You Don’t Belong Here: Impostor Syndrome Infiltrates Society
by Aimee Veneau on Friday, February 12th, 2016
In May 2014, The Atlantic published a major article about the confidence gap between men and women, specifically focusing on males’ alleged superiority complex. It seems facetious to ask, but there are statistics to back up the fact that men are more confident than women. For example, according to Time and Slate, women will not apply for a job unless they are sure that they meet 100 percent of the qualifications, while men will apply if they meet only 60 percent.
There are also other fundamental differences in women and men when it comes to the confidence gap, most notably Imposter Syndrome. According to Cal Tech, Imposter Syndrome is characterized by a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even when the opposite is true and makes high-achievers feel as if they do not belong in a place of other high-achievers. Like a case of chronic self doubt, Imposter Syndrome is a phenomenon that affects mostly high-achievers and mostly women.
Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, journalists and authors of The Confidence Code, discussed the internal issues that women sometimes ignore or suppress. “I think it’s important to recognize that it’s totally normal to feel nervous,” says Kay. “That realization–for me, anyway–has helped me work to overcome [feelings of inadequacy].”
At Milton, Imposter Syndrome is all too relatable. The school is known for its high-caliber academics and gravity-defying expectations in the classroom, art studio, theater, and the sports field. Anyone who peruses the website can see the Milton students’ athletic and academic successes. Most assume that male and female students at Milton are smart, athletic, hard-working, or any other combination of positive traits. However, male and female students might have differing opinions on this topic.
Psychology Today states that Imposter Syndrome can be synonymous with perfectionism. Women are quite familiar with the paradigm of “having it all,” balancing career and a family. In our society, however, boys do not seem to face these same pressures. Men are not expected to be the primary caregivers, whose careers must take a backseat to family life. Women are generally seen as more domestic beings. These stereotypes—that men should work and women should tend to the families—manifest themselves in different perceptions to school. For example, if a girl fails a math test, she may be more likely to chalk it up to an ineptitude, a fatal flaw on her part. In the same situation, a boy could simply attribute the failure to a lack of studying hard enough on his part.
According to Kay and Shipman, language is another indicator of the confidence gap. Uptalking and superfluous use of the word “like” is notoriously associated with women. These linguistic mechanisms are used to soften the sentences that women speak so they never come off as aggressive, attacking, or demanding. Women even tend to pose their sentences as questions in order to appear as non-threatening as possible. For example, they are more likely to start their sentences with, “ I don’t know if this is right but—” to allay their fears of being perceived as stupid or wrong.
In my opinion, women should not be blamed for holding themselves back. I think Imposter Syndrome is the fault of gender roles. Historically, women have been characterized as passive, beautiful, and effortlessly successful. There is shame in looking like you’ve tried, and with this shame comes a constant fear of failure. This is not to say that men are not perfectionists and do not ever feel inklings of doubt; the difference is that men have not been conditioned to let such perfectionism get in the way of their everyday life.
The confidence gap is an issue we need to address as it permeates the workplace, where men are paid more and promoted faster than women. In the U.S., women earn more college degrees and graduate degrees than men, make up half of the workforce, and are closing the gap for middle management. Yet, women are only a quarter as likely as men to negotiate a raise, are less confident to speak out in the boardroom, and see themselves as less qualified for promotion. Women, it seems, cannot outgrow Imposter Syndrome.
Internally, women need to learn not to be so harsh on themselves. When you fail a math test, it’s not necessarily due to lack of ability. Don’t let uncertainties limit your participation in the classroom. Teachers can help combat this problem early, making an effort to call an equal amount on both boys and girls. Parents can also be conscious of how they encourage their kids, not teaching girls to be just nice and complacent and boys to take charge and be aggressive. Imposter Syndrome does not have to be an overwhelming problem in women’s lives.
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