Confidence and Compensation

I meandered into this article on Bitch Media which, I must admit, I’d never heard of before.

Here’s the low-down.

Women don’t toot their horns.

We aren’t cocky, much less sufficiently confident. We don’t tell tall tales about our exploits or wear our accomplishments on our sleeves. We don’t advocate for ourselves.

Perhaps it’s because we overcompensate in a variety of ways – pouring ourselves into our personal lives, or acting out through passive aggressive behaviors and self-sabotage – when owning ourselves and our value would be healthier.

Perhaps we never learn how to advocate for ourselves, much less consider it normal and necessary.

Maybe we appreciate the fine line between arrogance and self-assurance, though more likely we avoid the issue altogether, telling ourselves that we’re fine as we are, shying away from confidence and its compensations. Besides, good things come to those who wait, right?

Well, not necessarily.

A Numbers Game

How much of our lives are a numbers game of one sort or another?

I remember when the numbers used to be about 36-24-36. At least, back in the day when curvy was in, beauty was everything, and both were your ticket to a certain sort of life – which doesn’t mean we all took that route.

I remember other numbers, too – numbers of boyfriends, of carets in the diamond ring to show off to the girls, number of years married, number of children; so many numbers associated with others and their achievements, even as we stood smiling in the background – supporting and facilitating and cheering them on.

But what if we talk other numbers, like women still earning less than 80 cents for every dollar earned by men for comparable work? Yet shouldn’t we take some responsibility for that, given that women don’t negotiate the way men do when it comes to salary or other financial matters?

Doesn’t that have to do with confidence?

Women and Confidence

How much of our confidence derives from appearance? (We spend plenty of bucks on our physical makeover mentality, rather than practical attitudes on behavior and self-esteem.)

How much of our confidence derives from knowledge of our own skills and experience? How much from feeling comfortable in our surroundings? How much from some place of inner calm, interior wholeness, or past successes?

Wouldn’t we act from a place of greater calm and competence, if we possessed rich stores of self-esteem developed over the years?

What if our self-confidence was nurtured by our upbringing, and so what if it’s not?

There’s always the old fallback: Fake it until you make it. It’s a tactic that can work in some circumstances – in career or personal life – but surely not all.

We also know that confidence is attractive and (feeling our own) attractiveness enhances confidence. But how do we make our way to the “just right” amount of self-esteem that allows us to walk into a meeting, a social event, a job, a negotiation – that doesn’t tip into obnoxious bravado which, frankly, we tolerate better in men?

Tooting Your Horn = Standing Up For Yourself

Perusing the web, you’ll find plenty of tips on developing self-esteem like these, and it’s interesting to note that many have to do with appearance in at least a basic fashion – dress well, pay attention to posture, work out on a regular basis (admittedly, exercise strengthens us in many ways, and isn’t purely about how we look).

Among the more valuable recommendations on developing self-esteem are giving to others and speaking up, despite the negative voices in our heads which is the tough part, after all. How many women live with constant criticism courtesy of their inner dialog?

So what about speaking up on our own behalf? Tooting our own horns – and not viewing it as inappropriate? In fact, quite the opposite?

Confidence is a Necessity 

I believe it’s important to be comfortable in our own skin – no small feat in contemporary culture in which a woman’s body or face equates to value, and we struggle to accept ourselves in all our beautiful and natural imperfections.

I believe it’s important to find our voices – and know our worth as we master knowledge, skills, understanding, and emotional intelligence.

I believe it’s important to risk mistakes as we raise our voices in all arenas – including daring to say “I want” and “I can” as well as “I will” and “I expect.”

As to jobs and negotiation? As Maria Gamb writes in her article on Forbes, “Nice Girls Still Don’t Ask For What They Want,” we must prepare with market data and believing in ourselves if we are to receive the compensation we deserve.

It’s about expectations that are well-founded, expectations that have nothing to do with gender, expectations that require self-assurance. Confidence – critical to survival and beauty – is a matter of believing in who you are, what you know, the value you bring to the table, and what you can accomplish – if you take a chance.

And you must take a chance. We must take a chance.

  • Do you consider a confident man differently from a confident woman?
  • Do you negotiate salary with confidence?
  • Do you feel “lucky” when you land a new job, earn a promotion, or have a shot at an opportunity you’ve worked for?
  • How have you cultivated your confidence over the years, and is it a struggle?
  • When a woman describes her achievements, do you perceive it as bragging?


