Women should not be loud. Women should not be contentious. Women should not brag. Women are the peacemakers, the conciliators, the soft-spoken sources of reason and support.
Women are to be pleasers and personable planners. They may be creative. They may be funny. They may strike out on their own adventures, but achievements are to be acknowledged quietly.
These are among the lessons I was taught as a girl, which were reinforced during adolescence. By contrast, following my years in a co-ed public school system, I attended an all-female college that altered my outlook. Without a male presence in the classroom, behaviors and expectations changed. Appearance, not to mention what others thought – except about my ideas – became less important.
And confidence soared.
Growing Into Your Self-Esteem
In college, not only was I surrounded by cool, quirky, and brilliant young women from diverse backgrounds, but it didn’t take long for those of us used to hanging back to step up, speak up, argue, persuade, insist – especially when the competition heated up. And there was plenty of competition!
We also took pride in our ideas and accomplishments, in what we were learning an producing.
We may not have sung our achievements at the loudest possible pitch, though sing we did and in particular, on some very treasured steps, but we owned our achievements. And we did so without bragging and without conflict. We also recognized the fine work of our friends.
Naturally I can’t speak for everyone in my college class, but this was certainly the case among the women I hung with.
Taking Credit is Good
An article on Forbes to do with bragging caught my eye. Written by gender researcher Dr. Peggy Drexler, it addresses the meed for women to toot their own horns. She poses a simple question:
When’s the last time you took credit—really took credit—for a job well done?
She goes on to clarify – taking credit without giving props to others or qualifying your accomplishments in some way. Dr. Drexler writes:
Instead of talking about themselves in an honest way, women give away the credit, talking about the great team they had, the collaborative efforts involved, the talents of someone, anyone, else. In some instances, women will even point to the negative aspects of themselves or their achievements instead of simply saying “thank you” or otherwise owning potential praise.
French Horn, Anyone?
Taking credit is a dilemma for many of the women I know who struggle with saying “I…” followed by a strong, specific verb that captures what they have achieved.
And leaving it at that.
Tooting your own horn – of any sort? No, no. It’s just not done. Besides, we might be “found out” – we don’t really know as much as you think we do. We aren’t really good enough for this praise. Ah yes, it’s the female “not good enough” challenge once again, along with a healthy dose of the Imposter Syndrome, which Dr. Drexler references in her column.
Sassy? Sure. Brassy? No way!
My Changing Awareness
Once out of college, as I entered the Big Bad Business world, my esteem took a tumble. Oh, not a fatal fall, but I was aware that the rarified environment I’d left behind was not the way of the world at large. I was also in the interesting position of being physically tiny in a man’s world – one of very few women for many years, and to some degree I was utterly invisible.
There were no women “leading, inventing, founding” – certainly not among my acquaintances or in the surroundings in which I began my career. And it was years of my own voice giving nods to co-workers, to collaboration, and receding into the background.
These were our comfort zones in language if not reality: to be a team member, to contribute, to collaborate – all of which are vital to reaching our goals, but not necessarily the roles we actually played.
Changing our tune? What about pulling out that horn and daring to make a little noise? What about the self-esteem that comes from recognition of a job well done?
Bragging and Flagging
The word “bragging” carries a negative connotation, especially for women. Yet isn’t the negativity of bragging versus, say… “flagging” not only in our perceptions but a matter of delivery?
The more that women become practiced in speaking up, acknowledging their great outcomes, and talking about them, won’t we improve in our ability to do so?
On those occasions where we can acknowledge the accomplishments of other women, tooting their horns and thereby a collective horn as well – won’t we all become more accustomed to it?
What if we thought of ourselves as smiling and positive pied pipers leading a merry band of kids who claim their wins? Boys and girls, men and women? What if we were generous in singing the praises of the triumphs of the woman next door?
People Pleasing (and Self-Effacing) Habits Die Hard
How many of us don’t celebrate our wins, much less give them more than a passing mention? How many of us are more concerned with what others think, not to mention remaining people pleasers?
In my own case, I recognize the moments when I reach back to those college years, to that fullness of self, the naturalness of owning my ideas and work effort. Of course that includes the right to make mistakes, learn from them, and move on.
Sing it! Play it!
Singing one’s own praises – standing up, saying “I accomplished this important and difficult thing” feels incredible. We stand taller, we relate more confidently, we bring more to the table standing at the table than we do sitting… back.
That issue of fretting over appearances? It doesn’t disappear entirely, but it fades in importance.
Is this feminism?
Maybe. Maybe not. I’d call it social rewiring, parenting attentiveness, honing our consciousness of institutionalized bias – and our own words and actions. This is the work of however many generations it takes to endow each child with the right to feel good about what she or he accomplishes.
This is tooting our own horn because the horn needs tooting. Why not a symphony of horns in celebration of a terrific idea, a significant accomplishment, or well-deserved recognition?
French horn, Wiki, Creative Commons 3.0
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