As a school-aged kid, I was the girl in class constantly waving her had wanting to answer every question. I was the one who competed to be first to finish the times table sheets. I was always willing to share my work and was excited to get good grades. This was the same for me as an adolescent when playing the piano or singing. I was always willing to share my talents when called upon at church, school, community events and so on. I was proud of my accomplishments and abilities, and loved the feeling of sharing those with others. These feelings persisted through college, grad school and even the beginning of my teaching career. But as I transitioned to a new stage of life and a slightly different identity, the unabashed sharing seemed to have turned to uncertainty and self-loathing. Women are notorious for being really terrible when it comes to self-promotion. I am no different. As a younger person and in an educational environment, I was asked and expected to share my talents and accomplishments. When a teacher, family member or community member asks you to perform or read something aloud, put yourself out there in some way, it doesn’t feel like self-promotion. You are already given reassurance and praise by being asked in the first place. This makes sharing a much less vulnerable task.
As a 29 year old women, those teachers are long gone and my 2-year-old sure isn’t asking me to read her my latest commentary, although I do get the occasional request for a song. And even with the safety net effectively gone, I still feel the urge to create or comment and put it out there for people to respond. A James Baldwin story comes to mind when I think about this need. In “Sonny’s Blues” Baldwin writes of a troubles jazz pianist and toward the end the narrator states, “Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did.” This may be a little dramatic, and the story of a suburban white woman is not that of Sonny but the basic sentiment is the same. For those of us that feel compelled to say something or express something, there is a sense of hindrance or entrapment if we are not able to do that; not asked to do that.
When I decided to start my little blog and business, sharing it with others was the last thing on my mind. I knew that it would have to happen eventually but at the time I was so focused on the creation of it and the big picture of the completed project that I didn’t think about how it would feel to be vulnerable and share my work with others. As the website neared completion after many months of work, it started to dawn on me that this was a piece of me that I was going to have to share, even if no one asked me to. That was terrifying. I would have to actually promote myself and my work. I would have to have enough confidence in my writing and my vision to boldly tell others about it and know that there would be someone out there that would appreciate it. There is something about these bold actions that tend not to jive with the modern-day view of a woman. I have no problem being bold in other aspects of my life. I can give my opinions freely (sometimes too freely), and I can make big decisions and reap the rewards or suffer the consequences. When it comes to actually promoting myself, however, just the thought of it makes my stomach churn while visions of the Kardashians prance around in my head.
Women, just aren’t supposed to boast about themselves or be so overtly aspirational. Once a woman has a family, the expectation is that she will dedicate herself entirely to that endeavor and selflessly succeed, without needing admiration. Women who talk about their accomplishments or outwardly push to achieve more can be seen as pushy and brash; not appealing qualities. So we try to do it all. We want to be successful but don’t want to act like that’s what we want. We think that just working hard and waiting for rewards to come to us is the most demure and credible way to be, and so we downplay our passions and talents. What a shame. If a man was out there claiming his successes and pushing a new venture, we would say that he was really working hard and doing something for his family. When a woman does the same, she must be desperate or looking for compliments.
Every time, I go to publish something on my website I struggle with these ideas. I think of ways that I can separate myself from the promotion side of what I am doing. I read through everything that I am posting to make sure that it doesn’t sound too self-indulgent. I try to focus on the long-term goals that I have for myself and my family and not get too bogged down with the uncomfortable moments that go along with getting there, but there are some days when I fail. I need an attitude adjustment. From this moment forward I am going to work extra hard to silence the preexisting notions in my head of what a woman should act like and sound like. I am going to be proud of what I am putting out into the world and the kind of woman that I am trying to be for Eliza. I am going to be even more of a hustler and stand even stronger in my convictions. I am going to try to channel that little girl who couldn’t wait to read her poem to the class, sing the solo, or show off her A on a paper, even if no one asks me to. MEB