I Didn’t See This Coming!

Okay, I’ve finally figured it out.  There is a secret ingredient in estrogen that goes straight to your prefrontal cortex and tells you time and again, morning to night, that you are not good enough.  It’s sort of a birthright of being a female.

When I was a man, I cannot tell you how rare it was for me to question myself.  Kindergarten and second grade were rough. Junior high was tough because, well, it was junior high.  And I was transgender.  But the rest of my life was a breeze.  In high school and college, I was singled out as a student of promise and got all the attention that came with it.  Once I graduated from college, life was even better.  I got the jobs I wanted at the places I wanted.  I knew my weaknesses, but they didn’t seem to hinder me much.  I rarely questioned my abilities.  Then I transitioned.

In January I spoke at a company in Washington, D.C.  I told their Chief People Officer that I didn’t think I had done very well.  In March I spoke at a university and told Tori from my speaker’s agency, that I didn’t think I’d been at my best.  I turned in the second draft of my memoir Monday and told a bunch of friends I thought it was okay, just okay.

I met yesterday with the leaders of a conference for which I am speaking and when I got off the call I thought, “They’re probably wondering why they even booked me for this event.”  A small thing happened at church last week that left all three female co-pastors questioning themselves for, like, three days.  Then we had to talk about it, and talk.  It had to leave John, our other co-pastor, thinking, “What’d I miss?”

When I was a man, I never understood why women were so so often so insecure.  Now that I am a woman, I understand only too well.  Women are insecure because the world has made women insecure.  After six decades of unbridled confidence, just six years as a woman have left me with half the confidence I used to have.  It is not because I am transgender.  The only people who treat me prejudicially because I am transgender are evangelicals and right wing bigots and there are not many of those in my life.  Most people treat me like I am a woman and always have been, and therein lies the problem.

There are a lot of ways in which men treat women that cause women to feel less than.  Being treated as if you do not know what you are talking about, being interrupted when you speak and subjected to constant mansplaining are not exactly confidence builders.  Since my first TEDxMileHigh talk, I’ve heard from women all over the world thanking me for validating their experience.  We live in a patriarchal and misogynistic world.  But that is only half of the problem.  There is another reason women are insecure.  Women do not empower each other. They see each other as competition.

Women have been taught since childhood that they have to be perfect to compete with men, and they not only expect perfection of themselves, they expect it of each other.  Because there are fewer leadership opportunities for women, they are more territorial than men, and more inclined to see another woman as a threat, not an accomplice.  That has been an unwelcome reality of being a female.  It is a competitive female world out there.  But like many great truths, it is paradoxical.  Women are competitive, but they are also collaborative.

The female heads of state of Norway, Finland, Iceland, Germany, Taiwan, and New Zealand have all successfully battled the Coronavirus.  They are empathetic, so their fellow-citizens are more likely to listen to them.  They are collaborative, seeing scientists as equals, not subordinates.  They compromise easily, make quick course corrections when they realize they are wrong, and have humility and confidence.  On the whole, I’m convinced women make the best CEOs and government leaders.  They are collaborative but make no mistake about it.  They are also competitive.

I’ve doubted myself more in six years than I did in the previous 60.  I’m serious.  If most women feel this way, and most of the ones I’ve talked with feel this way, then I don’t know how they’ve survived this long.

Or maybe I am completely wrong and have no idea what I am talking about.  Maybe the patriarchal world has had nothing to do with making us this way.  Maybe I was right in the beginning.  Maybe there is a secret ingredient in estrogen that goes straight to your prefrontal cortex and tells you time and again, morning to night, that you are not good enough.  All I know is that this doubting myself is just one more thing about being a woman that is nowhere near what I expected it to be.

27 thoughts on “I Didn’t See This Coming!

  1. A friend of mine explained it this way – men are metaphorically swimming downstream in society, so they figure they must be fantastic swimmers and everyone on the shoreline agrees, and cheer them on. Women, on the other hand, are metaphorically swimming upstream, so they are filled with doubt, wondering why they aren’t better swimmers (and hence buy multiple self-help books to improve their swim skills), and people along the shoreline wonder why women aren’t succeeding and those that do swim so aggressively.

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  2. I always enjoy your thoughts and hesitate to bring this but I do trust your integrity. I think that if we are ever going to get anywhere and have a chance to bring all people together, we are going to all have to have the courage to think and speak objectively. I am guessing that if you and I had a conversation in private you would clarify the statement “I am convinced that women make the best CEOs and government leaders“ you might say, “most of the time?” “The women that I know?” “In general?” I am convinced that Not all women make better CEOs than all men. Maybe most of the time?

