Never in a million years would I have ever described myself as a perfectionist. I struggled through university chanting the phrase “P’s get degrees” and handed in essays I knew weren’t my best work but I was just happy to get something out of the way. My Australian upbringing has me saying “That’ll do” all through life. However, when a video of an excerpt of Reshma Saujani’s 2016 TED Talk turned up on my Facebook news feed, something really resonated with me.
Saujani is the founder of Girls Who Code, a program working to close the gap in computer science. She says while boys are being brought up to be brave, girls are brought up to be perfect; that we’re terrified of failure and it’s affecting the way we approach our lives and careers.
“So many women I talk to tell me that they gravitate towards careers and professions that they know they're going to be great in, that they know they're going to be perfect in, and it's no wonder why.
Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure.
We're taught to smile pretty, play it safe, get all A's. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then just jump off headfirst,” she said.
Saujiani cites a study from the 1980s in which a class of five graders is given an assignment beyond their capabilities. Despite the fact that girls routinely outperform the boys academically, they were quicker to give up while the boys took the assignment as a challenge.
Another report showed men will apply for a job if they meet 60 per cent of the requirements whereas women will apply for a job only when they meet 100 per cent of the requirements.
“We have to begin to undo the socialization of perfection, but we've got to combine it with building a sisterhood that lets girls know that they are not alone.
Because trying harder is not going to fix a broken system,” Saujiani said.
“I can't tell you how many women tell me, “I’m afraid to raise my hand, I'm afraid to ask a question, because I don't want to be the only one who doesn't understand, the only one who is struggling.” When we teach girls to be brave and we have a supportive network cheering them on, they will build incredible things”
I know so many women, including myself, who know the feeling of not wanting to speak up all too well.
I suddenly thought, maybe I wasn’t doing my best for fear of my best failing. If I failed an essay or subject with sub-par work then that’s ok – I didn’t really try.
Why are we selling ourselves short?
Feminist authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman says it starts from an early age – girls’ confidence drops between the ages of 8 and 14. 8!? That’s crazy! Do you remember when you were 8? We were hardly starting out in school let alone our lives.
In their research, they found that boys and girl develop differently; girls tend to have higher emotional intelligence than boys which leads us to be more cautious. Throughout school, boys are taking risks, failing and learning while the girls are trying to stay in the lines.
“(Young women) were outperforming boys academically then they enter the work world and their confidence plummets; they’re just not learning it’s ok to take risks and fail,” Shipman said in an interview with Amy Joyce for On Parenting.
This isn’t even bringing other elements into the mix like class and race.
In 2016, The Guardian journalist Sarah Marsh asked women to share their experiences and struggles for perfectionism.
Chardine Taylor-Stone who works in the arts said she struggled with imposter syndrome in a working environment dominated by white people.
“I sometimes suffer so much anxiety about sending an email, worrying about whether I will phrase it correctly," she said.
"It’s silly because I’ve done well and proven myself, I have my own flat and a good job, yet that doesn’t feel good enough.”
“Perfection, or what society deems perfect, is not attainable for everyone, but it feels even further away for a woman of colour.”
While solutions are much easier said than done, we women need to stop being so hard on ourselves.
We can’t be afraid of failure, to ask for help or to take risks.
We need to bring the next generation of girls up with the idea that their imperfections are what make them perfect and strong.
Imagine how powerful we can be or how much we can learn if we had the confidence and the bravery men were brought up to have?!
x LA x