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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Office Space

kitchen2A few weeks ago my husband came home and spoke the words every non-working spouse dreads:

“I have to work from home for a while”.

I started working when I was fourteen, wearing the stink of spoiled soft serve and making blizzards you couldn’t spill at Dairy Queen for $3.25 an hour.  I worked retail, did office work, telemarketing.  I nannied my way through college, taught summer art classes for the NYC Parks Department.  I substitute taught in NYC public school in Brooklyn for a year.   I worked until I had my first son, went back to work the week I found out I was pregnant with my second, and worked until my due date.  I worked part-time freelance until we moved abroad.  And while I wouldn’t say I miss working, there are certain things I miss.  Completed projects, (there are always more dirty socks), a tidy space no one else can invade, (even my Tampax boxes have been dumped out and used for mini spaceships).  Being reasonably sure that no one is going to barge into the toilet while I’m using it is nice too.  Money.  Real shoes.  Adult conversation.  A sense of achievement and accomplishment.  Shoes.

For reasons ranging from tax issues to nursing infants, I haven’t worked in 4 years.  For 4 years I haven’t pulled in a paycheck but I have$(KGrHqJ,!ngE9j(M+,fbBPs+Ng5Qd!~~60_35 pretty whole-heartedly thrown myself into taking care of my home and my family.  And while I am not perfect, I think I do a pretty decent job.  So while my work is at home, domestically engineering and life fairy-ing and all the other good stuff that goes into making a house a home, home is MY OFFICE.  And this is why I had to hide my horror when my husband announced his intentions.  If he works from home, he will be in MY OFFICE SPACE.   I know what you are thinking.  But it’s his home too!   But for the sake of argument, let’s say that during school hours, it’s my office.  Imagine someone coming in and plonking themselves down in your office for a week.  Leaving crumbs and other detritus in a tell-tale trail leading to their half eaten sandwich and their apple core and their mug of cold coffee.  No one would like that, right?

I’m no different.

I have gotten used to the house, during school hours, being my space.  Every morning after everyone leaves, I straighten out all the throw cushions and pick up the 72 remotes that are laying on the floor.  The thought of someone else hanging around, messing up my throw cushions makes me uneasy.  Even if it is my husband.  I have my routines, my schedules, my own quirky way of how I like things done.  I have a haphazard writing schedule and if the sun ever shines in Denmark again, I will be back on my bike.  For the most part, everything gets done, but I am edgy at the thought of anyone seeing how or when it gets done.  Like laws and sausages.  I don’t want an oversight committee coming and letting me know there may be a more efficient way to mop.  And I certainly don’t need to contemplate where the mop handle may end up if such a suggestion was offered.

l_9OeVladies-home-journal-vintage-magazine-cover-october-192There is another issue of course.  Despite the fact that the school keeps trying to suck me into various committees and projects and chaperoning positions, with both kids in school, I finally have some free time.  And while I’m not laying about watching General Hospital swilling champagne and eating chocolate, yes, there is some ‘me’ time in there.  And for some female, Catholic, privileged, mother reason, I feel guilty about it.  My husband would never begrudge me free time.  In fact he heartily endorsed me making free time back when it cost a lot of money to do so.  I’m sure on some deeply unconscious level I fear that he may think what I do all day is not worth keeping me in shoes.  I don’t have the therapy hours or the patience to figure out why having time for myself induces feelings of guilt.  It’s far easier to worry about the state of my throw cushions.

So when the time comes, I will suggest Starbucks.  They offer free wi-fi, better lunches.  And he can mess up their cushions with impunity.  Shame there are no Dairy Queens in Denmark though, he might have garnered a discount on a blizzard.

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