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      • I agree with your concept also. We will visit for sure. I have two children that live in Denver. They are being wisely cautious. Most likely will not be able to visit until late winter early spring. I will reach out to you then. Next to my mom you are the most influential person in my life. If only we could all realize the power that we have each and every moment that we share a book or speak a powerful and well-timed word to someone. I remember clearly those affirming words that you spoke to me. You may not even remember the empowering words that you spoke to me. Thank you. I am forever grateful.

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      • And largely because of you. I love and respect you greatly.. Keep living into who you are with courage. “I think the stars are winning!”

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  3. As a gay man, even though I’m aware of the privilege I experience as a man, being told overtly and covertly there’s something wrong with you over and over takes something out of you. I’ve been aware that society considered me a lesser human since I was a toddler. I remember thinking, “Must hide this part of me.” As happy, successful and well-adjusted as I am, there’s still, from time to time, the gnawing suspicion that says, “Maybe they are right. Maybe I’m completely broken and Hell awaits.”

    I heard Desmond Tutu talk about taking an international flight from Johannesburg. When he boarded, he was greeted by an entirely black, African crew of pilots. He tells how proud he was. And then the plane hit the worst turbulence Tutu had ever experienced and the doubt crept into him, “I wonder if they are up to it.”

    I can say without reservationtion, that I have some of the smartest women friends in the world. And they’ve fought their entire lives to be treated more than instead of less. These women have at every step from their parents to their teachers and their CEOs, they were taught to think they had to accept being less than.

    Paula, keep writing and speaking?

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  4. Thank you for validating my experience! I agree with you, and have often said to my partner, and girlfriends – as women we can be our own worst enemies, and yet when we work together the power of it is like nothing else.

    That feeling of being not enough follows me around too. Like so many women I know.

    Love your perspective. 😊❤

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  5. So true. This is one of the reasons we apologize before we say something, even when we know we are right. I have finally stopped saying “I’m sorry” under those kinds of circumstance because my cousin drew it to my attention and lovingly said “stop”–it’s been a tough habit to break.

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  6. I’m struggling with this, Paula. My own perception of reality has been flipped over the last few weeks. The counseling we’ve just started (5 sessions in) has kinda shaken me to my core in what is starting to feel like a good way, even if it doesn’t feel so good. Growing up and especially now in my mid-30s, I’ve been stereotyped by many of my friends as “one of the guys”, despite the fact that I’m a very straight cis more-feminine-than-not woman. I thought for a very long time that I was just immune to the stereotypical male treatment of women because of my louder, more in-your-face nature. I think I’m coming to realize I was blinding myself to so many things. I wanted so badly to feel truly accepted as the human Julie and not my gender that I “saw” and “heard” only what I wanted to. Looking back, I brushed off so many anti-feminist microaggressions because we were all laughing and I gotta be “cool”. I dismissed my friends & co-workers (off the clock) when they hesitated to use swear words around me, everyone’s eyes on me to gauge my reaction, and then usually me saying the word for them as a plea for equality I thought I already had. My neighbor coming to my door to ask if my husband was home to help him move a contraption out of his van…but why didn’t he ask me? He hasn’t even spoken to my husband yet but he and I have shared some pretty deep conversations – I thought we were “bros”. It doesn’t feel good to realize this. I feel played. I’m questioning my intelligence and – ope, look at that! It’s so frustrating. *SIGH*

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  7. Females are taught from early on that there is a certain rent to pay to live in this world, in this country anyway. You must be attractive, thin, intelligent yet willing to not outshine a male at anytime for any reason. Females must be willing to accept less pay, less respect and double the work load. Women must are expected to be invisible for the most part. This is one way that makes it crystal clear being a transgender woman is not about choice, it is about sanity and authenticity and happiness. No one, least of all a white male, would choose to transition to become a woman if there was not a deep, deep stirring in the soul and heart, combined with serious pain in remaining a male.

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  8. Transgender male here. I can validate that those insecurities are definitely ingrained. I still second guess myself, even though men regard me with higher esteem than before. It’s an act of will to have confidence, but it helps to have that affirmation from society. Wish everyone had that.

    So excited to read your memoir Paula.

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  9. I so relate to this. Mansplaining drives me nuts. It’s also so hard to challenge. I just listen acceptingly, being told something I already know and inwardly roll my eyes in my head. If I challenge it in anyway by saying I understand already the response is that I’ve got to prove I’m right. Which is not the case.
    Rubbish huh?

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  10. I’m from China and was the only child in the family. While I did pretty well at school from primary to secondary school, I heard this kind of comments all the time from my teachers and grandparents, “girls do well at elementary school, but not at secondary school”. “Girls do well at secondary school, but not at college. Most scientists are male…” Some comments are from my female teachers as well. I was talking to my husband about the gender equity after watching your TedX talk and my husband said exactly the same thing, that women do not empower each other. I don’t know how to resolve this. And I really envy guys who don’t have to live with the constant self doubt that good things happen because of grace, not because I deserve it.

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