Nearly 40 years ago, I penned a novel about self confidence and self-belief and how they were intrinsic to achievement; at home, at work and at play.
Gender was irrelevant in understanding how potent these attributes were in shaping people’s lives, in the present and for the future, realising that many men were no more naturally endowed with confidence than women. Four years after writing about these issues, a male shrink once told me I was “ahead of my time” as if that was some kind of compliment when for me, it reflected how abysmally ignorant he was about the cultural, social conditioning that dictated rigid, gender stereotypes of ‘normal’ male and female behaviour.
It also revealed his failure to appreciate the assumptions many people made about others, including his own, in ascribing certain norms to men and women as if they were innately different. Human was not a word he countenanced. The truth for me was I wasn’t at all ahead of my time, rather, in touch with the real world and more importantly, understood who I was as a human being who happened to be female. A person first and foremost who was depressingly oppressed by men and women for no other reason than being female and NOT adhering to the traditional and limited stereotypes it subsumed.
These past weeks I have felt not only vindicated, but saddened by perusing diverse stories in various newspapers scribing about these issues with a similar comprehension to my own by so-called respected and well-credentialed experts when my understandings and beliefs, well researched over the decades of my life, have been dismissed as a rant by a madwoman.
One article, reprinted in The Age from the Telegraph in London, which focused on the rise of disgruntled employees at work, quoted an Open University poll revealing nearly 60 per cent of those surveyed wanted to change roles this year. Significantly, a high proportion of these people revealed they “lacked the self-confidence to make the move they so badly craved”. The writer referenced psychologist Dr Gary Wood, who’s authored a book called Unlock Your Confidence, including his tips for approaching your job in a fresh perspective. Suffice to say been there, done that, repeatedly over several years and many jobs. Not lacking self-confidence or self-belief, but on the contrary feeling confident and very cognisant of my abilities, talents and skills, when I walked out of professional and intellectual demeaning and economically exploitative jobs, I was assumed to be the opposite of how I actually felt by the powers-that-be and my family and friends, too; labelled as suffering from delusions of grandeur, paranoid, even psychotic and out of control. It seemed self-confidence was an anathema to being the sort of female I was as after all, how can a 28-year-old woman believe she is smart enough to play in the big time with the boys? The sorry saga continued for decades with the implication, as I continued to walk out of boring, unstimulating jobs that offered scant financial reward that I was incapable, incompetent and daunted by the pressure and just unable to cope. My perspective was stark by contrast as my reality suggested I was a threat to the “bosses” (male AND females both) who of course could not, would not, even confront that as a possibility. It was far less disturbing for them to just dismiss me as mentally unstable and maintain the status quo than entertain any notion that I could be just as capable as they were. As a female who believed in myself and demanded to be accorded substantial financial remuneration for my hard work and outstanding results, my consequence was consistent unemployment. Enough said about that.
Another article, by a former political leader of Australia’s Liberal Party, opined that while German philosopher Georg Hegel believed that people needed to learn from historical experiences, it seemed “people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.” Writing about “elites”, he asked what have they learned in recent months about Brexit, Trump, Hansen etc, answering his own question with “the elites have simply not learnt anything….(adding) I am disturbed at how the policy intelligentsia and the media elite are already closing ranks, as if this is just an aberration we can, and will, handle…. there are no good old days to which we may aspire to duplicate, or return to….what we need is a government to think and strategise (say) several decades ahead, recognising the “new reality” and give us some hope that we can achieve it.” My perspective is it is not just governments who must THINK and strategise ahead and recognise a “new reality” but millions of people who must understand and learn not just from history, but about history, politically, economically, and socially, acknowledging the dire consequences of autocratic and plutocratic elites who fashion our world with power and control at the expense of most ordinary people, including myself. The headline of this article epitomised the writer’s thesis as “Don’t worry, be stupid” implying people are better off living in ignorant bliss and to some extent, he has a point. To actually recognise that ignorance is not bliss and embrace thought instead of stupidity as an ideology for life, is to confront heartache, suffering and pain as too many people don’t care and are not interested in thinking or learning anything to improve life. The Australian dictum “I’m alright, Jack”, is still alive and well and thriving in our social milieu.
