The Lion Queen

I spend a good deal of time watching women hack through the jungle of self-doubt with a dull, rusty machete.

Scratch that. With a pair of cuticle trimmers.

I’d like to say it’s difficult trying to figure out why so many unbelievably smart, successful, frankly kick-ass women have trouble valuing their self-worth, except it’s not, because at times I am one of those women. You see, I’m not just talking out of my increasingly expanding ass when I say that women, on the whole, have a confidence problem.

There’s a saying going around at the moment which resonates with a lot of women I know.

Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.

On the surface the statement is a flippant way of looking at the way society is set up to benefit and glorify the accomplishments of  men, (many of whom absolutely deserve the accolades). But dig a little deeper and you’ll get to the self-deprecating heart of the matter. Female confidence is a tricky tight rope to walk. Too meek? You get walked all over. Too strong? You’re a bitch in heels. Speak up? You’re called shrill, loud, overbearing. Don’t speak up? Well, no wonder you don’t get that raise. What’s seen as confidence in men often comes across as entitlement in women. What comes across as assertiveness and leadership among males is perceived as aggressiveness and ball-busting in women.

If women have to constantly recalibrate the poles they use for balance, to find some Goldilocks just right version of confidence, is it any wonder we fall flat on our faces a lot of the time?

But surely we get a little bounce back from a safety net of other women underneath us, right? Oh, honey…no. Plenty of times other women are more than happy to watch you fall flat on your face. Whether this is simply human nature, decades of conditioning, or a combination of a thousand other factors is up for debate.

I write nearly every day of my life. I have a successful blog. I’m published. I’ve won contests, been nominated for Pushcart Prize, been paid for my work, completed a novel….and yet when someone asked me to tutor their child in writing, I balked.

Surely I’m not qualified! (Yes, I actually said those words.)

When do you become enough of a writer to qualify guiding others in the writing process? When do you become good, better, best enough to do anything? Is there a magic formula to feeling qualified enough? If so there seem to be a lot of magic formulas kept under lock and key and away from the manicured hands of women.

I have a witty, whip-smart friend in the UK who is a lawyer. Another who is a doctor. And this summer I  listened to both of them tell me how unqualified they felt as they returned to positions they’ve been educated and trained for, positions they’ve held before. Sometimes while pregnant, managing a household, morning sickness and a toddler who refuses to pee anywhere but the corner.

Ah, women. I love ’em, but man! Even when we are good at what we do, hell even when we are great at what we do, we doubt ourselves. Forget locusts, if women suffer any kind of plague, it is the plague of second-guessing their worth. We under-value our contribution. We give our work and time away for free. We volunteer instead of assuming we should be paid. We politely inquire when we should expect. We’re happy when people recognize our talents, when they flatter us, and our bank accounts wither and die as our expertise is taken for granted, our time and effort devalued and expected to be given for free.

I’m not saying you should demand the PTA pay you for helping hang Halloween decorations. I’m saying we need to value our work because when all we do is volunteer? Our work ceases to have value.

Your grandmother was right. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? We can lip service volunteer work all we want, and we absolutely should all do it–from time to time–but when we give too much of the milk away for free, the cow develops low self-esteem, doubts herself, and undermines her worth. And as loathe as I am to compare women to cows, when the metaphor moos….

But more than monetary payment is what happens when your work ceases to be valued–internally and externally. You convince yourself  you’re not as good as, worth as much as, as qualified as. The chips on your shoulder get heavier over time. They weigh you down like a bra full of bricks until you can’t stand up straight, until you can’t walk with your head held high, until you start believing it yourself.

In my day-to-day life I meet and talk to countless women who doubt themselves, who disqualify themselves, who dismiss their qualifications as not enough.

I do it myself.

The men I meet? They rarely worry they’re unqualified. They assume a natural position of qualification that’s been inferred upon them since birth. Like Simba the Lion King cub, they wear the crown of accepted leader. Their position is accepted…and expected.

Sisters! Lean in, lift up, whatever it takes. Look into the mirror everyday and channel Al Franken’s Stuart Smally character: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh-darnit, people like me. Whatever you need to do.

Because some days Sarabi** isn’t good enough. Go out and demand a crown of your own.

 

**Sarabi is the name of Simba’s mother. I had to look it up. You see how ingrained this shit is? I didn’t even know the name of Simba’s mother!

 

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The Sisterhood of the Split Pants

a048e762b6a43a61d525d645c1ebf785Every day I listen to woman I know put themselves down. Every day I listen to them call themselves fat or downplay their achievements, hide behind something that resembles humility, but is, in reality, much more damaging. These are educated, smart, successful, funny, kind, caring women who regularly pick themselves apart at the seams.

I get it, because I do it too. And man, I study this stuff. This is my field, I write about it….and I still do it.

The other day a friend told me she’d stopped going to an exercise class she enjoyed because she felt like she wasn’t good enough to be there. Then I had an exchange with a friend who lamented  how much weight she’d gained. Another friend pinched at her stomach and called herself fat. These women fret about how big they look in photographs, they downplay compliments, they bury a talent under an avalanche of self-deprecation.

We keep seeing articles about shaming from others, but we need to stop shaming ourselves first.

I truly enjoy the company and talents and strength of the women I know. I appreciate what women bring to the table and to the world. And so it breaks my heart that we spend so much time not only comparing ourselves unfavorably to other women, but beating ourselves up in the process.

My identity as a woman is not shaped by a number on the scale or the firmness of my ass(ets). I promise you, yours is not either. My identity is not tied up with the clothes I wear or how big my thighs are, what I do for work or how much money I have. My identity as a woman is defined by the fact that I am one.

We need to be kind. To each other, for sure, but to ourselves first.

Women are often each other’s salvation, but we need to stop being our own worst enemy as well. We need to believe in our strengths, which are different from men’s: Different, but just as important. We need to stop humiliating ourselves in front of each other, in front of the mirror. We need to start not only leaning in, but lifting up. Our chins, our head, ourselves.

Think about the good we could do if we connected with one another instead of competing with each other and with some lofty ideal of what we should be. Think about how much we could achieve if we got rid of all the ‘if only’s”.  Think about the changes we could be part of if we valued what we have to offer instead of offering it for a discount. If we praised our own time and talents and those of each other. Think about the buoyancy we could give to one another if we stopped giving ourselves the side-eye every time our thighs chafed together or someone younger and thinner and better looking came along.

I’m not talking out of my ass. I do it too. I am harsh on myself. And I KNOW better.

The older I get the more I appreciate the women I know. There is an instant connection that doesn’t need introduction, a membership into the sisterhood. I feel empowered when I am with women, especially women who value themselves. It lifts ME up to be around them. And in turn, I hope that being around me can lift someone else up.

I don’t like every, single woman I come across. I don’t automatically assume that every, single woman is deserving of my time or energy solely because she is in possession of a uterus and fallopian tubes. What I do know is that the women I come into contact with–online and in real life, though this blog, through travel or friendship–those women are  worthy, even when they slap on a price tag worth less.

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Why do women find it so difficult to find the worth in themselves? Why do we find it so easy to overlook that value in ourselves–and usually for the most trivial of reasons: A size label on a dress, a number on the scale, a wiggle and jiggle.

Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t shame yourself.

We are a sisterhood, even if it’s a sisterhood of split pants.

inspire