I hate to admit this, but I had not heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie until I heard her voice clip taken from her TED talk in Beyonce’s Flawless. Since then, I have listened to her speak and read some of her work. She is a profoundly deep person with a brilliant way of dissecting and calling out exactly what she observes. She does it with ferocity, and she does it with a concise grace. When she put society on blast for encouraging smallness in girls, it hit me—I have an inferiority complex. And you might too…
I am not speaking on behalf of shyness—I am speaking of shame. I do not have a peer-reviewed article to back me up on this, but I feel that men and women are both equally capable of being shy depending on their personality. Also, it may be important to note that when I refer to shame in this piece, I am referring to the feeling of inferiority that women feel for no reason other than existing in space while female.
I often find myself feeling inferior to men. Admitting this is painful—I have worked very hard to develop my confidence. Admitting that I, as an outspoken advocate for women, often find myself being easily pushed aside by my male peers feels so shame inducing. I encourage women to speak up, yet I am easily interrupted. I encourage women to be willing to negotiate with their bosses for a higher workplace value, yet I have never once fought for a salary increase. I am a hypocrite. I do not feel comfortable disagreeing with my male boss. I sometimes do, but I do it in a way that is sugar coated, non-threatening, and soft. I do not expect the same level of softness from him, nor do I expect it from a male in an equal position of authority to what I have; however, I have imposed this on myself. But have I?
As girls grow up, we are encouraged to put others first. We are raised to be relationship oriented as opposed to task-oriented. That is not to say we aren’t task-oriented, but we are frequently expected to hold relationships at a higher value (and at a younger age) than boys. We often find our preferences lost in our relationships, unable to take control of the radio. It is easy to say we know what we want, but to deliver a concrete example doesn’t come naturally to many of us. If you are like me, you tend to live in an abstract realm. Maybe you’re spontaneous, or maybe you’re just used to feeling obligated to be pliable. A lifetime of being openly disagreed with and had your ideas shot down has made you this way. Agreeable…to a fault.
What you may be having is support—though do not blame your sisters for this. We often do not readily ask for help. I think with all of the pressure we feel to be independent and self-sufficient, we are probably doing ourselves a disservice by not recognizing the value in confiding in each other about issues that we feel that we are the only one experiencing. Perhaps that is where we go wrong. It has become common knowledge that women struggle with being interrupted, and people tend to feel more comfortable vocally disagreeing with women than men. Women in the White House under the Obama administration began combatting this by sticking up for one another. Recognizing each other’s good ideas and speaking up on each other’s behalf has been an effective way of getting women’s voices heard.
I have a strong desire to be heard. I think many of us do, just as we all desire to be valued. How do you accomplish this when you’ve received the message that you are less valuable than your male peers? The first step may just be self-awareness—admitting that there is a problem. The second may be evaluating your self-esteem. How often do you find yourself questioning your thoughts and ideas? Can you think of times in your life where you have received the message that what you have to say is not valuable or that a man could say it better?
It didn’t dawn on me until my college years that many of my male peers did not experience the same level of shame that I felt when I would speak up during class debates, nor did it occur to me that my female classmates were experiencing something similar.
According to Columbia University in NYC, professors are more likely to call on male students over female students—also, male students speak more frequently and for longer periods of time.
I will tell you one benefit to being raised female with all of the questionings that is instilled upon us…we think. We analyze. We analyze in a way that many men cannot relate to because we are constantly checking ourselves. How are we carrying ourselves, how are we coming across, how is our word choice, how is our face? We are trained to be this way. We can fight it, but we can also work with it. Recognize all of the instances where you want to speak but stop yourself. Confide in your fellow females, and most importantly, stand up for your sisters. Don’t be afraid to disagree with each other, but when you hear a good idea, and you feel no one is listening, don’t be a bystander. Encourage bravery in your female peers. The confidence men embody when speaking doesn’t belong to them. We treat it like an inheritance, but the truth is…it is learned. Be ambitious, and don’t be afraid to outgrow your surroundings.
Unshrink yourself. You are inferior to no one.