Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Do You Have What It Takes?

Do you have what it takes to be a famous photographer? If so, do participate in this competition I saw advertised on a website with that same headline.

But what if you actually would be a genius photographer but have no self-confidence? What happens then? Or what if you have higher standards about your work than the competition has about their work? What if you decide that you are not good enough to participate in that competition or any other competition? You will go to your grave with your talents unused.

This question matters for feminists, because there are studies which suggest that women, on average, have less confidence in their ability and more rigorous standards about what makes their work good, that women submit fewer manuscripts in academia than men, though often very good manuscripts, and that women also submit fewer opinion pieces in political writing and so on. It's not possible to measure the prevalence of this problem and a good study about it would be very welcome. But perhaps it's time to discuss this question and also the headline of this article.

When I started graduate school, a professor told us students: "Look to your right. Look to your left. Only one of you three will finish the course." My first thoughts on hearing this was that he was fucking rude and that the university was taking our money on false premises, not intending to teach us well enough for most to pass. But right after those thoughts I wondered if I was good enough. See how it works? Perhaps someone different would have found the quip a great spur for working harder?

Where do those worms of doubt come from, especially when there is no evidence for them? Is it family upbringing? Societal effects? Note that I'm singling out those cases where the lack of confidence is not deserved in the particular instance under discussion.

And why does this seem to be a more common problem for women than for men?