Saturday, April 19, 2014

Confidence Gap Or Confidence Game

Amanda Hess believes that Claire Shipman and Katty Kay are trying to sell confidence to women. I agree.

Given how well Sheryl Sandberg has been doing with Lean In, the world must need a new book on women’s confidence gap. It’s better than another feminist disquisition about thigh gaps.

Shipman and Kay have written a book called The Confidence Code. They are marketing it with an Atlantic article called: “The Confidence Gap.”

Hess comments on the phenomenon:

Books like The Confidence Code and Lean In smartly target the perfectionist overachievers who are the most likely to gravitate toward self-help—women who are woefully deficient in self-esteem yet are committed to studying overtime in an attempt to make up for it. The Confidence Code may not bring them success, but it will gladly take their money.

Shipman and Kay suggest that they do not want women to be more like men, but Hess remarks that that is where their advice leads. They are making male confidence a standard worthy of emulation.

If you can advance your career by pretending to be something you are not, this might work. If not, it probably won’t. Besides, Hess adds, the role models that Shipman and Kay hold up appear to be caricatures:

A few years ago, in the wake of the financial crisis, the think piece du jour centered on how overconfident men were a danger to themselves and their country. Now, women are being told to ape these poisonous personality quirks for feminist life lessons. Buy these books and you, too, can become a successful blowhard.

Whether the problem is real or imaginary, many feminist thinkers are troubled by it. How does it happen, Shipman and Kay argue, that women, who are clearly just as competent as men, do not succeed as often in the corporate world as do men.

Of course, if women are really just as good, or better than men at, for example, managing money, then surely the marketplace will rectify the inequality.

Shipman and Kay believe that women lack confidence. Assuming that men and women are equally competent, men show more confidence than woman. They find that this singular fact, what we would otherwise call a lack of self-esteem, explains everything.

Sad to say, it isn’t a very original idea.

One suspects that the authors are running a confidence game, not a very sophisticated one at that.

What explains the confidence gap? All of the authors agree that it bespeaks a deeply engrained sexism.

Or else, it bespeaks a will to see reality through ideological blinders.  Women would surely be more competent on their jobs if feminist ideology had not blinded so many of them to reality.

Saying that manifestations of gender difference are a function of sexism shows a failure to deal with reality. Why wants to hire a corporate executive who cannot see the difference between reality and her grand ideas.

Jezebelle Tracy Moore states the ideological point clearly:

But Shipman and Kay are still dead on: Women often universally feel less worthy than men in spite of proven ability because we live in a culture that constantly devalues our contributions, and literally pays us less for them. We live in a world that telegraphs to men that they are good at leadership regardless of their people skills. This is not to suggest politics don't exist for men — but rather, on the most basic level, bias exists more for everyone else. It's real.

Moore is arguing that when Shipman and Kay tell women to buy their book and increase their confidence they are ignoring sexism.

In truth, the authors do acknowledge the realities that, while not necessarily holding women back, might make them less interested in becoming corporate honchos.

It’s worth keeping in mind that both Shipman and Kay are on-air television personalities. It’s a bit more like being an actress than being a high-level corporate manager.

If a woman’s job is less time consuming, she will have time to, for example, care for her children. But, that’s not a function of low self-esteem. It’s a free choice.

Unfortunately, each time Shipman and Key raise a salient issue, they dismiss it and say that, all you need is confidence:

Maternal instincts do contribute to a complicated emotional tug between home and work lives, a tug that, at least for now, isn’t as fierce for most men. Other commentators point to cultural and institutional barriers to female success. There’s truth in that, too. But these explanations for a continued failure to break the glass ceiling are missing something more basic: women’s acute lack of confidence.

They recognize the influence of hormones, and again dismiss it:

We all know testosterone and estrogen as the forces behind many of the basic, overt differences between men and women. It turns out they are involved in subtler personality dynamics as well. The main hormonal driver for women is, of course, estrogen. By supporting the part of the brain involved in social skills and observations, estrogen seems to encourage bonding and connection, while discouraging conflict and risk taking—tendencies that might well hinder confidence in some contexts.

Men have about 10 times more testosterone pumping through their system than women do, and it affects everything from speed to strength to muscle size to competitive instinct. It is thought of as the hormone that encourages a focus on winning and demonstrating power, and for good reason. 

Could this be an important factor in explaining why women are disinclined to claw their way up the corporate status hierarchy? Shipman and Kay disagree, to the point where they seem to suggest that more confidence will change a woman’s hormones and even the structure of her brain.

Unfortunately, they distort some of the research in brain science to suggest that the biology of the brain is plastic, thus, can be molded to make women more fierce corporate competitors.

Of course, this is nonsense. I posted Larry Cahill’s definitive refutation of the point.

Besides, isn’t there a price to pay when women become more like men? No one objects when women choose to pay that price, but why should it become an ideal toward which women should strive? And why should it be the message sent out by two women who clearly use their femininity and their glamour on their own jobs?

