Nice Girls Don’t Brag: How Dare You Claim Your Achievements if You’re a Woman
Just who the hell do you think you are?
Sounds like a brag to me.
Why do you have to throw your weight around so much?
You need to be taken down a peg or two.
I wonder if anyone would say these kinds of things to Jane Goodall. To Marion Albright. To the Williams sisters (Okay, let’s be fair, LOTS of trollers and haters have said this to Venus and Serena)
As a frequent contributor to Medium, I regularly mention activities that I engage in as an adventure traveler. Or, that I have written two prize-winning books. The intense training regimen I engage in at the age of 65.
Every so often someone- almost always close to my age, either male or female, will lob a potshot at me for bragging.
Sounding arrogant. As though I mention these things to imply superiority. As though, simply by mentioning them, my purpose is to put others down.
How dare I?
While I am in no way even remotely equal to the luminaries listed above, like them, I have my own set of achievements.
I worked my ever loving ass off to get there. Climb massive mountains. Score big Fortune 500 clients. Become an excellent speaker. A decent athlete very late in life.
What on earth lives in the deep inner worlds of men and women in our society that they are offended when a woman- and let’s be fair, this is gender-specific — owns her own real estate?
How DARE you let people know about your accomplishments, in other words?
Traditional gender roles dictate to women in America (and elsewhere) that we are to support the community, support our men, and celebrate others’ achievements. Not our own. In fact, to the detriment of our careers, our lives and our sense of self. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270643008_Women's_Bragging_Rights
To be joyful about our accomplishments is seen as a combination of improper, flaunting and rude. We become targets for derision as well as a dartboard for attacks.
I’ve experienced this plenty of times. When I was on Match.com, for example, I posted photos of all the activities I love and happen to be pretty damned good at. Skydiving, scuba diving, bungee jumping, horseback riding, mountain climbing, kayaking.
I’m not an expert at any, but competent at most. Untold, unbelievable hours of incredibly hard work to get there, especially since I began with obesity.
Those photos, and the self-effacing copy that accompanied them, elicited dripping sarcasm and personal attacks, almost always from men my age.
How dare you, they said? How dare you lay claim to your abilities and accomplishments?
Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?
Okay, let’s begin with that. An accomplished world traveler, prize-winning author, prize-winning business woman, prize-winning journalist. A highly competent athlete at 65, with beauty queen measurements. Superb health.
That statement set makes some folks grind their teeth. Especially men and older women.
I have to ask, why on earth?
If these things are true, what is it about having a woman make these statements is so offensive, so insulting?
The Australian teenager Jade Hameister skiied to the South Pole at the tender age of 16.
What, she’s supposed to never tell anyone? She’s not allowed to tell the world about this, which might very well inspire a great many other girls to attempt something pretty awesome? (The good news is that she actively speaks, which is gift to us all)
To that I have to say, screw you and your gender-judgments, your deep insecurities, and your fears.
Because Hameister, and all those women like her, like you, like me, who have ever put in the time, the dime, the incredibly hard work to achieve something challenging bloody well deserve to get recognized for it.
Where do we get off saying it’s perfectly fine for a man to strut out his stuff, brag about climbing Everest, discuss his achievements, but for women, it’s an insult to us all?
Women can be just as brutal in criticizing other women who are pleased with their hard-won achievements. While many of us can be and are very supportive of each other, in a research environment women will more often choose a self-promoting man over a woman. One who has the temerity to brag during an interview is more likely to be passed over for a man who says precisely the same things about himself.
The cost of breaking gender norms in a patriarchal society is high. We get ostracized not only for being female, but for being an accomplished female, if we dare to call attention to those things we’ve made our own. From the summit of Everest to winning tennis tournaments, from achieving a weight loss goal to getting that corner office and the plum promotion.
Keep your big flapping mouth shut.
We are, however, expected to promote others. I am a huge fan of this, and did precisely that when I ran a very successful woman’s group in Spokane (Networking Magic, Rick Frishman and Jill Lublin). I found extraordinary women in the community, interviewed them and teased out some of their best stories. When I introduced them to my group, I would highlight what others “would never guess.” These women- every single one of them no matter the age- blushed furiously and nearly crawled under the table when I did this.
Why on earth is it a sin to be celebrated? To be feted for what we rightfully own? We are deeply grateful for validation from others, but are taught we shouldn’t ask for it. Shouldn’t speak out about our worthy deeds.
While I agree that being overly boastful can be and is offensive, why is it such a crime when women even mention their achievements?
How dare we shine -especially when in the company of men?
Let’s be clear here. There’s a broad ravine between humility and hubris. When you and I do the work to reach a BHAG, it’s a fine thing to enjoy that achievement and be humbled by the generosity of those who helped us get there. Hubris is when we take too much credit ourselves, downplay others’ contributions to our lives, or lord it over others in a peacock-like display of arrogance.
