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Imposter Syndrome the bias surrounding women

imposter syndrome

Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash

Recently, I had the privilege of talking with Sophie*, a passionate, hardworking woman in the film industry, about how feminism and womanhood look in a male-dominated industry. We talked about many different ideas—clothing and appearance, relationships with peers, and even the assumptions placed upon her by other people in the same career field. She told me about times she “wouldn’t wear a wedding ring because the people on set will treat me differently” and may not be as likely to assist her.

Sophie wears predominantly comfortable clothing to work, like t-shirts, and does not wear make-up because “I’m doing heavy lifting and moving around constantly”, yet when she first arrives on a set she is immediately assumed to be part of hair and make-up and can be met with pure disbelief when she explains her hired purpose. She admires the women doing the beautification onset but does get tired of correcting the directors repeatedly. The bias toward men doing a better job is so strong.

In our conversation, there were so many different ideas I had to write about, so many interactions that could be representative of women’s experiences everywhere. The one that stood out the most—her feeling of being an imposter. Sophie is great at her job. It is clear to see by how she talks about work and can explain foreign concepts to me with ease.

Yet when we started talking about the struggles about being a woman in her field, it was so clear that even though logically she knows she is trained just as well, if not better, than the men she works with, she still leaves the day “wondering if I could have done something different, or going out of my way to take on more to show I can do it just as well.”

Sophie shared with me that the feeling of being a fraud continued at home too. Her partner is a kind, generous person who probably does not take well to her doubting herself in any capacity, much less within her relationship with him. However, if Sophie had “a day that made me question myself at work”, she might find herself also “questioning myself in sex.” She would ask herself “am I good enough? Am I doing this right?”, but more importantly—“have I earned an orgasm?” Again, we see the bias toward what female sexuality should look like.

 It got me wondering, what is imposter syndrome and how is it impacting women? 

A research article published by Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes of Georgia State University noted that imposter syndrome could create in heterosexual women “a strong belief that they are not intelligent” or capable of being successful in their chosen area.[1] She found evidence that women “consistently have lower expectancies than men of their ability to perform successfully” on any given task.

We as women are more likely to believe that things have gone well for us based on a temporary, incorrect, or fleeting reason. Doing well at work? It doesn’t matter, we might have gotten hired on a fluke. Comfortable in an intimate relationship? That partner just doesn’t know all of our ugly pieces and can change their mind at any time. If women fail at a task, it is because of an internal force.

As it turns out, everyone is feeling like an imposter. Lady Gaga said in her HBO special that she still feels “like that loser kid from high school”. Tina Fey[2] wrote in 2010 that she vacillates between confidence and fraudulent thinking. Awkwafina has often shared her thoughts of wondering if a better actress would have been suited for a particular role. Imposter syndrome is definitely out there, and it is definitely making an impact. 

The problem with many of the resources I found when looking at imposter syndrome is it is all about “fixing” the women who have it. The message is “you shouldn’t feel this way! You are a fraud for thinking you are a fraud, just love yourself!” Yikes! How can we ever feel like we have the skills if doubting that is inherently a problem? Instead, I wonder if we can find a way to move from the toxic culture we are in that supports imposter syndrome and allow women to grow to be the person they doubt they already are.

Confidence and competency are not the same

In our talks, Sophie shared that a man might say he can do something and not be questioned, but if she did, she would have to “prove” she knew what she was saying. There leaves no room for her to question herself or ask others for additional thoughts without perpetuating that she did in fact have no idea what she was doing. The problem with that is that being confident in something does not actually mean you can do that thing! We need to create room for questions, concerns, or hesitancy. Wanted to grow does not mean you don’t have what it takes to be successful!

Feeling unsure or anxious isn’t a bad thing. 

 I once complained during a scuba diving trip that I wish I wasn’t so anxious as I approached entering the water. My brother-in-law pointed out that being anxious was a good thing, as I’d be more aware of my surroundings and pay attention to safety measures. That message was true then and is even more true when it comes to imposter syndrome.

Our hesitancy to jump into any task, whether it is work or sex, without first taking in things going on around us is the very thing that keeps us safe. Assuming we are the best at something or are overly capable leaves room for mistakes. We need to be able to see everything and make the most of situations.

Bias makes a difference

‘Professionalism’ is skewed heavily toward the person who is deciding what is appropriate or not. I know black women who have been told their natural hair isn’t appropriate for meetings with CEOs. Latina women who work extra hard to be ‘quiet’ in meetings so coworkers won’t buy into the loud Latina concept.

How can we ever feel like we are successful if who we inherently are can be considered wrong for the setting? Marginalized backgrounds have not been represented well or worse, have been openly discriminated against. Challenging the belief of what a ‘successful’ person looks like is crucial for women feeling more comfortable with their skill set.

Instead of fixing women, let’s agree to fix the bias surrounding women. We need to move away from unhealthy comparisons and toxic work cultures. It’s not imposter syndrome bringing us down—it’s toxicity. So the next time you see a woman crushing it, let her know! Validate that! And if anyone needs a woman on set who is capable, intelligent, and can crush it—Sophie has you covered.

[1] https://www.paulineroseclance.com/pdf/ip_high_achieving_women.pdf

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/tina-fey-spoofer-movie-stardom-1923552.html


Expect Kiss & Tell Magazine to discuss many issues surrounding the topic of sexual health and wellness as well as other issues impacting women

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