You do not have to have lived too long to know that when a man gets a big promotion and becomes the alpha in an organization, women find him to be exceptionally attractive. When a woman attains great corporate success men turn away from her.

And then, there’s the emulation problem.

Leaders lead by setting an example. They do not have to tell their employees what to do or how to conduct themselves because said employees will voluntarily imitate habits they associate with leadership.

Employees will imitate a manner of dress, a way of talking, even quirks and idiosyncrasies. They do so because they want to rise to the top of the hierarchy.

Problems arise when the chief executive is a woman. Most of her male employees will not want to be like her. Consciously or unconsciously they will not do as she does; they will do as she does not do. Even her female employees will not want to emulate her example. More often than not they will not want her life. They will not want to be unmarried, divorced or married to someone beneath them. They will want to find a career path that allows them to spend more time with their children and be better mothers.

It has nothing to do with their confidence. It’s a free choice that they have every right to make.

Like it or not, it’s human nature. Women know it. Some choose to forge ahead, despite the problems. Others choose a better balance between their work lives and their home lives. They know that you cannot at the same time be a great corporate executive and a great mother.

Moreover, once a profession ceases to be male-dominant, it will lose status and prestige. Fewer and fewer males will want to be part of it. An equal number of men and women in a profession will feminize the profession.

And then, high achieving corporate women often feel like frauds and imposters. Shipman and Kay note that even Sheryl Sandberg and Valerie Jarrett feel like frauds and imposters.

They report:

As it happens, this is essentially what Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told us a year before her book, Lean In, was published: “There are still days I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.”

Does Sheryl Sandberg lack confidence? If so, confidence in what? One suspects that she does not lack confidence in her ability to be COO of Facebook. Perhaps she does not feel that she is doing a very good job in other areas of her life.

But, here feminism and affirmative action also play a role. When someone has been hired or promoted to fill a quota or to make it appear that a company values diversity, his or her value will be diminished. Students who are admitted to colleges to fulfill affirmative action criteria are assumed, by themselves and by others, not to belong there. Shelby Steele noted this phenomenon years ago.

Regardless of whether corporations have diversity quotas, the thought police are on the case. In today’s culture, important segments of the media do not care about whether a company is making money. They do not care about whether a government agency functions well. They do not care about whether a movie or a television show is good, bad or indifferent. They mostly care about how diverse it looks.

Beyond the fact that she’s a woman, what has Hillary Clinton done to make her the presumptive Democratic nominee for president? Beyond the fact of his race, what did Barack Obama do to qualify him for the presidency?

When people in such positions take office, they often feel like imposters and frauds. Even if they worked their way to the top, the existence of the diversity thought police will make them feel like they did not earn what they have… even if they did.


Dennis said...

Utter drivel not based on any real fact. Here is a response written by Mollie Hemingway that just decimates the aforementioned commentary:

Sorry about posting it twice.

Anonymous said...

So now confidence is a PRODUCT that can just come off the shelf, eh? Try it, you'll like it. And if you order in the next 15 minutes...

What's striking about Sandberg's "fraud" quote is that one gets the sense that something is supposed to happen, like you become COO and the planets should align and everything's going to be just grand. More magical thinking from the materialist, foolish mind.

Storytellers like Shipman and Kay make everything so simple and tidy... they make it sound so easy. Their explanations for why it's not are so simple (sexism) and their solutions are so easy (affirmative action). If anything, it demonstrates the lack of self-respect for feminine strengths and sensibilities, and a lack of respect for masculine strengths and gifts. So we wonder why women have low self-esteem? We wonder why boys today are checking out? We have feminized our culture to the point where no one is happy. In seeking to equalize the economic value of the feminine with the masculine, we've devalued both. I predict history will not be kind to the last 40 years of American culture and thought.

What also jumped out from this piece is the breathtaking arrogance about biology. We now understand that biology is unfair, and rigs the game against women because they're not endowed with the most economically significant traits in terms of earning power. Wow, great. So what does one do? It sounds hopeless, and hopelessness is not conducive to self-esteem. OR, better yet, why don't we just deny biology and live out this bizarre social fantasy that will never come reality? Reality is boring.

After all, "Some people look at things that are, and say 'why?' I dream things that never were, and say ''why not?" (RFK) I'll tell you why not... because it gives people a FALSE sense of hope. It's utopian. It's not attainable. And utopianism is a potent reason for people dying prematurely: either killing one another to have the impossible, or dying by their own hand because nothing that they thought their life should be seems possible. Ideas have consequences.

Storytellers have an enormous impact on society because they create the narratives that fuel the dreams of what is possible. Yet storytellers also have a level of responsibility, and that's what they're not living up to today. Our journalists, gurus, spiritualists, and public intellectuals have precious little wisdom, and mock those who do have wisdom because they're "too traditional" and not "cool" enough. Our storytellers look at things superficially and obsess over immutable characteristics (race, sex, etc.) while destroying their opposition who dare speak a word about the same topics. Our society has lost the value of industry, enterprise, thrift, initiative and, most importantly, results. Storytellers create meaning, and today's storytellers are telling us things that diminish meaning because they hold no truth. Life becomes a meaningless lie: the full realization of the postmodern nightmare. And so people -- especially young people -- are walking around disillusioned, because what they've come to believe isn't working for them. It simply doesn't work. And they're pissed off. Not a good way to live. Or love.

