Think back to the last time you said, “I’m sorry” to someone. Was it when you stole money from them? Insulted their religion? Stepped on their cat? The answer is probably none of these things. Most likely the last time you apologized was during a typical day in the classroom, for something as simple as making a contribution to a discussion in which you had every right to speak up.
Women are known to be less likely to assert themselves in a classroom setting, as verified by studies from places such as the American Psychological Association, and part of the purpose of Marlborough (and single-sex education in general) is meant to counteract this tendency. Yet I constantly find myself disclaiming and dismissing my own ideas before I let myself speak. It’s not just me, either — while I would call myself more introverted, I see my more outgoing classmates unwilling to state their thoughts without making amends for having them in the first place. Think of your classmate’s quick dart of her hand in the air and this phrase uttered meekly: “This may be a stretch, but…”
I suspect that this hesitancy to speak with pride and force stems from a lack of confidence that is societally encouraged from an early age. In elementary school, my peers considered me a brassy know-it-all, so I turned myself in the opposite direction and began to downplay my own intellect. In this quest for acceptance, it was not enough to accept a compliment — I had to refuse it also. And this behavior carried into classroom discussions; an idea I thought might be good and innovative could never be presented to my classmates as such. I had to doubt myself so as not to seem narcissistic.
I have to say that I believe I felt the need to behave this way because I’m a girl, that this pressure is gendered; sit in on any co-ed classroom discussion and you will see a boy with a cocky, lopsided grin, tilted back in his chair, eagerly espousing his pseudo-philosophical hypotheses with little regard for how he is perceived. While I don’t exactly want to be that obnoxious, it couldn’t hurt to have a little swagger.
I recently realized that by downplaying myself, I am only contributing to a damaging expectation for female students.
After years of self-deprecation, I’m finally done with the act, so I’m going to announce something I’ve tried to keep buried: I am intelligent and passionate and opinionated. We all are. Why should we hide it? All we’re doing is preventing the world from embracing our notions and convictions, which it sorely needs to hear. There is no need to stammer out an apology because you think Daisy Buchanan may be subversively feminist, or because you happen to know the exact dates of the rule of the Han Dynasty.
The next time you want to say, “This may be totally wrong, but…” scratch out those words and just carry on with the amazing and brilliant insight you’re going to add. You’re worth it.