A few years ago, a colleague of mine asserted that pride was the original sin shared by everyone. I thought for a moment, and had to admit that I did not resonate with his assessment. Pride assumed that one had more confidence than they should, or that it was misplaced. But I—and many of my female colleagues and students—hardly suffered from that. Instead we struggled to believe we had anything to contribute. Self-doubt, not pride, was our demon.
Call this the impostor syndrome, a psychological term for someone's overall inability to internalize their own accomplishments, and the topic on Scot McKnight's blog recently. Sufferers attribute successes not to their gifts and achievements but to luck, sheer timing, affirmative action, or their ability to trick others. They tend to downplay success when someone congratulates them. According to a study cited by McKnight, "This syndrome is thought to be particularly common among women who are successful in their given careers and is typically associated with academics …. It is also widely found among graduate students."
McKnight cited an e-mail from a female colleague, an academic who, due to ingrained ideas about intellect and gender, had internalized the sense that she didn't belong at the table:
Even being a woman myself, I'm aware that I don't value women as much as I value men. While I read many books by and about women or girls when I was younger, as I got older I somehow acquired prejudice against them. I even noticed that if I was enjoying a book and then found out the author was female I would be disappointed and immediately, on those grounds alone, think less of it. I'm starting to recover from that now, as I learn that being female or feminine does not ...1
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