It takes a community
It takes a village to raise a child, and I would argue it takes a community to build confidence.
Google, what is confidence? If you do actually Google “how to be more confident,” you will find suggestions such as, but not limited to; work out, dress better, groom yourself, learn some power poses, fix things you don’t like about yourself, and think positively. Phew, thanks Google, feeling more confident about writing this piece already. If you’re reading this, I have a sneaking suspicion you might agree with me that those kind of suggestions are not actually all that helpful. In the moments when I’m feeling least confident in myself, if someone told me to just think positively and do a power pose, I would cringe, and crawl back into my unconfident hole. Reflecting on this, I think the thing that bothers me about this kind of notion of confidence is that it is framed as a completely individualistic concept. As though if I just work on me a bit more, work out, get my hair done, I will become more confident. What it overlooks is the kind of impact a really decent bit of support can make. Once, several weeks ago, my partner actually did make me do a power pose when I woke up one morning and started to pour out stress and negativity before I had even got dressed for the day. I was stomping around in the nude, huffing and puffing, and jokingly, they challenged me to stop and do a power pose. I brushed it off, “don’t be ridiculous,” I said. But my resistance made them strengthen the challenge twofold; “go on, why not?” So I did, I put my hands on my hips, puffed out my chest, one foot up on the bed for dramatic effect, wobbly bits wobbling about. It was ridiculous, it felt stupid, but my partner cheered me on, told me I was great, and pulled me back into bed. I was late to start work that day, but was full of renewed energy and confidence to face the challenges of the day. Would I pull a power pose on my way into a meeting? Probably not. Will I think of that moment when I’m feeling overwhelmed and down on myself? Absolutely.
In the moments when I’m feeling least confident in myself, if someone told me to just think positively and do a power pose, I would cringe, and crawl back into my unconfident hole.
So where did this confidence come from? It didn’t come from the pose - although there is something liberating about a nude power stance - it came from the belief that I could achieve everything I was set out to. And on that day, the prompt came from an external source rather than from within myself. Yes, ideally, “believe in yourself.” Great. But for those of us who aren’t instagram-worthy products of the wellness industry, sometimes you have days where you look in the mirror and you think, well, this is pretty grim, isn’t it? While I am an advocate for practicing self-care and self-love regularly, let’s be real: sometimes that doesn’t translate directly to confidence, does it? And what do we mean when we talk about confidence anyway? Well, I think in the common vernacular, we’re talking about a very masculine interpretation of confidence. The assert-yourself-in-a-meeting, demand-a-raise kind of confidence. When we think confident, we think leaders. And feminine leadership styles continue to be regarded with less value than the established masculine leadership styles. I feel it is important to note here that the value we place on masculine qualities also impacts men and those who identify as men. The pressure to fit a masculine style of confidence as any gender, including as a man, is part of gender socialisation under the patriarchy at work, and it harms us all. While pondering this idea, I have been thinking about this phrase: “carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man.” The reason this phrase attracts a laugh is because it is one of those bleak ha ha, funny-because-it’s-true observations. Surely we’re not actually interested in attempting to emulate the mediocre white man? Why would we? Well, if we’re talking confidence, these mediocre white men have been told by everyone around them, and society at large, you can do it. They have a constant societal cheer-squad building them up. Conversely, and I think I might be stating the obvious here, if you have been told for centuries, “no, this space is not for you,” it follows that you may not ooze confidence in the same kind of way. So what if we think of confidence in a more communal sense? What if we were to look at self-assuredness in someone else and acknowledge the community of support that led them to move through the world with such aplomb? In feminist spaces, we often hear the catch cry of building each other up rather that tearing each other down. It takes a village to raise a child, and I would argue it takes a community to build confidence.
What I am suggesting is that only through community, genuine support, and a significant cognitive shift on a societal level, will we see a true increase in confidence.
I’ve always been drawn to gender studies, particularly how rigid ideas around gender roles that we all learn through the process of socialisation can inhibit our ability to reach full potential. Again, I mean everyone here. We all operate within a process of gender socialisation and feel it’s impacts, regardless of our gender (ahem, this means men feel it too). Currently, I bring this passion out in my work with Australian social enterprise, Code Like a Girl, where the overarching goal is to liberate the talents of women and girls. We use this term ‘liberate’ rather than ‘empower’, as we have complete faith that these talents are already in these women and girls, our job is to help provide the tools, support and confidence to set those talents free. As part of this endeavour, we recently ran a series of events across four cities on the theme of ‘Overcoming Imposter Syndrome.’ It was (unfortunately) no surprise that this was a very popular topic for discussion amongst our (mostly female) community. Travelling from city to city, I had the strange feeling of deja vu as I had almost the same conversation with countless women on repeat. Many of these women are incredibly talented, with qualifications and accomplishments coming out of their ears, and yet, struggle to find the confidence to reach their full potential in their technical careers. We flocked together to these events to hear the stories and experiences of other women, and to come together as a community to build each other up, and tackle the phenomenon of imposter syndrome together. So let’s unpack this a little bit - is this a confidence issue? Have we somehow managed to socialise the confidence out of women? No, I don’t think so. It takes a lot of confidence to move through the tech space as a woman. Even as early as picking maths or science in high school (within a system that has, over the years, managed to assign genders to school subjects) takes a level of confidence and sure-headedness that should not be understated. Telling people who have been marginalised or oppressed in any context to just “be more confident,” ignores the systematic socialisation we have *all* gone through that has produced this lack of confidence. When the norm is for women to be full of self-doubt, we should not be asking “what is wrong with women?!” and idealising the “strong independent woman” archetype. Rather, perhaps we should be asking, “what systems have lead women to, by and large, feel and act this way, and how can we dismantle those structures?” To be clear, I am not suggesting we all act like mediocre white men. That actually sounds like the worst possible outcome. You might be familiar with research that has found that men consistently overestimate their abilities and performance, while women do the opposite - this often comes up in discussions of rates of women and men applying for jobs when they do or don’t meet all of the criteria. I think this is an important distinction to make: let’s not use confidence as a proxy for competence. We are in danger of doing this if we try to emulate the mediocre white man experience. What I am suggesting is that only through community, genuine support, and a significant cognitive shift on a societal level, will we see a true increase in confidence. Women should not have to mould to a masculine way of being to be able to be taken seriously, or to be perceived as ‘confident’. It’s much easier to confidently take the leap with the expectation that there is a community of support to catch you, just as it’s much nicer to pull a stupid power pose with the security of your partner cheering you on. I think we could all benefit by evolving our idea of confidence to a more nuanced understanding: one that makes room for approaches that aren’t necessarily masculine, and with the acknowledgement that maybe, confidence is not always an individual trait, but a product of a supportive community.
As Program Director, Sam plays a key role in Code Like a Girl's mission; to provide women and girls with the confidence, tools and knowledge to enter, and flourish in the world of coding. Sam has a professional and academic interest in the ethics of technology, data privacy and the implications of machine learning on society. This has led to a position as a Board Member for the Australian Privacy Foundation and postgraduate studies in Data Science. Sam is committed to breaking down rigid stereotypes that hold *everyone* back from reaching their potential. In her spare time, Sam likes to eat (lots), read (lots), and move her body (a bit). You can get in touch with/internet lurk Sam professionally via LinkedIn or a little less professionally through Instagram @thefloreanisequence
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