stars, apply for better paid jobs, be heard and be seen and I would like to be louder.
Because I was asked to be rooting for you since I can remember… I need you to root for me now.
However, this trust is something I need to convince myself and everyone around me of, because I am living in a society where I am ‘protected’, where people are being careful not to ‘overburden’ me and where men are encouraged to be pushy and to never doubt themselves out loud while womxn, well, aren’t necessarily. I am not saying men shouldn’t be confident. By all means: love yourself, believe in yourself, and be loud about it. But I am done being sidelined, I am done having to be modest, I want the same confidence. And no, it’s not as easy as to ‘just be’ confident. You need to make space for me, see me, and acknowledge me. Because I was asked to be rooting for you since I can remember. And I did and still do. But I want some men to root for me, as well. Better said: I need you to root for me.
I remember going to a careers consultation at my old university, and upon glancing at my CV the careers advisor told me to tone it down because I was showing off. Wasn’t a CV literally just a list of your achievements? I was dumbstruck and this was really a watershed moment for me to realise that this wasn’t a one off occasion but was rather part of a larger string of events. I’ve always considered myself quite an ambitious person, I’ve always pushed myself and worked very hard. Most importantly I’ve always considered myself quite opinionated and vocal about my opinions. Nonetheless, throughout my life I have always felt myself be put down or shamed for my achievements. In my old job, my boss asked me to write my own recommendation letter. After reading it, he scheduled a meeting with me with the sole purpose of ridiculing how I had claimed I have native-level English – which for the record I do, I have been attending English-speaking schools all my life. This was then in sharp contrast with how highly he praised all my previous male counterparts. They were always the smartest, most competent people in the world, and I was merely a soundboard – and I needed to be reminded that that was my place. This is naturally quite an extreme example, but has been quite indicative of a larger trend in my life where I have felt shamed for my achievements.
Nonetheless, throughout my life I have always felt myself be put down or shamed for my achievements.
Like Friederike, not only have I been shamed for being proud of myself and my achievements that I’ve worked very hard for, I have also far too often had men lecture me on topics I definitely know more than them on – in a true (subconscious) power move. My favourite is when I tell a male counterpart something and then they ensue to tell it to me as if they came up with it in the first place – another gem.
But as much as I hate to relinquish that this isn’t all the fault of the omnipresent straight white male, I have to admit that a lot of this for me is self-inflicted internalised misogyny.
But as much as I hate to relinquish that this isn’t all the fault of the omnipresent straight white male, I have to admit that a lot of this for me is self-inflicted internalised misogyny. I feel it so deeply ingrained in me, if I want to speak up about something with male counterparts that society has told me are smarter than me, my tongue feels heavy and my mouth feels sewn shut. I only speak up when 2000% certain and even then constantly pepper it with “this is probably wrong”, “you probably already know this”. If I don’t berate myself whilst I talk about an achievement it just doesn’t feel quite right. And this isn’t only due to my well-crafted cynicism due to my roots in Liguria and upbringing in the UK – because among many womxn I am not alone. And as a cherry on the cake I also hate myself for it. I wish I could be prouder of myself, without feeling embarrassed or like I’m showing off.
I wish I could be prouder of myself, without feeling embarrassed or like I’m showing off.
So, what next? I’m trying to speak up more, to triple check the language in my emails so I sound more assertive and less self-deprecating. In my level of privilege as a white cis-woman this is naturally easier for me than for others – so we womxn need to stick together and lift each other up. This is a call to all womxn feeling like they’re not enough, whatever you have achieved be proud of yourself, you are worthy. When you feel you are being pushed down, speak to your counterpart on how you’re feeling if you can – much like how for me internalised and deeply-rooted socialised misogyny is real. Nobody is born woke – let’s try educate each other when we feel we have the mental capacity and try overcome this stigma. Because I too, am sick of me and my womxn peers being sidelined – I want to be heard and feel good about it.