I had a great post all written on why confidence is a feminist issue, and then I did one of those things where I deleted the entire flipping thing and couldn’t get it back. I am afraid that I don’t have it in me to write the same again, so I’ll just give some of the highlights.
I’ve been reading and thinking about confidence lately in relation to my sport performance. Especially I’m aware that I convince myself of all sorts of negative things — I’m slow, I’ll always be last on the bike, I’ll never get any better…etc.
Confidence is a feminist issue because, as it turns out, there is a confidence gap. Men are way more confident than women in all sorts of ways, and in a world where confidence takes people further than competence, that cashes out into all sorts of systemic advantages for men.
An article, “The Confidence Gap,” appeared in The Atlantic Monthly back in April. The authors point out that:
there is a particular crisis for women—a vast confidence gap that separates the sexes. Compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities. This disparity stems from factors ranging from upbringing to biology.
A growing body of evidence shows just how devastating this lack of confidence can be. Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence. No wonder that women, despite all our progress, are still woefully underrepresented at the highest levels. All of that is the bad news. The good news is that with work, confidence can be acquired. Which means that the confidence gap, in turn, can be closed.
So the bad news is, women haven’t got as much confidence as men and that has a negative impact on where women get to in life. The good news is that there are things that can change this.
But it’s not so simple as it might seem. Men gain status by being overconfident. But women who are overconfident aren’t perceived in as positive a light. They are more likely to be thought badly of:
Which is why any discussion of this subject requires a major caveat. Yes, women suffer consequences for their lack of confidence—but when they do behave assertively, they may suffer a whole other set of consequences, ones that men don’t typically experience. Attitudes toward women are changing, and for the better, but a host of troubling research shows that they can still pay a heavier social and even professional penalty than men do for acting in a way that’s seen as aggressive. If a woman walks into her boss’s office with unsolicited opinions, speaks up first at meetings, or gives business advice above her pay grade, she risks being disliked or even—let’s be blunt—being labeled a bitch. The more a woman succeeds, the worse the vitriol seems to get. It’s not just her competence that’s called into question; it’s her very character.
But what about in sport performance? And what about confidence as that internal resource, not necessarily external bravado, that says, “I can do this”?
The Atlantic article says that participation in sport alone has a positive impact on confidence. But girls tend to drop out of sports in high school:
Studies evaluating the impact of the 1972 Title IX legislation, which made it illegal for public schools to spend more on boys’ athletics than on girls’, have found that girls who play team sports are more likely to graduate from college, find a job, and be employed in male-dominated industries. There’s even a direct link between playing sports in high school and earning a bigger salary as an adult. Learning to own victory and survive defeat in sports is apparently good training for owning triumphs and surviving setbacks at work. And yet, despite Title IX, fewer girls than boys participate in athletics, and many who do quit early. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, girls are still six times as likely as boys to drop off sports teams, with the steepest decline in participation coming during adolescence. This is probably because girls suffer a larger decrease in self-esteem during that time than do boys.
What a vicious circle: girls lose confidence, so they quit competing, thereby depriving themselves of one of the best ways to regain it.
It makes me wonder whether, had I had a different experience in sports as a girl, I might just be a more confident athlete today (and more confident in general, but right now my self-perception as a slow poke is the thing that is holding me back the most).
According to this article, confidence is one of the four Cs of good sport performance. The others are commitment, control, and concentration. The author says of confidence:
Confidence is a positive state of mind and a belief that you can meet the challenge ahead – a feeling of being in control. It is not the situation that directly affects confidence; thoughts, assumptions and expectations can build or destroy confidence.
High self confidence
- Thoughts – positive thoughts of success
- Feelings – excited, anticipation, calm, elation, prepared
- Focus – on self, on the task
- Behaviour – give maximum effort and commitment, willing to take chances, positive reaction to set backs, open to learning, take responsibility for outcomes
Low self confidence
- Thoughts – negative, defeat or failure, doubt
- Feelings – tense, dread, fear. not wanting to take part
- Focus – on others, on less relevant factors (coach, umpire, conditions)
- Behaviour – lack of effort, likely to give up, unwilling to take risks (rather play safe), blame others or conditions for outcome
So it’s something I can work on. Meanwhile, I’m encouraged by Amy Cuddy’s research on power-posing, discussed by Sam on the blog way back in 2012. See her post “Power Poses, Feminism, and Taking Up Space.” There she talks about the results of Cuddy’s research that show that you can develop and exude confidence with a few minutes of power posing when you most need it. I myself find the wonder woman pose really helps when I’m feeling insecure about how I’m about to perform. But I haven’t yet applied it much with respect to sports performance.
That is something for this summer. I’ll report back about how it’s going. If you hear me complaining that I’m too slow or whining that I’m never going to get faster, feel free to call me out on it.
Meanwhile, for those who missed it the first time, here’s Amy Cuddy on power-posing.