Much ink has been spilled about The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance -- What Women Should Know, a new book (and subject of a high-profile Atlantic cover story) in which journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman argue that it's women's lack of confidence/crippling self-doubt that holds them back in the workplace and not, you know, institutionalized sexism.
The (well-meaning) authors explore the confidence gap between genders, using both anecdotal and empirical data.
Their findings: men overestimate their abilities and themselves while women chronically underestimate their abilities and themselves -- a disparity, the journalists say, "stems from factors ranging from upbringing to biology."
Women self-flagellate over their mistakes, men "simply spend less time thinking about the possible consequences of failure." GEE MUST BE NICE.
If only those dum-dum, upspeaking, self-sabotaging ladies who put their head down, work hard and hope to be noticed just acted more like men.
But, see, isn't a lack of confidence a pretty expected result of CONSTANTLY being told you're less than by a society that continues to value a man's thoughts/opinions over a woman's?
Isn't the advice that Kay and Shipman are handing out nothing more than plain old-fashioned bootstrapping?
As Jessica Valenti writes in this A+ column at The Guardian, "the 'confidence gap' is not a personal defect as much as it is a reflection of a culture that gives women no reason to feel self-assured."
In girlhood, starkly-divided toy aisles teach us that engineering, electronics and science toys are for boys, that the futures for which we should be preparing are those of the Barbie Dream House variety. Adolescent girls -- especially girls of color -- are given less teacher attention in the classroom than their male peers. A full 56 per cent of female students report being sexually harassed. Sexual assault on college campuses is rampant and goes largely unpunished, women can barely walk down the street without fear of harassment, and we make up the majority of American adults in poverty. The truth is, if you're not insecure, you're not paying attention. Women's lack of confidence could actually just be a keen understanding of just how little American society values them.
I have no problem with encouraging women to be more assertive, in work and in life.
But the real issue here, to my mind, is this: why do we always, always, ALWAYS put the burden on women to modify their behaviour to fit within a hopelessly rigged system in which they will never win instead of demanding that the system evolve?
Why don't we work harder to create a system in which women are valued -- with equal pay, paid maternity leave, access to reproductive health care, universal day care, etc. -- instead of telling women to act more like braggy, blowhards who overestimate their abilities and hope for the best?
(And another thing: is that what passes for "confidence" these days? Because those are pretty dubious qualities to aspire to.) Where's that book?
"MORE CONFIDENCE!" feels like a Band-Aid fix for a systemic problem.
Or, as Elizabeth Plank put it at Policy Mic, "trying to solve gender inequality in the workplace by telling women to be more confident is like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.
It may give the passengers something to do, but it definitely won't stop the ship from sinking."
Further reading: 10 Ways Society Can Close The Confidence Gap.
SCREAMING IN ALL CAPS looks at popular culture through a feminist lens. We scream about things that piss us off. In all caps. You know, because women are shrill. Follow us at screaminginallcaps.com