There’s a kind of Orwellian doublespeak that festers in the dark, hidden crevices inside a woman’s head, a persistent message that underscores everything she does, from girlhood to her elder years. This doublespeak creates a situation in which she finds herself living in two separate realities that should be mutually exclusive but, somehow, coexist like host and parasite. In one reality, she’s wholly able to acknowledge that she’s intelligent, capable, innovative, thoughtful, a good parent, a good daughter, and an overall delightful human being. Yet, because of the existence of that other reality, she’s plagued with doubts about her abilities, her intelligence, her goodness, and is certain that, eventually, everyone will see her for what she is: an absolute fraud.
On the whole, I’ve done moderately well throughout my life. Good grades in school that earned a full scholarship to college, where I also performed well. Decent jobs where I received promotions and regularly took on additional responsibilities, including training coworkers and overseeing large projects. A bright daughter on whom I doted. My present career where, for the first time in my life, I find myself doing work that I actually enjoy a great deal.
And, yet, those pesky ink-black doubts persist…
Not that this is anything new. I’ve always felt less than sure about my footing, even when the more logical part of my brain tells me I’m standing in just the right place, sometimes even the best place. And these feelings of inadequacy don’t stem from a parent who was critical to the point of cruelty. Or sustained bullying in school. Or an ex who chipped away at my self-confidence until only a shivering skeleton of the person I had been remained. Overt outside judgment has very little to do with the blossoming of this doubt. Funnily enough, if anything, the external feedback I’ve received over my lifetime has been consistently positive, which only seems to make things worse, deepening the rising dread that I’ll eventually be found out, exposed, and then what?
This brand of trouble starts and ends inside my own head, where that opposite-facing commentary runs along doggedly for however long I’m awake, the criticisms and self reflection cripplingly intense. I am a master at taking my own inventory, at receiving compliments and finding a way to twist them into criticisms, at wondering just how long it will be before someone figures out my long game and exposes me for exactly what I am.
If only you could be seen for what you really are, that nasty bitch snarls from the comfy nest she’s built inside the shadowy, inaccessible area near the back of my skull. People wouldn’t be so quick with the compliments, now would they?
Before I can respond, that howling dread metastasizes, and the bitch continues, throwing poison tipped knives that hit extremely close to home.
Not a good enough mother: your daughter was the last one waiting at pickup, WTAF?
Not smart enough to pursue this particular degree: you might be doing fine in class, for now, but how many times did it take you to read through this analysis before you finally understood it?
Not working hard enough to deserve this promotion: there’s no way in hell you’ll be able to handle all of this extra responsibility. Good luck getting fired!
Not a decent human being in any way, shape, or form: good god, if ANYONE could tap into some of the commentary running through your head, you’d be ostracized, blacklisted, and held up as a cautionary tale for impressionable children.
Here’s the thing: fuck that bitch.
I’m far from perfect, but I know I’m not a fraud. I’m damned smart (and modest, can’t you tell?). I work hard, and that’s really the key to all of my successes, large, small, and in between. If a situation needs some elbow grease, I just so happen to carry an extra large can of WD40 in my purse and I’m prepared to grease away. I gauran-damned-tee you won’t outwork me, and I’m fan-fucking-tastically quick on my feet. Put me in a corner, and I’ll come up with a way out of it. Give me a problem to solve, a tight deadline, an impenetrable text that needs deciphering. I. Am. Here. For. It.
So, why the persistent black cloud of doubt traveling over my head, ready to spill rain on every single one of my flashy parades? Why do I listen to the nasty bitch in my head? Why does she wield so much power?
Welp, little girls are born into a society that values them less than it values little boys, that teaches them to keep their options narrowed so they’re still well within range of the realm of home and family, that informs them they just aren’t great at things like math, science, leadership, sports, and the like. Those little girls eat up all that garbage, and that just so happens to be the kind of cuisine that best feeds the nasty bitch setting up shop inside their heads, infecting their every move with doubt.
Are you sure you should tell everyone your opinion? What if you’re wrong?
No one will like you if you run for Student Body President. Leave that to one of the boys.
Awfully bossy and full of yourself, aren’t you?
College, sure, but this degree will put you waaaaaaay out of your depth, sweetheart.
And on, and on, and on, the bullshit piling up as the years proceed.
Even in these more ‘enlightened’ times, the inequities persist, and we internalize the hell out of them, ladies.
I’ve watched men to which the label of ‘mediocre’ would be an overstatement of their actual abilities conduct themselves with rock solid confidence as they bumble through life, pulling a reverse King Midas as they turn all they touch into complete shit. These men are routinely rewarded by society and called leaders. They certainly receive higher salaries than the more accomplished and better prepared women around them.
The game is unfair, the playing field far from level, the rules rigged in favor of anything masculine, deck upon deck stacked against us. So, what’s a woman to do?
Glad you asked.
First order of business: punch that nasty bitch in the throat whenever she dares to whisper those untruths at inopportune moments. You don’t need that shit. She’ll STFU if you hit her often enough. It’s gonna take time, though, so don’t give up after the first thousand hits.
Second order of business: ask yourself WWMWMD?
What would mediocre white man do?
It’s a valid question, because these are the fellas who can best skate through life by virtue of their sex and skin color, gliding over paths made just for them, usually on the backs of people of color and women. These are the guys who breeze in late, interrupting your presentation to ask a question you already covered in the beginning. When you make a suggestion, no one hears it, but when MWM repeats what you just said, everyone claps him on the back for his originality and ability to problem solve. Also, he’s your boss! Or, he answers to you yet makes more than you do. MWM never worries about reading the assignment before monopolizing the conversation during the philosophical seminar. Waiting one’s turn is for other, less white, less male rule-following suckers. He has things to say! He’s the fella who takes all the credit for the preparation and sweat equity you put into the project to make sure it’s a success. Only 20% qualified for the position? MWM will apply for it anyway and actually get the job! Meanwhile, you’re taking online leadership courses, learning the second language the position suggested applicants know, and not lying on your resume…oh, you’re also seething with soul-destroying rage at this guy’s audacity, as well as his consistent, inexplicable success despite obvious incompetence.
You aren’t going to beat the mediocre white men rocketing through life on hopes, prayers, and a kickass combination of white male privilege — this is his game, after all. But you can join him by asking yourself: WWMWMD?
He wouldn’t let doubts keep him from reaching for stars he has no business even craning his neck to stare at. He leaps first, looks later, or not at all. Not qualified for the job? Who the fuck cares? That’s what learning while doing is for. Or, better, delegating it to a lower level employee and then taking the credit. I don’t suggest being an asshole to reach your goals, but do try on some of that mediocre white male confidence for yourself. It feels pretty damned good. And after walking around encased in it for a while, you’ll find yourself making it much more than you’re faking it.
This was a lesson I finally learned the hard way last year, surrounded by men who should have known better than I did based on length of experience but didn’t actually appear to. It suddenly dawned on me: I can do this better than they can, yet I’m letting the nasty bitch inside my head hold me back. I’m competent, hardworking, intelligent, and tired of putting up with this absolute shitshow. Thus, WWMWMD? was born.
Go ahead, ladies, drape yourself in that unearned, audaciously scintillating confidence, and stride into any situation life presents as though you own the place. You might feel like a sheep among wolves at first. But I guarantee you that wearing that rich, warm coat of stolen fur will quickly turn you into a wolf yourself. And then? Sky’s the limit.