Recently the wonderful Carly Waterman posted a tweet featuring an article by India Knight in The Sunday Times Magazine from 15th April. The article was entitled ‘Women should trumpet their achievements – time’s up on the idea that men are always the smartest people in the room’ and the number of retweets and ‘likes’ the tweet received showed how much the ideas within it had struck a chord.
One part of the article in particular made me stop and think. India Knight suggests that “As you progress through life, you learn that a woman who is pleased with her achievements is not only not admired, but barely tolerated.”
I understand that we may see ‘modesty’ as a positive quality, especially if we consider its opposite to be arrogance and conceit. Is ‘modesty’ perhaps an attribute we particularly value in, and expect from, women? Could one negative and unforeseen consequence of this be that women can be self-effacing, underplaying their successes and tending to be dismissive of their accomplishments? Natasha Devon wrote very well recently about how women, especially UK women, appear to find it difficult to accept a compliment, and I can see how the two ideas are related.
But I am proud of, and I think fairly vocal about, what I have achieved in my life. I am pleased with my career, with having completed a doctorate, with having written a book about my research and my own experience. I have enjoyed and feel a sense of satisfaction when I reflect on the professional activities in which I’ve been involved since finishing headship – the people I have managed to connect with and support through the #WomenEd network, through Twitter and the world of blogging, and the leadership consultancy work I have been engaged in. I have had a rewarding personal life, too, with friends and family relationships which have brought me joy and deep satisfaction.
I don’t think this is about being ‘smart’, to quote the word from India’s article title. I have written elsewhere about how one of the things I learnt from completing the doctorate is that I am perhaps not as intelligent as I had always thought I was, and I have openly said (as Carly reminded me!) that “I am not an academic” – the world of academia didn’t light my fire, and my doctoral studies reinforced for me that addressing a professional audience is something I find far easier, and actually more fulfilling, than addressing an academic one. But I don’t see this as being self-effacing or overly modest. In fact, completing the doctorate in the light of this is something I feel even more thrilled about!
So how do you feel when you read this post? I am not expecting or demanding ‘admiration’, but it would sadden me to feel that I was ‘barely tolerated’ because of my openness about how positive I am when I look back (at the last six decades!) Can we ‘own our success’ in a way which is assertive, appropriately proud and inspiring rather than irritating? What are you proud of and do you talk about it in a way which might lift and encourage others?
Photo credit: A student from the school where I was a head, Anna Ploszajski, proudly showing her completed doctoral thesis. And I am proud I taught this amazing young woman when she was 11!