‘Your silence will not protect you’: encouraging the female voice

I have just wrapped another semester. My brain has gone completely flat. I’m firing on zero cylinders and still have to grade, write, parent, wife and run a business. I had several topics floating around my head this weekend and by the time I sat down to write, I just needed to not think that hard. But that never works. So this week is less argumentative but part confession and part call to action.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a deeply personal piece. I’m not even sure that what I’m feeling is relevant right now but I think many women and particularly educated women might be able to relate.

Lately, I’ve read about Imposter Syndrome and think — know — that I am struggling with it with increasing frequency. It’s near debilitating some days. In brief, Imposter Syndrome is the lack of confidence in your gifts and competencies and for whatever reasons the inability to internalize that you do something well or that you have had a measure of success directly related to those same talents. It is commonly seen in women who are high achievers.

Now, I’m not sure that I fit the high-achieving model. I’ve barely made the bills some months and haven’t found the guts to shop my work in some places. Moreover, when I publish a piece I feel the need to pour over it and proofread to the point of obsession, often missing simple mistakes because I worry that somehow what I’ve written will expose my lack of knowledge. Oddly enough I’m usually the most doubtful about a subject that I know and understand well.

Let me be clear that I certainly don’t feel that I’m an imbecile but I am surely not Marie Curie or Toni Morrison (yet). I’ve never been a whiz with math or science and I struggle to start long form writing projects though I definitely feel that I have a better shot at Morrison than Curie.

Without getting too complicated, I want to get over feeling that I’m not good enough, smart enough, and stop worrying what people think of me. I haven’t always cared but lately these thoughts feel intrusive and heightened.   

I’ve come to the conclusion that part of it comes from declaring my intent to live and work as a writer. It was my thing and now it really has to be my Thing so I can pay for my car and eat. I can’t run and hide from it so I need to figure out how to accept my doubts and move past them.

I know that I’m not alone so I’d love to see this issue be erased. I would like to destroy Imposter Syndrome. No one should feel that his or her contribution is worthless but I’m talking to the ladies in particular.

It has to start with how we speak to ourselves but also how we teach our girls to speak up and our sons to respect the female voice. 

I teach English and in one of my courses, I had an outspoken young student who happened to be female. When she would answer questions or speak up during a discussion, some students in the room would bristle. My response was, of course, to encourage her. It felt good to have a bold young voice and to support that ability — it is definitely a valuable skill.

Statistics show that women are less likely to speak up for promotions and raises in the workplace or for any reason in the classroom. Educators and employers alike are more likely to pass over female participation for input from male workers and students. I try to catch myself but I know that I have fallen into this trap. I do tend to engage with students who readily engage in class and often those students are male — at least in the beginning of a semester. Usually at the close of the semester when I’ve entranced them all with my charm, most students speak up and participate wholeheartedly.

I’m not sure how I will resolve trusting my gifts and myself but given the opportunity to grow assertive women, I need to make a more conscious effort. I can only work to encourage women in a college classroom or those in proximity. I can teach my son but I need parents of other boys to do the same and parents of little girls, to give them a voice and encourage them to use it, to love it and most of all to trust it.