Photo and blog by Larkin Oates
Lately, when walking my Labrador Corky, I have been listening to The Confidence Code. Authors Claire Shipman and Katty Kay have done extensive research about the origins of confidence, particularly in women.
A remarkable truth rose to the forefront of their work. It surprised me, but even in the higher ranks of their careers, too many women in the United States still struggle with confidence. Then, during a recent Presidential debate, America heard one Presidential candidate call the other a “Nasty Woman.” In hindsight, it makes sense that Kay and Shipman’s research found a confidence gap between men and women.
Numerous women and minorities have experienced such snide or demoralizing remarks, implying that our power, or competence are out of line. Hearing such subliminal or overt threats, hurled towards us, or our mothers, is at the very least off-putting.
Last night, while surfing the television channels I scanned through Caddyshack and Anchorman. At times, I could not believe how lewd the males were when talking about their female counterparts. Even if the crass behavior was meant to convey the idiocy of certain characters, I wonder if children have the maturity to detect the nuance. I am curious how many young people have someone explain why talking about others in such a fashion is hurtful. I also ponder if insensitive words flung by bullies have become culturally normalized. Maybe too many of us are immune and therefore might try and avoid any discussion of the media’s disrespect for women and minorities.
Perhaps some women believe they are inferior and cannot see the point of discussing this topic with the men in their lives. They might feel unclear as to why such a talk with their children might help.
Here’s why. As a child, I remember thinking that Archie Bunker was mean when he talked to women and African Americans. I thought the show was hurtful. I was too young to understand that Archie’s behavior was social commentary trying to challenge racism and sexism. The threshold the show pushed was obvious to my family, however no one thought to explain that to me.
The phrase “Nasty Woman,” epitomizes the verbal spewing by bullies like Archie Bunker, threatened by another’s power or growth. When women or minorities, (President Obama) are spoken about as objects or demeaned in the media, not all young people are equipped to interpret it, and the belittling may be internalized.
For some, a bully’s remarks are threatening. However subliminal or overt, mean spirited comments seep into the subconscious. Since it is an animal instinct to back away from perceived danger, I wonder how many of us unintentionally step away from our dreams, or empowerment, to avoid the threat. Nasty Women.
I imagine how someone interprets and internalizes such remarks is partially determined by internal factors such as confidence. According to Kay and Shipman, to aid confidence, some women may be more neurochemically gifted, with genes like COMT and Drd4 that aid optimism and forward planning. Other women, raised in certain supportive environments, might also tend towards the increased confidence needed to stand against those who still treat women and minorities as second-class citizens.
The good news is that the research found by Kay and Shipman suggests that, one’s confidence can be enhanced. We can rewrite tapes in our head, overcoming “our genetic blueprint” or upbringing in a number of ways.
Hopefully our youths feel encouraged hearing public figures like Michelle Obama speak against abusive language and behavior. For example, she denounced Trump for his decade old lewd statement that he could grab any woman he wanted. She said his language should not be pushed aside as, “just locker room talk,” as he claimed. She stated that his words were those of a predator, and are not acceptable.
For any of us who grew up hearing Trump’s type of language either normalized, or left unexplained, Our First Lady’s speech was validating to hear. And, I imagine recent similar messages from the Canadian Prime Minister are also boosting women’s morale everywhere.
Hurray! The American public is madly tweeting that they denounce such behavior towards women and minorities, expressing that it is unacceptable. I feel that with public protest and dialogue, if we are not all numb to bullying, more Americans can continue on their paths towards confidence with renewed passion and hope.