Stef (firecat) wrote,

Expressing abilities and accomplishments, a both/and edition

These are thoughts that came up when I saw the following post about imposter syndrome:

This post is partly a reply to that one and partly about the general subject of how to publicly express one's accomplishments and abilities. When I get into stuff that bothers me, it's not stuff that [personal profile] synecdochic promoted so much as stuff I've seen elsewhere.

[personal profile] synecdochic wrote:
Every time someone looks to me as an authority or a mentor or an inspiration, I am nearly bowled over by the immediate thought that no, I'm nothing special. Every time I try to evaluate (and value) my own accomplishments, I see the flaws and failures and mistakes, not the successes.
When this happens every or most of the time and when it prevents a person from accurately assessing their abilities, it's a problem.

And it's a huge problem when men and women are differently socialized in a way that causes people to underestimate women's accomplishments and women's abilities.

And insofar as modesty and publicly downplaying one's abilities and efforts are "musts" that are disproportionately applied to a particular group of people (women) I don't think they should be "musts" and I don't think they should be the burden of a particular group alone.

And insofar as people are going around policing the social appropriateness of other people (especially women) around publicly expressing accomplishments, and trying to shame other people into downplaying their accomplishments, I don't think this policing and shaming should be happening.

And I support women whose goal it is to learn how to feel and express pride in their abilities and accomplishments and to take credit for them.

And when I hear that a primary solution to the problem of people underestimating women is to retrain women to behave differently in public, it kind of bothers me.

It seems to me that downplaying accomplishments in certain social situations is an important part of many cultures (I'm specifically thinking parts of the U.K. and Japan but there are others). I don't really want to promote wiping out cultural differences unless it's really clear that they are causing harm. (It may be that this style does inherently cause harm. But I have yet to see the issue addressed with cultural differences in mind. And I think it should be.)

(Note: After I wrote the meat of this post I followed some of the links in [personal profile] synecdochic's post. One of [personal profile] naraht's posts ( mentions that downplaying accomplishments is part of some cultures.)

When I read discussions of why there aren't more women in high tech or in high positions in companies etc. etc., one argument that comes up is "women have to communicate more forcefully, they have to learn how to play the game and that means learning how to play up their accomplishments." Which would make sense to me if the rules of the game reliably led to a diverse set of competent people in positions they are well suited for, and if the only problem was that women didn't accurately describe our abilities. But from my perspective, "the game" doesn't really play by those rules. "The game" sometimes seems to mean exaggerating one's accomplishments to the point of outright lying, and "the game" often seems to mean trying to crush other people's contributions so yours looks better in comparison. I think those parts of "the game" are broken.

[personal profile] synecdochic reminds us "accomplishment is not a zero sum game." That's a really important message to put out there, and it gets directly at what I think is broken about "the game."

[personal profile] synecdochic also says "Own your awesome." I agree with this, and I want to add that I love cultures where people promote each other's awesome—if it can be done without downplaying. In other words I love a culture where people say to each other "Wow, your code|fanfic|brain|taste in shoes is fabulous" as long as they don't say "'s so much better than mine" or " much better than that person's over there." I still want the connectedness that can come from mutual appreciation.

(After writing that, I went and read [personal profile] synecdochic's love letter to fandom - - which is a great example of promoting each other's awesome.)

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