The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Faking & Making

Recently I've been musing a bit on self-confidence and I think I may have finally concluded that I'm not a total freak.

Two things happened today to reinforce that view.

I talked to a colleague (who we'll call Shirley, because that is surely not her name) about our belief in our own abilities, in relation to our job performance. I shared with Shirley that when I first won by current job another woman working in our industry had told me "fake it until you make it," but that I still felt like I was faking, not making, two years later. Shirley in turn told me of all the strong, capable, inspiring women she knows who have told her recently that they too feel considerable self-doubt. Our korero turned from focusing on our insecurities to thinking about the reality - that if other people perceive that we are achieving perhaps we truly are, despite our own deficeit of confidence.

When I got home today and cleared my Bloglines there was a post from Amanda Marcotte about how women share critical comments about their own bodies and abilities to bond. While this is depressing it is undeniably true for me and for many women I know. If North Harbour had scored a try for everytime I've traded tales of my body imperfections with another woman then my team would be top of the table every season and make no mistake. It's like a reflex - sometimes when I say it I don't even mean it at first, it's just the polite thing to say, but then after the words have escaped into the world they take on a reality of their own and I start to believe them.

And really, is it any surprise that women police not only each other's body image but also their broader self-confidence, when we live in a society that still often sees women as inferior beings? We are so frequently told, subtly or overtly, that we are just baby-makers, or sexualised objects for men to do with as they will, or the property of a father or husband. That we constantly reinforce that status ourselves, internally and with other women, is commensurate with the world we have lived in for generations, albeit against our own best interests.

All of this negativity, to ourselves and to others, is a coping mechanism. I blame no woman for going down that path, but I hope to reject it myself.

Update, 16th March 2007, 9.33am: gennimcmahon also has a post on this subject, from a the angle of thinking about her daughter, including the quote that sums it up:

Our culture makes clear to girls that liking themselves is egotistical and therefore insufficiently modest.

* This doesn't mean all other women are above my criticism. It means that they are open to the same level of criticism as men, i.e. based not on silly irrelevant things like appearance or conformity with the gendered division of labour.


sagenz said...

what makes you think blokes are any different?

Gerrit said...

A good summary of how externally referenced our society has become. We need other peoples "approval" before we give ourselves the confidence to do what is in our hearts.

Evertime I hear the "what will people think" comment, I know I'm talking to a loser.

And like sagenz says, it cuts across the genders.

But men seem to care less for what others think of them, then women seem to.

Not to say men dont care about others, just they dont care as much of what others think of them.

Span said...

Interesting to hear that men seem to have similar problems - what do other women think?

Ghet said...

The 'sooner or later someone's going to work out that I'm just pretending to be a competant grown-up' feeling seems to me to be just about universal rather than anything to do with gender. I wonder if it has something to do with the lengthening of youth in the last couple of decades - work is often the ONLY grown-up thing a 25 year old is doing these days, they're not married and they have more gaming consoles than children and we still need to find another way of defining 'adult' without those rituals. Or that could just be totally unnecessary theorising for something that's always been that way.

I've never had body issues. I like to look nice, but I've been a size 8 and I've been a size 16 and it's not really worried me. I've been looked at with open loathing and excluded from conversations for saying this - by women, and only ever by women. Issues like this are part of the reason I'm happier to hang out with men. I honestly don't think women my age should be let off behaving like that for any reason, they're not helpless to control what comes out of their mouths.

Make Tea Not War said...

I think there are serious issues concerning appearance and the policing thereof- and I think it is true that women will bond by making critical comments about themselves and their appearance- but I'm not sure it is always necessarily such a bad thing. It isn't possible to always love everything about your appearance. The focus in feminist circles always seems to be on weight but acne is something that can be quite confidence destroying for women- and I expect for men too. I know a lot of men find losing their hair pretty upsetting. Isn't it better to let the demons out and talk about it with your friends? One of my colleagues and I have very similiar unmanageable hair types which we both find very annoying & we have bonded over that. We've had many a cheerful chat about new hair products and we are always quick to point out if the other is having a good hair day. If we were teenagers egging each other on to be anorexia that would be quite something else- but as it is I really can't see it as harmful.

morgue said...

" women share critical comments about their own bodies and abilities to bond..."

To *bond*? How did I not know this? It is so very, very far removed from man-behaviour.

I guess a possible male-equivalent would be mocking each other to bond. Which is kinda the same basic idea but expressed very differently. Hmm.

jo said...

I find it hard to express my feelings about this, I wish that appearance didn't matter so much, I'm fairly normal looking, quite small though, so haven't had weight issues, though did used to feel the need (not totally rational) to wear shit loads of make-up to cover spots (not exactly acne..just not Perfect skin) as we are told so often we must have.
I Guess now I look back and think I felt very pressured by advertising etc to do this. And this makes me feel sad,mad etc that womyn find it hard to just accept their appearances. I also think that we sometimes put our selves down so that some-one will say back "No your not, blah, blah" perhaps as a way to get a much needed affirmation to combat all the negatives we are told daily by advertisements and the like. To help combat the negative inner messages about not being 'perfect'.

Moz said...

Given how men typically view women's bodies (awe seems like a good word), and by comparison how much work women do to put themselves down, doesn't this make a bit of a mockery of the idea that patriarchy has anything much to do with it? Unless it's that odd sort of patriarchy where women are the ones with the power.

I get a bit tired of women who have bad body image. After a while I come to agree with them, just through sheer weight of persuasion. And that's quite unattractive, whether it's from a friend or an girlfriend. I mean, who wants bug-ugly friends?

Unfortunately it's quite hard to combat from the male side, as there aren't a lot of positive things men are allowed to say about women's bodies unless the friendship is quite close (although I do have some amusing stock replies... "what should I wear"... "less" :)

Moz said...

I guess a possible male-equivalent would be mocking each other to bond.

That tends to be slightly different, IME. Men are usually quite careful to make that sort of bonding non-sensitive. You hassle other guys about stuff that they're good at, or at least confident in. At work I have a real thing going with one guy, we bag eat other mercilessly on our mutual inability to win at strategy board games (that we play at lunchtime). But that's in a context where we both play the games, we both win regularly, and we both mock the other every time he loses. Or, now that I think about it, when we win too. Hmm.

So it's not really on a par with the female "my ... is worse than yours" contest. It's almost the opposite - in a way, it's a response to the limited ability many men have to say "mate, you're great, you're the best" without being drunk. By playing up the few times when someone does lose (or hassling them for only coming second), we're also implicitly pointing out that the guy usually wins or does really well.

morgue said...

Moz - good account of the mockery thing. Male mockery is almost always conducted in a real safe zone. I think there are some analogous aspects but the safe zone really does make it a different kinda thing.

Span said...

Thanks everyone for your comments, this is an interesting discussion.

Please feel free to continue, I just have time to pick up on one small thing that Moz mentioned, in regard to men's attitudes to women's bodies.

Moz said:
Given how men typically view women's bodies (awe seems like a good word), and by comparison how much work women do to put themselves down, doesn't this make a bit of a mockery of the idea that patriarchy has anything much to do with it?

I'm not sure that all men share your awe Moz. Certainly I've encountered a lot of negative comments about my own body, and those of other women, from men. You only need to look at the comments of Kiwiblog when DPF posts a picture featuring a woman to see that some men can make very harsh, and very public, criticisms of female bodies at the slightest provocation.