imposter syndome as normative expectation
June 7, 2016
As it happens, I went to the very last AdaCamp (which we didn’t know was the last at the time). It was a fairly interesting experience. I learned a few things. It was designed as an un-conference, which means that the sessions were decided on the first day (not planned in advance). However, there was one session we all particpated in, which was the ‘imposter syndrome’ one. Imposter syndrome refers to the feeling like you are a fake professional or whatever. It often comes up with marginalized people but can apply to most anyone. My problem with the session was the implicit assumption that all the women attending experienced imposter syndrome. Because I do not. Never have.
To some extent, the ubiquity of people discussing experiences with imposter syndrome in my life is likely a result of who I choose to associate with. But the AdaCamp experience hihghlights that this is at least a widespread enough problem for it to be addressed in such a context.
And, in the context of tech and women, I really do understand why there was an assumption that all attending might have some experience with it. Because tech, overall, isn’t very kind to women and rarely recognizes our awesomeness and our contributions. So its an environment where even a usually confident person could feel moments of feeling like they are a fake tech person. Like maybe they are really just three children in a trench coat.
For me though… it feels like this implicit expectation takes on a normative force. What’s wrong with me that I don’t experience this? Maybe my ~male socialization~ is why and, thus, I’m not a Real Tech Woman(tm). I have similarly feelings about the whole ‘adulting’ phenomenon (as it applies outside of a disability context). Is there something wrong with me that I feel like a capable adult?1
Why don’t I experience imposter syndrome? Why do I feel like a capable adult? Well. Because I’m fucking awesome, that’s why.
And its always funny to see ppl’s reaction to me saying this. Bc the problem is that I’m not supposed to be confident as a professional and as a person. I’m reminded of that Nicki Minaj video where she discusses how people think she’s a bitch for insisting that people respect her and because (I’m working from memory) she’s confident and assertive. She’s breaking the rules by not being insecure about her position.
My general confidence about such things (unlike Minaj) is probably unwarranted. I totally think I’m an awesome techy librarian. And yet, here I am living in the animated corpse I call my ‘career’. I’m a great librarian but I’ve utterly failed. And while, yes, I do point my finger at some systemic and institutional barriers, I also recognize my own contribution to that failure.
All my life I’ve understood that I’m awesome and its really the world’s fault for not recognizing it. I’m not bitter about this lack of recognition. I certainly don’t do a whole lot to change it. I’m just plain awesome. Whether the rest of the world recognizes it or not.
But I also know (I guess one of the Social Skills I’ve learned) that you’re not supposed to say this (or at least people like me aren’t supposed to think we’re awesome). We are especially not supposed to think we are awesome if we’ve failed, like I have.
This is a world designed to dehumanize on multiple levels and in many ways. That’s the trap. Even if you succeed, you’re expected – as a marginalized person – to still feel like you don’t measure up. Like you have to prove yourself worthy. Like you aren’t good enough. If you fail? Well. You’re supposed to internalize that failure and let it corrode your self-esteem.
But I can’t be the only person who feels like this. And it’d be great to see more marginalized ppl with this attitude, if only because it definitely feels better than feeling like you’re a fraud who doesn’t deserve to be here.
Fail or succeed. Irrelevant. You’re awesome always and forever.
Although the adulting thing is something I understand better, esp. since it totally communicates a necessary message that any adult who feels like a failure or overwhelmed or whatever isn’t actually failure and this is a common experience. ↩