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.