This isn’t that.
This is the imposition of a societal norm that says we women do not have the right to our own excellence.
The idea of the graceful, sweet, humble woman has hobbled our genius for centuries. This Smithsonian article details superbly gifted women composers whose competence should have made them as common a household name as Vivaldi or Beethoven: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/these-women-composers-should-be-household-names-bach-or-mozart-180958464/
Here are some examples in the film industry: https://bust.com/feminism/15890-groundbreaking-women-whose-husbands-got-the-credit.html.
In art, in a famous story about Walter Keane and his prolific but invisible wife: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2852410/Artist-Walter-Keane-millions-wife-did-work.html.
And of course, in literature: https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/articles/12-female-writers-who-wrote-under-male-pseudonyms/.
How dare we be geniuses?
In a much more recent vein, Cuban-American genius Sabrina Paterski, who is hailed as the next Einstein, built her first airplane in her early teens. Her teacher at the time, when given this information, slapped her down with condescension, then inquired about what she had really done. Paterski, to her credit, used that insult as a rallying cry.
Yah. How dare she be that smart. That accomplished. That superb. That young. It’s the teacher who was arrogant, not Paterski.
How DARE she?
Even worse, in this era of immigrant hatred, how dare she be that good and be half Cuban? How DARE she?
Her story has some interesting footnotes: Pasterski was rejected from Harvard and waitlisted at MIT in the spring of 2010, before eventually being accepted. From there, she graduated with the highest honors and entered the prestigious Harvard PhD program, gaining accolades such as a $250,000 Hertz Foundation fellowship for her research.-Curiosity.com
Rejected from Harvard. Waitlisted at MIT. Clearly among the smartest people in the world (people, thank you, not just women), these institutions almost barred her from becoming so inventive that Stephen Hawking followed her work. She graduated with a perfect 5.0 grade average.
After being rejected by Harvard. It boggles the mind.
How dare she?
How dare she not?
For more on Sabrina see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabrina_Gonzalez_Pasterski
Here’s the piece. By forcing our best and brightest to shut the hell up and make pancakes and sandwiches for the REAL achievers- the men- not only do we lose the gifts, contributions and badly-needed talents of our women, but we also strip our girls of even more sorely-needed role models.
We hobble our future by handcuffing our girls to husbandry.
Paterski serves as a brilliant beacon to those girls who excel in math and sciences, where they are verbally tarred and feathered by boys and teachers alike. Women in computer science and in the gaming world are brutally harassed, yet women were at the forefront of the industry. They were the first programmers.
The Black women who ensured NASA’s success, not just Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn, but these as well:https://www.biography.com/news/black-female-scientists-black-history.
The Williams sisters, Lindsay Vonn and women like them serve as guideposts to young girls who dream of the Olympic podium, even as their male counterparts jeer at and diminish their excellence.
To say nothing of Shirley Chisholm, who has inspired vastly more Black women to run for office, make waves, make a difference and fight for us all.
To say nothing of decorated veteran and Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, who has magnificently blazed a trail for women, women veterans, and women senators.
Superb, every single one of them, in her own way.
We are making progress. Centimeter by centimeter, we are taking down the walls of resistance to female excellence in all things, be it space exploration or spatial intelligence.
Why do women need permission to be excellent at anything? What makes it even more offensive if she is a woman of color?
What makes male egos so tender that not only do they fear women’s competence, that they will also attack it when they see it as unseemly?
What makes other women so deeply insecure that they will lob the most vicious darts at those among us who dare to rise?
God only knows how many other female Shakespeares, Einsteins and Mozarts the world has lost because of patriarchal prejudice.
This is ever so much more than “you go, girl.” This is a fundamental re-writing of behavioral norms and expectations that tamp down our potential, if not bury it altogether.
My minor achievements pale in comparison to the geniuses I’ve listed here. But small as those accomplishments might be, speaking to them, mentioning them at all still sets off fireworks among a significant portion of the population.
How dare you, a granny-aged woman of 65, go out and traipse the world on horseback. climb big mountains, jump off Croatian bridges, kayak Icelandic fjords? It’s unseemly.
You’re goddamned right it is. I was inspired by the wonderfully unapologetic Beryl Markham and women just like her — all of whom paid a high price for being first, being damned good, and proud of it.
I’m justifiably proud of what I have done and still do.
Just as I am just as proud of any other woman who has accomplished something she has every right to celebrate. Her work lifts me. My work lifts her. Our collective work lifts us all.
Just as any attack on any woman who has reached a personal pinnacle rips the heart and soul out of us all.
Got a problem with a woman’s legitimate claim to fame? That is, indeed, your problem, not hers.