Let’s start taking up our proper space in society, says Lucy Mangan.
I’m not often stumped. But the recent Twitter campaign begun by Dr Jennifer Gunter, a specialist in women’s health and brilliant long-time foe of anti-scientific claptrap masquerading as anything from celebrity wellness tips to (far more dangerously) actual medical advice on the internet, stymied me completely. She wanted women to describe themselves under the tag #AppropriatelyConfident.
Well! I mean! Really! Honestly though, could you? From a standing start? I couldn’t. #EverydaySexism, #MeToo – no problem. Got a million examples at every point along the scale I’m happy to share. I once took part in a project – not online, in something we used to call real life – in which women were invited to contribute instances of all the times they censored themselves, and the self-examination and awareness that entailed was rigorous, fruitful, revelatory, not too painful and none too difficult.
In another one, aimed at stopping us over-apologising as we go about our daily business, I came, I saw, I kicked myself up the bum to do better and that was that. Lessons helpfully learned.
But describing something you’re good at is next-level stuff. Not only have you got to find something you’re good at (and what does that mean? Something you know you’re good at? Feel you’re good at? Have official certificates attesting to the fact? Or would assurances from trusted friends do? What if you don’t believe them? The foolish friends or the certificators who were clearly off their game and didn’t see you for the imposter you are? And how good is ‘good’? Just short of brilliant, or would hovering closer to ‘consistent competence’ be OK? These are already not confident thoughts. Are they proof that you are, in fact, No Good at anything at all?), after all this, you then have to be confident enough to share the news.
If Dr G had thought long and hard she couldn’t have come up with anything more precisely engineered to leave me writhing in exquisite agony for days. And the same goes for all of my friends (well, all but one, there’s always one) and, I suspect, most of us.
Women’s lack of confidence fascinates me. It seems to go even deeper than the prompts we get from society would suggest – the encouragement to think badly of ourselves, to be and do less, to shrink our achievements, to take up less space so men have room to expand. At least until you realise how many of these messages we do get and how early they start.
I was doing a book event the other day, and a woman my age recalled how her mother told her when she was seven or eight to stop reading because if she got too clever she would never get a husband. That was bad enough, but the murmur of recognition that went round the hall full of people older and up to 20 years younger was worse. All of us, I’m sure, can add to the pile our examples of times we were told to hide our lights under bushels lest it offend the ‘natural’ order of things.
Enough. Let’s start cutting through these ridiculous ties that have bound us since infancy. Let’s start assuming our natural shapes and taking up our proper space. Appropriately. Confidently.
I’m good at staying calm in a crisis. I’m good with money. I’m a very good mother even though it doesn’t come naturally to me. I am very good at filing pieces on time without re-reading the cripplingly embarrassing final paragraph to check it for typos. Hope it’s OK. Goodbye.