Another day, another feminist grievance in a major media outlet. The Atlantic features “The Confidence Gap” on its cover, written by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. Kay is the lead anchor of BBC World News America and Shipman is senior national correspondent for ABC’s Good Morning America. They argue that “evidence” shows women are less confident and that to succeed in corporate environments (which is, oddly, the only sphere of life they are even remotely interested in looking at), confidence is as important as actual skills.
I read the piece and was completely flummoxed by it, for a variety of reasons. Here are six reflections on the most serious problem of our
era week: The Confidence Gap.
1) It isn’t about confidence.
The article is really about risk-taking and how men differ in their risk calculations from women. To give just two examples from the article, and to give you an idea of its tone:
- “We watch our male colleagues take risks, while we hold back until we’re sure we are perfectly ready and perfectly qualified.”
- “If a woman walks into her boss’s office with unsolicited opinions, speaks up first at meetings, or gives business advice above her pay grade, she risks being disliked or even—let’s be blunt—being labeled a bitch.”
Leaving aside the melodramatic stereotyping and bizarre generalizations about how people love unsolicited advice from men but abhor it from women, you’ll note that risk is the main ingredient in the supposed confidence gap.
2) Opportunity Cost. How does it work?
And in order to have a conversation about risk, it’s good to talk about opportunity cost, and even just the particular opportunity costs associated with risk-taking. We should look at how women, on average, value what they must trade in for the potential benefits of risk-taking. That’s not well discussed in the article.
Yes, men really do show, on average, a far greater proclivity for risk-taking. See, for example, all of human history. And they tend to have different calculuses about what they seek or are willing to make do with in terms of lifestyle and stress. It is true that risk-taking behavior works out very well for men. But it also works out horribly for them. How can that be? Well, they do have higher average outcomes than women. But when they fail, hoo-boy do they fail. We’re talking job loss, demotion, loss of status, physically problematic stress, serious inconsistency in pay, homelessness, prison, and so on and so forth.
None of the down-sides of risk taking are given proper weight, which makes the sloppily sourced article naive and unhelpful, at best. Maybe women should fight their nature and go match men in the CEO and imprisonment categories. I don’t know. But we should at least be honest that women choose less risky moves in part because they frequently don’t have to take risks like men do and frequently don’t want to take risks like men do.
The article also fails to note that women, on average, choose less risk for reasons having to do with things other than cash money. If you make one choice, you lose other choices. If you prefer making money and having a ton of power, you make different decisions than if you prefer having a nice work-life balance, a flexible schedule, non-remunerative benefits, and what not. The tradeoffs for risk-taking and aggression in a corporate environment might involve things that you are not comfortable giving up. This can be a bad thing, but it is by no means necessarily a bad thing. Either way, this issue should have been discussed far better.
3) Is second-guessing our nature really so empowering?
The article on developing confidence ends by telling women that their brains are malleable:
Almost daily, new evidence emerges of just how much our brains can change over the course of our lives, in response to shifting thought patterns and behavior. If we keep at it, if we channel our talent for hard work, we can make our brains more confidence-prone. What the neuroscientists call plasticity, we call hope.
Nothing shouts “be confident in your natural abilities!” like “your brain is mushy and able to be reshaped by propaganda!” But maybe that’s just me. Still, all this second-guessing of female traits doesn’t feel empowering. At all. Feminists seem to be on a constant campaign of obsessive gender reflection, the net result of which is to tell women they’re bad at what they’re doing. Don’t call bossy people bossy. Don’t be considerate of others. Please keep kids out of the picture for the vast majority if not entirety of your fertility. If you do choose to stop fighting your fertility for a brief period, you shouldn’t let kids affect your career. You need to crush or at least smother your maternal instincts at all costs. In order to succeed in life, you must be like men — emulate everything they’re doing.
I love being female, and I’m actually quite confident about being a woman, but the only time I even come close to feeling bad about myself is when major media outlets and elite feminists use their power to tell me there’s some major flaw with me being female.
Also, it’s kind of funny that the article is all about obsessive overthink keeping women from taking the risks they need to in order to succeed. I do hope that whoever wrote this at least noted that an article ostensibly against such overthinking ran 7,242 insufferable words. By the way, I challenge you to read the first section without gagging, either at the over-the-top generalizations about how universally awesome women are or about how victimized the elite authors are by their gaping self-doubt. The humblebrags in that section alone are epic. “Katty got a degree from a top university, speaks several languages” and yet thought “her public profile in America was thanks to her English accent.” Claire was CNN’s Moscow correspondent while in her 20s but supposedly deferred to the “alpha-male journalists around her, assuming that because they were so much louder, so much more certain, they just knew more.”
