When I was in the middle of my Ph.D. program, a friend asked if I was starting to feel really smart. My answer? No – I feel dumber than ever. It seems that the more you learn, the more you realize that you only know a small chunk of all the knowledge in the world.
Part of why I was feeling so dumb – and continue to have moments of insecurity and inferiority on a daily basis – is because of the culture of higher education and sexism in general. You see, there’s this thing called Imposter Syndrome that people experience, and I have been a victim of this. Essentially, Imposter Syndrome is a sense of self-doubt causing you to underestimate yourself. Another part of the problem is the news and media. This is where it is so important to see and hear from women on topics where they are the experts.
So where am I going with this?
The 2019 Women’s World Cup, actually.
I am currently obsessed with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team.
And because I over-analyze everything – thank you, brain – I’m going to try to sort through some of why I am so in love with this group of women and what they have to do with my own insecurities.
First, these women are crazy, ridiculous athletes. And they know it. They are confident women who are proud of what they have accomplished. Despite a chorus of people telling them to be “less cocky” and “more respectful”, they are celebrating like they just won the World Cup or something. And I’m digging it. If you haven’t witnessed their locker room celebration yet – check it out.
I’ve honestly been loving these celebrations. Just ask my family – I’ve made everyone watch the videos. But why? I think because they are so happy and unreserved. When I watch them, I don’t see arrogance. Instead, I see women so happy they can’t contain it. This goes against much of what many women have internalized as being appropriate displays of emotion.
Essentially, women are often considered to be too emotional – too emotional to be rational, make decisions, be in positions of leadership. I think my response has been to become more reserved with my emotions. I’m a crier – happy, sad, angry – so I have to try really hard to keep those emotions in check so I can be taken seriously. The USWNT women did not make any attempt to control their emotions. Instead, the embraced them and showed them to the world. For me, this was a really empowering reaction.
Second, these women are currently suing the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay. They filed this lawsuit before the World Cup and it is still ongoing. This is a big thing. In fact, it’s a huge thing that these women may or may not benefit from if they win. They are taking this stand to make a change for the future. Think about that. They are sacrificing their mental well-being and putting themselves under unnecessary stress at a time when they absolutely do not need extra stress in order to make the world a better place.
If anyone of us was in a position of having to play the biggest game of our lives (this is a metaphor for those of us who aren’t professional athletes) while we were filing a history-making lawsuit, we would likely be a tad bit stressed out. Personally, my eye would be twitching so hard I couldn’t see and I certainly wouldn’t be sleeping well at night. But these women seemed to thrive in these circumstances.
In all reality, the USWNT players are a different breed of people. They are elite athletes who maybe react a bit differently to stress than you or I do. They are still people, though. I have to takeaways from this. The first is that these women know they are right and know they deserve equal pay and equal resources. Period. They don’t doubt this and so they know they need to fight this fight. The second takeaway is that these women appear to be a very close team who are very supportive of one another. This matters. When someone is questioning themselves or having a rough day, it matters greatly that you have someone – or multiple people – who can jump in and support you.
Third, these women are wide-open with their personalities. They have been so fully themselves on the soccer field, on social media, on the news, that I feel like I know each one of them. In fact, I want to be besties with all of them. As Megan Rapinoe said in her speech, they have pink hair and purple hair, they are gay and straight, and they are everything in between. That’s true and very cool. However, I think I’ve been more fascinated by their combination of typically masculine looks and actions and feminine looks and actions.
Like everyone else in the world, I grew up thinking that to be a girl, I had to act and look one way. Unfortunately, I never really liked looks that were too “girly”. I like cargo pants. My favorite clothing colors are green and tan. Ultimately my fashion sense could best be described as “looks like she could comfortably go on a 3-5 mile hike at any given moment”. I still love me some comfy hiking pants. However, I’ve recently gotten into wearing clothes that are more appropriate for my gender and age and professionalism. I like makeup now. I like pink (this one is huge as I was very vocal in my hatred of pink for many years in adolescence).
What’s my point? All people can have both masculine and feminine traits. All people can like cute clothes and, at the very same time, like practical and comfortable clothes. Gender is a socially constructed thing (different from sex) and because it’s socially constructed, it’s not an either/or situation. In my academic brain, I know this. In my brain that has grown up saturated with messages about gender from the media, I feel different because I don’t fit easily into any category. The USWNT has made me feel a little bit better about myself. They have, in fact, confirmed that you can be incredibly strong and powerful, but also wear sexy clothes. They have confirmed that you can like/have both masculine and feminine traits at the same time. This is incredibly important.
I could go on and on about this stuff, but I’ll save more for a later date. Ultimately, though, this team and this moment have inspired me to try to be more confident and more fully myself.
This is important for me, but more important for younger kids growing up.
I am hopeful that my daughter will get a little less of the messages that have made me internally conflicted in a lot of ways. I am hopeful that the wide-open personality she has now will not change. I am hopeful that she will always love pink dresses but also be endlessly fascinated with ropes and bungee cords (hello, apocalypse, Summer is ready for you) – or some combination of this, anyway.