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  1. says

    Hmmm, this is very thought-provoking. I have a long career in social services, which is a female-dominated field. Our female executives outnumber male executives 2 to 1. I started as a clerk typist II and worked myself up through the ranks as a social worker, supervisor, and now an analyst; while working and raising a family I achieved a bachelor’s degree and it only took me eight years :-). My career is satisfying but not necessarily brag-worthy. My husband and I have a long and stable marriage but there’s been carnage along the way. We raised three kids and had one go off the rails for a time. I think what gives me confidence is not what I’ve achieved, but what I’ve survived.

    Seriously…like the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. More than impressing people with my accomplishments or my confidence, what I hope people see in me is the peace I’ve found in spite of the hard things in life and in spite of what our culture measures as success. Personally, I find nothing more beautiful than a peaceful countenance.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Confidence not in what you’ve achieved but what you’ve survived…

      A wonderful perspective, Old Married Lady. And words I will take to heart.

      Still, I’m concerned for the daughters we’re raising and those in their 20s and 30s who are quickly set back (though they may not realize it) because they don’t have the confidence / conditioning / training / expectations to advocate on their own behalf. I’m with you completely on the self-assurance (and changing definitions of “success”) that many of us develop as we mature, but I worry for our economic footing and the ways in which it takes a hit almost from the beginning. And I also worry when I see the patterns of self-destruction (some subtle, others not) that persist for many women in their relationships – often worsened by that lack of economic klout.

  2. says

    Great post D.A.

    There’s room at the confidence table for all of us. I think women are more likely to cheer each other on and come from a place of community than men. Mid-life women, to whom I write, seem to have gained more confidence as a result of experience and wisdom acquired along their various paths in life. Although, on the flip side, they often struggle with confidence because of aging bodies and perhaps outdated skill sets (especially if they’ve been stay at home moms for most of their adult lives). Children growing up and moving on leave them a bit at odds. They struggle with feelings of invisibility and irrelevance. And yes – you’re so spot on with your observation that our worst critic is so often the one in our heads.

    When a woman toots her horn, no, I don’t see it as bragging. My thoughts are, “Yeah – you go girl!” There’s room at the confidence table for all of us. In fact, I’m setting an extra plate and pulling up more chairs to that confidence table every day.

  3. says

    What strikes me are the very substantial individual differences within both genders. And we tend to group together on this dimension, so your readers may be more likely to share your views and experiences on this topic.

  4. says

    First, I think I must echo what Barb said. Life’s changes and the passage of time can greatly affect one’s confidence; strengthening it in some areas, while losing ground in some others.

    Second, I think that the way a confident man and a confident woman are perceived is partly due to one’s gender, a wide variety of cultural influences (for example; ethnicity, religion, and media), and long-standing traditions and gender roles in the home, in the workplace, and in society.

    It has been a long time since I have been in a competitive work environment, so the work culture might have progressed a little (I hope). Unfortunately, I do think a woman might have to work a little harder than a man to prove herself. Even then, she won’t being compensated equally. Change, especially permanent lasting change, takes time.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Astute observations, Robin. But I worry about how much time the compensation issue is taking, and how much longer – if ever. The cumulative results for women and children are frightening.

  5. says

    Oh my, this is a subject that strikes my jugular if ever there was one. I was raised to brimming with confidence–you are wonderful! you can do it!–and am shocked to find my forties such a rough period. You would think that I would give myself credit for all that I have survived, like OML so wisely suggests but no, it has only made me more fearful in many ways. Now, I know that things could always be worse. I have gained weight, I try to tell myself that I am still myself regardless. I am not contributing financially to our couple but say that all I do for our family is enough. I am sincerely hoping that the wheel will swing back to a more solid side but also am well aware that I will need to keep working on myself to get there…

    And an important ps. When I was a working theatre actor before I moved to France, I was one opinionated lady and I was really vilified for it while my male counterparts were always, always even more respected for being the same…

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Some of us hit it in our 40s; others of us in our 50s – perhaps in part a function of how our bodies age, if (and at what age) we had children and the timing of their leaving the nest, ways in which our careers shift.

      But I hear you, Heather. In some ways, we grow into ourselves in our 40s and 50s in such wondrous ways, while also facing some stark realities that set us adrift as our roles (and bodies) change.

      I have always found myself more grounded when I’ve been in France. Confidence has come more easily there even with age. So I find your experience particularly interesting.

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