I recently had lunch with a friend who works at The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, as I wanted to run some thoughts about my confidence work past her. Over the years she’s opened my eyes to things right in front of me I haven’t “seen”, and I’ve learned a lot from her work. She immediately bristled at the idea of “The Confidence Gap” because of the assumption there is something inherently wrong or lacking in women, in addition to the fact that it ignores societal and systemic influences.
While I know this to be true, I hadn’t actually made a list of the ways our society is set up for women to be at a disadvantage. Ironically, I’ve spent the last year learning about racial inequality and how our society has been both deliberately and indirectly designed to discriminate against those of color.
This is probably going to make me sound like a complete idiot, but I hadn’t made such a strong conscious connection between systemic racism and systemic sexism before. Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman IN the system and have accepted things for “how they are” for much of my life. Assembling some of the ways women are systemically kept at a disadvantage into a list has made me feel physically ill.
Let’s start with something as basic and unconscious as language.
- When referring to a mixed group of genders it’s typically called “mankind” or “man” (as a species). I always address groups of people – even when they are all female – with “Hi guys!”. I don’t make sense.
- Female words being an insult: “Don’t be a pussy” or “Don’t get hysterical”. Hysterical comes from hystera or womb. I’ve also said these. Maybe I’ll start telling my daughter “Don’t be a scrotum” when I feel like she’s not putting in enough effort.
- Many job descriptors end in the word “man”: businessman, chairman, policeman, fireman. (As I make a ridiculous list – dentalassistantman, maidman or secretaryman – they still sound like superheroes. Damn it.)
Okay, let’s just touch lightly on politics.
- Up until the 20th century there was this crazy thing called “coverture”. It happened when a woman married a man and they became one person in law. (I can’t stop the mental picture of becoming conjoined twins.) This means women DID NOT EXIST from a legal perspective. Women were not legally defined as “persons” until 1875.
- Think about this: before women (or blacks for that matter) had the right to vote, ALL decisions were made by white men, to favor white men. Can you imagine having the power to create an entire system that benefits you in every possible way? Off the bat, I would make it mandatory that someone made me good, healthy food every day, did all my errands and gave me a full body massage each night. Oh wait…that’s what men already did. Whoops!
- As we’ve seen in U.S. national politics, when a woman runs for office there is more emphasis on her looks, clothing choice and personality rather than skill and experience.
As someone who has focused much of their life on health, this is really sickening:
- Gendercide (the practice of killing a certain sex – guess which one!) happens in many countries. Think China and India where having a male heir is more desirable.
- Honor killings. When a man decides a woman has shamed the family is some way, he gets to kill her. It can be for something as small as “dressing inappropriately”.
- Reproductive rights. This includes a lot of things, but I’ll just leave this thought here: You can practically get Viagra out of a gum ball machine AND it’s been covered by insurance from the get-go, while women have to get a prescription for birth control pills and it wasn’t until 2012 that most (not all) insurance carriers had to cover it without an additional copay.
When it comes to education…
- In the past we’ve had far less access to higher education. But that’s changed – yay! As women we now earn more undergraduate, graduate and PhDs than men. But there’s a big old boo! hiss! We’re still making less money and are in fewer leadership positions.
- There’s been a gender-math/science stereotype. Millions of us have been nudged into less scientific or math-related degrees. I suck at math, but it’s because I continually cheated off Kelly Kennedy’s paper in high school. (Sorry to just throw you under the bus, Kelly.)
- Think about how boys and girls are taught to behave in school: Girls are supposed to be “good”, neat and compliant, while it’s ok for boys to be rambunctious, loud and pushy.
And we might as well throw pornography into the mix!
- Women are typically portrayed in submissive roles and dehumanized as objects who enjoy humiliation or pain or slapping or spanking or raping or incest or all the other weird crap I’ve seen. Whoops. I just gave myself away.
- But here’s the upside: there’s a pay gap that finally favors women! Women in pornography for the win! (You better know I’m being completely facetious.)
I haven’t even listed anything to do with the pay gap, the glass ceiling or how media, advertising and the fashion industry keep women at a disadvantage.
We are all products of our personalities and circumstances. While I can’t completely change everything about society’s framework around women, I can help women thrive where they are until things change systemically.
Tell me – what do you think about “The Confidence Gap”? Do you think it exists?
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