When one denies the way things are, they start to wreak havoc. Biology is part of the way things are. You can manipulate it, but there are consequences. Yet the are so many people who both deny the truth and the consequences. That is dangerous.

Stuart, the last three paragraphs of your post are brilliant. Simply brilliant. Had enough therapy, indeed.


Kath said...

A great article and a good comment by anonymous.

Women are miserable. Damned if they take care of their families and angry if they choose a career instead. Of course men are also miserable.

Young people are very confused. We are leaving them a big mess to navigate. When and if they ever figure it out they will be at least ninety years old.

Anonymous said...

This exposes the bigger issue in American public sphere: almost everything is upside-down. There's a national confidence gap, and it's because of the confidence game being sold by our institutional elites, who increasingly have no connection to reality. Everything is soaked in ideological spin and wishful thinking.

And it's not just what's on the surface. I don't know what's really up with this Bundy thing in Nevada, but I do know there has to be a better way to deal with a 68-year-old rancher who's unlawfully grazing cattle than to show up with a heavily-armed paramilitary wing of the federal bureaucracy. Meanwhile, we've found we have "no options" in dealing with an international thug like Putin. Does this make sense to anyone?

It seems as though nothing is real. It's all a big show. It's like we can no longer separate fact from fiction as we gaze into the glowing box. So many young people today haven't a clue… literally. It used to be that young people were immature and sorting out their fit in the world. Today's young are frighteningly gullible, with a deep conviction that everything is relative. All the institutions that support their upbringing are "educating" them about a Neverland world that makes science fiction appear levelheaded. We have rampant emotivism and sentimentality at the expense of ethics, providing little training in the areas of virtue and character. We are left morally adrift, with an "anything goes" popular culture where attempts to moderate self-declared "rights" are viewed with incredulous horror. "I'm offended" is the reflexive magic phrase to halt any conversation attempting to challenge the unformed intellect. You're not offended. You're ungrounded. There's a difference.

Few have any confidence at all. Women look exhausted and angry. Men look purposeless and sedated. Children look fearful and worried.

I'd love to say it's Obama, but that misses the point behind the story. The man was elected twice by tens of millions. Our cast of public characters is telling us something about our own collective character, and the message is most unsettling. I don't want to say we're going down the tubes, but something is seriously off the rails.

You can't package up confidence in a box and call it "girl power." Confidence has nothing to do with self-esteem. It's tied to self-worth, and to have self-worth, you have to accomplish things and be satisfied with them. If you want to be an accomplished, powerful businesswoman, knock yourself out. But this fiction that you can "have it all" is just that: a fiction. You cannot serve two masters. Be responsible for your choices. The longer I live, I realize that my hang-ups are mine, not because of anything someone did to me. Human wants are insatiable. We're not all here to provide you what you want. This is a critical realization in becoming an adult.

We can't rid the world of testosterone and estrogen, so what are we going to do? Lie to ourselves and make pretend hormones are like policy decisions and have "unintended consequences?" Men and women are complementary, by design. Why is so much of our discourse about oppression? Who's oppressing you? I can't change the fact that I'm a man anymore than I can change the seasons or the tides. As if being a man is the cat's meow, and everything is oh-so-easy. The victim conversation breeds this kind of thinking, because it anchors the exchange in who's been more damaged over the course of this crazy life. That's a crappy conversation, and no good is going to come out of it. The premise brings more unhappiness.

What in the world are we doing?


David Foster said...

Confidence is good when it maps into true skills/knowledge; it is dangerous when it does not. In aviation (for example), excessive confidence kills people, in business, it bankrupts them.

Dennis said...


Nicely stated.

There are times when I think that PJ O'Rourke was prescient.

In the words of P.J. O'Rourke:

“At the core of liberalism is the spoiled child – miserable, as all spoiled children are, unsatisfied, demanding, ill-disciplined, despotic and useless. Liberalism is a philosophy of sniveling brats.”

This describes Feminism as well. I keep waiting for some signs of adulthood, but the society just keeps enabling this kind of behavior.
There is a cynical side of me that almost hopes for a disaster just to see how long these people survive, but alas I am just to kind to wish that on others. Spent too much time protecting their rights to be whiny children.
I have made the statement before that GOD, Mother Nature or whatever one believes in created two different genders as the norm for a reason.

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Anonymous said...

I have, had for years, a quibble with all this. We're talking "careers"; professional success; more money, fame, power, status.

How many people are we talking? 20%? 10%?

I'm no Leveler or Socialist. But it seems to me the vast majority of people are simply trying to survive.

Working to live, often paycheck to paycheck. Hoping to keep their jobs and homes. Retirement for them is pretty dream.

Not so much talk about them. A little. Not enough. -- Rich Lara