The Great Gendered Disappearing Act

I’ve been thinking about the concept of visibility lately and what it means for me to be visible in my own life.  Society often teaches humans socialized as women to stay small both physically and emotionally.  We’re supposed to lower our voices, lose weight, and smile.  We follow the rules that we didn’t create and risk ostracization, ridicule, or some other punishment if we break them.

This “stay small and keep parts of yourself invisible” narrative runs deep which is why, despite our track records of success, we don’t see our strengths.  We are taught to erase our successes to keep others comfortable.  

Someone asked me recently why I rarely talk publicly about my Ph.D. in women’s and gender studies.  I hated all the first answers that came into my mind. I don’t want to be off-putting. I don’t want people to think that I can’t coach. I don’t want people to think that I’m cold. I don’t want to come across as an angry feminist. I don’t want people to think that I’m too smart. I don’t deserve my Ph.D.

There it was.  I learned that my accomplishment would cause other people to feel uncomfortable and I learned to feel ashamed of and doubt my success.  As a result, I felt uncomfortable with my success.  That was one harsh inner critic doing its best to keep me small and “safe.”  I’m not alone.  I know women all over the world who experience similar limiting beliefs.  Maybe you are one of them.  

Here are a few other patriarchal rules that might sound familiar to you that might be lingering in your brain and nervous system.

A REAL leader is a reluctant leader. You are not allowed to aspire to a leadership role.

Be humble.  You’re too big for your britches. You will be exposed for taking up too much space because your britches will burst.  That would be a humiliating consequence for feeling confident.  Big is bad.  Small is good.

Smile. Deny yourself the full range of human emotions to make others comfortable.

Defer compliments. Train yourself to feel ashamed of your skills, talents, & successes.  Doubt your worth.

Who do you think you are? You’re still the same person that you were before you got the Ph.D. Don’t change.  It makes others feel uncomfortable.

Remember that you don’t know everything. Worry about what you don’t know instead of thinking about what you do know.  Remind yourself that saying, “I don’t know” invalidates your success.  You fail if you don’t know everything.

These days it’s my full-time job to own my successes and quirks, skills and hobbies, past experiences, and new dreams.  I’m on a mission to help my clients free themselves from self-censorship and live this life with confidence, calm, joy, and adventure.  Together we disrupt perfectionism, overwork, second-guessing, and all the other tricks of Imposter Syndrome.

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