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June 25, 2014 - 10:20pm

Feminine Critique: Perpetual works in progress


As I pressed the “End Call” button on my phone, the memory resurfaced amidst surging worries about exams. It was one of those memories I originally assumed was perhaps too irrelevant to catalog within the chaotic confines of my mind. Yet, I’ve learned those “forgotten” snippets of nostalgia often sting the most. Immediately after the conversation with my best friend, I stared at the powdery mountains accumulating outside my window and recalled an interaction from two years ago with my former art teacher, a woman I still admire to this day.

After offering me a wonderful and under-appreciated compliment about the drawing I was working on, my teacher worriedly asked if her words had made me uncomfortable. Easily discerning the perplexed look plastered across my face, my teacher explained I tended to look down and cringe whenever she complimented me. My best friend confirmed I possessed this meek and self-deprecating demeanor with him as well. I never meant to dismiss their kind words. Rather, I was always self-conscious about my work, and I assumed each piece could’ve been improved in some way. I’ve always detested scenarios where I could feel the blistering rays of the spotlight upon my skin, but I couldn’t believe I’d actually reached a point where I was recoiling from words of praise.

Little progress elapsed over the past two years. The same supportive friend from that high school art room futilely tried to congratulate me and offer streams of accolades for the first piece I wrote for The Daily. He zealously encouraged me to keep pursuing my writing aspirations, and he was one of the first people to convey how proud he was. Yet, I regressed to my worn-out strategy for receiving praise: Deny. Deny. Deny. I volleyed excuse after excuse to belittle my achievement.

While my confidence may be lacking, low self-esteem unacceptably plagues an extensive amount of women in society. The Atlantic writers Katie Kay and Claire Shipman confirm the clichéd belief women are our own worst critics in their article “The Confidence Gap.” In fact, women undervalue their capabilities and talents to such a detrimental extent these doubts create a gap in confidence between women and men in the professional world. Women negotiate their salaries four times less than men, and when women do garner the courage to ask for a raise, they often request 30 percent less money. Therefore the confidence gap helps to widen the already hefty pay gap we are fervently trying to combat.

However, money isn’t the only crucial issue regarding the “Confidence Gap.” Ironically, one of most disappointing details is the fact women’s doubts are blockading them from opportunities and careers they deserve — or are even overqualified for. According to The Atlantic article, women fixate on perfectionism. For men, a mistake may go unnoticed or be regarded as an uncontrollable circumstance. If women fumble in the slightest, we attribute the mistakes to an internal flaw or a lack of ability. Consequently, we refrain from embarking on new opportunities or following life-long passions. For example, if a woman doesn’t possess all of the desired skills when applying for a raise, she won’t apply. Yet, a lesser-qualified man with more confidence definitely will.

As a feminist, I hate to perpetuate any stereotypes, but I must begrudgingly admit a sizeable amount of women do tend to overthink. I’m a classically trained over-thinker who excels at doubting herself. Perhaps this makes me a tad biased, but I fully understand the inhibiting effects of doubt and perfectionism. With every compliment deflected or challenge avoided, we — as women — trick ourselves into believing we are perpetual works in progress. We accept the lies. Our fear of failure is so paralyzing we surrender before we even start.

Melissa Scholke can be reached at