Who Gets to Define Confidence?

If you’ve been following the winding path of my blog and videos starting this January 2023 I’ve declared that I’m on a “stay at home” pilgrimage. I’m studying and learning about the sacred feminine. I’m going to continue with this theme until either the enormity of the task does me in (quite possible) or completely overwhelms me (more than likely!) – or until it leads me to…well, who knows? (This is truly a journey into the unknown.) I’ve invited you to come along. Thank you for being here. I hope we’ll all learn something.

Keeping the Real You Quiet

As we celebrate International Women’s Day this month I think about how I entered the workforce in the 80s, in a business that was 95% male, shipbuilding, and how I quickly realized I couldn’t be myself. I had to be careful about how I dressed and how I spoke. I was careful to hold my tongue though ironically, I also had to learn to interrupt and butt into conversations or I’d never be a part of the conversation. Parts of me had to be tamped down and other parts prodded to come to the front. I was always on the alert as to how to “be” – to fit in.

I did well. I figured out how to advance and made it to the management level where there were few women. And despite being told I was “too nice” – being nice worked for me. Though, in that environment, any kind of nice was seen as “too.”

Caught Shining

Now and then, however, I would let the real me out. Actually, I just couldn’t keep her in! Kim Hudson in her book, The Virgin’s Promise calls this “Caught Shining.” It’s when the authentic self comes out despite any attempt to keep her in. As I think back, there was a time I gathered a couple of other women to put together a proposal to bring to the CEO that the company should build a daycare center.

They did (and kudos to that CEO who saw the value in it – in the 1980s!) And then there was the time while leading a project to get my division to accept change, I helped to coordinate a reinterpretation and performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol! Believe me, both efforts were entirely at odds with the corporate culture at the time (I’m marveling at my audacity!) but these “Caught Shining” moments can’t be helped. The “real me” just had to appear. I went for it and both worked – and I didn’t get fired!

For twelve years, for the most part, I kept myself under wraps. It took that long for me to realize this wasn’t the right culture for me but I learned so many lessons while in that environment. That experience enabled me to launch my own business once I left.

By what standards are you judged?

Many women keep themselves “under wraps” – to fit in – to make money – to succeed – to please…in a world that is still measured by male-made standards.

One of my all-time favorite books is The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. They talk about how the male model of confidence still is what's used to define confidence. It makes sense that the look of a feminine “brand” of confidence would be different from the male brand.  However, the book explains that often women (and the world, in general) seem to expect that confidence should look the same regardless of the uniqueness of a person, whether you identify as a male or female or neither. Thus, me being judged as “too nice.”

They contend that we still judge a woman’s confidence by how she compares to the indicators of male confidence. Kay and Shipman write: 

“Male workplace bravado – perhaps testosterone-fueled and Mad Men-inspired – is still the gold standard.  It is currently the only standard.  The drive to win no matter the cost.  The boundless craving for risk.  The propensity for quick decisions.  The emphasis on high-decibel and high-energy interaction…Professional success demands political savvy, a certain amount of scheming and jockeying, a flair for self-promotion and not letting a no stop you.”

That’s not me and I suspect it may not be you – or some of you.

Please know — I’m not criticizing. Many styles work and of course, they’d be unique to the person.  But being labeled too nice is a big tip-off that I’m being judged by an unwritten standard and I agree with Kay and Shipman, that particular indicator belongs to the male model of confidence and success.

It is what it is. We have accomplished a lot because of what our largely male-oriented society has created. And after all, it takes time to assimilate a new cohort into an organization, though some did it more gracefully than others! We’re not going to heal by bashing anyone. We are going to heal by allowing, accepting, and appreciating everyone’s part – appreciating the male and the female.

And how we’re growing! There was no “me too” back then; no talk of mansplaining or man-spreading. We’ve come far.

What does Feminine Confidence look like? 

Claire and Shipman define the more female model (which of course can be employed by a man as well as a woman.) They tell us that those male tactics do bring success but they caution against using them to define confidence. Here’s how they describe the female brand:

What might our (female) brand of confidence look like?

  • We don't always have to speak first, we can listen and incorporate what others say, and perhaps even rely on colleagues to help make our point.
  • We can pass credit around.
  • We can avoid alienating potential enemies.
  • We can speak calmly but carry a smart message – one that will be heard.
  • Confidence, for many of us, can even be quiet.
  • Confidence even allows for displays of vulnerability and
  • Confidence allows for the questions of our decisions (not dwelling on insecurities and basking in self-doubt).

I think you could add to this list. What I’m asking of myself and of you, dear heroine, is not to accept one definition of confidence. We have moved past – in many environments, not all – the one-size-fits-all definition of confidence. We must not make assumptions and judgments based on old (male) models. 

What does this have to do with the Sacred Feminine, Susanna?

The emergence of the Sacred Feminine today is all about confidence – it’s the heroine’s journey to be YOU! It’s about letting your “real you” burst out and do what she is craving to do. No more tamping down and being “under wraps.” Be “Caught Shining.” Do it! Shine!

 More and more women are allowing themselves to Shine and it’s making a difference. Yes, we must weigh the timing and the environment and maybe that makes us wait for now or go ahead and leave a workplace or relationship that has served as a comfort zone. But I predict, as more and more women allow themselves to step forward, the more we’ll all feel the uplift and encouragement. It will create a groundswell of women being themselves.

The Face of the Sacred Feminine

As I tuned into the monthly meeting of the women who make up the community of Real-Life Heroines on our Zoom call last month, I saw the faces of the women traveling through the Heroine’s Journey milestones and thought – this here, right in front of me, is the Sacred Feminine. These faces.

Each one of these women is following their inner desire to do what they want to do with their life. Some are still in process, clarifying what that is – some are testing the waters of what feels right – some have leaped and are on the road into the unknown - but they are all following their inner voice.

That to me is what the sacred feminine is all about. That is how we raise her – the feminine. By permitting women to be who they are. 


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