The thing is that even if we’re just talking about lower braggadocio levels, what if that’s an ingredient that makes women better at social bonding? Leadership is important to society. Absolutely. But so is a basic functioning community. Heck, call me a woman if you must, but I could make a good argument that community bonds are even more important than CEO leadership. There’s no reason that men and women must fill one or the other category (and every single person reading this knows men and women who fit various high-risk/low-risk/high-confidence/low-confidence categories) but neither do we need to insist on denigrating people who do the hard work of community bonding, whatever that given community is — in office environments, immediate families, extended families, local congregations, Brooklyn co-ops, boxing clubs, etc.
So if women have, as the article claims, a “part of the brain [that] helps us recognize errors and weigh options,” why do we want to get rid of it or curb it? Why are we ashamed of something that’s awesome? Why are feminists so down on women’s brains? I mean, again, leadership and risk-taking are great for humans. Don’t get me wrong. But so are wisdom and restraint.
4) Watch how facts can be twisted to fit the narrative.
The article says that “Boys, meanwhile, tend to absorb more scolding and punishment” and that “When we observed in grade school classrooms, we saw that boys got eight times more criticism than girls for their conduct.”
And later we’re told that boys’ roughhousing on playgrounds helps them learn that insults and rough play aren’t things to be feared because they’re so prevalent. (#BanBossy, y’all! No, seriously, remember how the #BanBossy brigade told us that aggressive boys in school are praised as heroes in the classroom? And that we needed to stop with the criticism of girls under any circumstances? The mixed messages in the last month alone are staggering.)
All of this is used to explain why boys are tough and able to advance further in their careers. Of course, if girls were scolded eight times as much as boys, this would not be information used to explain, say, why they get so many more degrees and jobs than men. No, we’d be at War On Women DEFCON 1, hearing daily press conferences from Ms. Shipman’s husband (who is President Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney) about how we have to have a federal program to fix the problem. The #BanBossy posse would definitely have used that statistic to explain something or other.
5) These gender-based confidence stereotypes don’t ring true at all.
I mean, I know both men and women who lack confidence. It’s usually demonstrated in different ways. Some of my male friends lack confidence when it comes to dating or asking women out, for instance. Some female friends lack confidence in their beauty. Both men and women might lack confidence in their skills — be they sports-related, job-related or relationship-related. I myself have lacked confidence at various times and for very good reasons. I’ve had friends — again, male and female, who lack confidence in their relationships. And I’ve known more than a few folks who lacked confidence in ways that I found genuinely troubling.
But when I think of the vast majority of the women in my life who I know well or have known well, we do not lack confidence. This includes my grandmother, my mother, my sister, my cousins, my best friends, my bosses, my employees, my friends from church, my school chums, and so on and so forth.
I mean, it’s possible that all of these people are lying to me or secretly have confidence issues that aren’t seen in the visual world. It’s possible that I just happen to have been born into a family of confident women and then worked for confident women and hired confident women and what not. I am from Colorado and we are born and raised to be independent and confident out West. It’s probable that we’re all too busy to even worry about relative confidence levels. Seriously, who has time for this?
6) Are non-elite women confident because we exist in cultures that affirm non-corporate success?
The funny, unsaid thing in the whole piece about women storming the head office is that Shipman, according to a recent profile in Washingtonian Mom, has made the decision that there is far more to life than storming the head office:
Shipman works part-time now for ABC News, something she’s done for five years, which has given her more flexibility to write and hang out with her children. Flexibility, she says, is what most working mothers really want.
Good for her and her family — I commend her. But I do wonder if there is something among elite women that denigrates such decisions as being less good than “leaning in” and hiring less privileged people to handle family affairs.
Perhaps I know so many confident women because we exist in a somewhat different culture that affirms such decisions as wise rather than disappointing. We exist in a culture that affirms good work done outside the home and also good work in the home. Being very good at raising a family (even if not outsourcing the tasks as wealthier women sometimes choose to do) or creating a welcoming and comforting home for them is not looked down on but held in high esteem. Few of my female friends are going to be known for all posterity as risk-takers, but the vast majority of us are confident. This may be because many of us find confidence in our faith and in our many vocations — from those that are part of the capitalist system to those that have nothing to do with the market.
I know not every feminist spews the hatred against domestic work that Betty Friedan did 50 years ago, but many decades of denigrating non-market-based vocations and, at the same time, an insular focus on finding fulfillment only in corporate climates may be a part of the story the grievance groupies should consider evaluating.
In the meantime, could we have maybe a week off from the tales of elite victimhood to celebrate the general awesomeness of being female? Please?