Yet another article, penned by no less than a former Aussie Rules footballer, echoed these sentiments, claiming “Today there is more discouragement to question, to express an opinion…some people are quick to dismiss the thoughts of a person they consider unqualified to pass comment: (me, for example!)…the best defence against this kind of dismissal-…is for people to not speak at all, to retreat from the forum of debate and share a space only with people who share their position…But independent expression is what makes us human… Margaret Atwood said you need a certain amount of physical nerve to be a writer; “the kind you need to walk a narrow log across a river”…The spectrum of wrong that any opinion or idea can strand the writer upon is big, and getting bigger…..In this shrinking world, anyone we bother to ask a serious question of should be encouraged to give a serious answer.” His words, while referring mostly to sports’ stars and celebs, are spot on, with confirmation bias reigning sacrosanct in our environs, people comfortably cocooned in their secure, social bubbles and rejecting others who dare to challenge or confront them. Speaking up and expressing opinions must be applauded as the writer asserts but they must also be debated to be dissected and dissembled if invalid, illogical or irrational. At least I can write as I please and others can ignore or dismiss me as a madwoman with no credibility or worthy of respect; I don’t need employment anymore as I work for myself for no money. So be it.
Perhaps the most pertinent article about my opinions as I wrote decades ago is in The Age written by a professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Melbourne, Cordelia Fine. It is an edited extract from her new book, Testosterone Rex, in which she affirms that “science has been rewriting and humanising…evolutionary accounts of biological sex to change understanding of human behaviour.”
She writes: “The sexual natural order turns out to be surprisingly diverse, and we also bring our own uniquely human characteristics to the sexual selection story… (with) neither promiscuity nor competition… necessarily the preserve of male reproductive success. Contrary to the notion of men diverting their energy toward chasing multiple lovers, there is evidence to show males can be choosy, too. Thinking of sex as a throwaway act for males-…-is profoundly misleading…we often think of biological sex as a fundamental force in development that creates not just two kinds of reproductive systems, but two kinds of people.” Extrapolating from that evolutionary story, Fine says that to ensure a woman’s fertilisation of the “nice, plump egg” by a father who supplied “nothing more than a single sperm,” our ancestral past enshrined a “fundamental sex difference in biological investment in a baby”. She says “the various versions of this well-known account continue, men evolved a promiscuous streak, and to be risk-taking and competitive, since these were the qualities that best enabled them to accrue the material and social resources attractive to women, and to turn that sexual interest into a reproductive return.
“But the ancestral women who most often passed on their genes were the ones psychologically inclined to play a safer game, more focused on tending to their precious offspring than diverting their energy towards chasing multiple lovers, riches and glory.” Contending science as “weaving together interlinked claims about evolution, brains, hormones and behaviour”, it has offered a “neat and compelling account of our society’s persistent and seemingly intractable sex inequalities.” BUT, she asks, “What about our evolved differences, the dissimilarities between the male brain and the female brain? What about all that male testosterone…dig a little deeper and you will find that rejecting the Testosterone Rex view doesn’t require denial of evolution, difference or biology. Indeed, taking them into account is the basis of the rejection.” She says science has found “female promiscuity is abundant across the animal kingdom- from fruit flies to humpback whales- and widespread among primates.” Citing other examples from the animal kingdom, she concludes that “Testosterone Rex…is extinct. It misrepresents our past, present and future; it misdirects scientific research and it reinforces an unequal status quo. It’s time to say goodbye, and move on.” There’s no more I want to add except that I’ve understood there were no biological restraints in my life per se except those imposed or projected onto me by others who perceived and even sadder, assumed, that my being female should dictate my destiny. Certainly many people tried to foist that on me, but thankfully, I always conceived my destiny as about being human. Unfortunately for those people, being female unfortunately was the all-too significant factor. Gladly, not for me and as Fine argues, the animal kingdom also appreciates reproduction as a non-gender, non-biological issue. While our lives are not determined by biology, an interesting and pertinent issue she doesn’t consider is human females have testosterone, too? Where does that put females in her argument? I cannot say.
Concluding this blog, I have lived my life with the understanding of “to thine own self be true” as a human being and as a female, too, the latter having more import for others than myself. As a member of society, that reality has impacted my life very negatively professionally and intellectually but I continue to express my opinions, feel confident and understand that biology was not my determining issue. I don’t know about anyone else but me!