Modesty and the Confidence Gap

Modesty and humility are generally taken to be virtues – as, I think, they should be. Few things in life are more vexing than a bombastic fool.

But I wonder how these traits interact with the so-called “confidence gap” – defined by research which shows that “women are less self-assured than men.”

As Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write in the Atlantic, “For years, we women have kept our heads down and played by the rules. We’ve been certain that with enough hard work, our natural talents would be recognized and rewarded.”

On the whole, women, perhaps, are too modest, too willing to cede the spotlight, too quick to share credit for their work and ideas.

Of course, once I get past the fact that “Men” and “Women” are treated as monolithic entities, what drives me crazy about the “confidence gap” conversation is that the solution seems to be for women to be more like men.

Just be more confident is the prescription, along with window dressing comments about social norms and equity.

Just be more confident, as if half the population missed that day in school.

But there is nothing wrong with a healthy lack of self-confidence. A man who runs into battle sans armor is a fool. It’s good to have self-doubt, it’s good to hold yourself to impossibly high standards, it’s good to think before you act.

Or at the very least, its okay if that’s your style. You don’t have to change.

The challenge with a lack of self confidence, isn’t, perhaps, the confidence itself, but the paralyzing fear that comes with not knowing the right course of action.

It’s good to think before you act, but one doesn’t always have that luxury.

Confidence and modesty are, of course, not quite antonyms: one may have confidence in one’s abilities, but modestly choose not to announce this to the world at every opportunity. But, still, the words seem inextricably linked.

Modesty is a luxury. It’s something you can have when nobody doubts your ability. When you have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself.

For those women – and men – victim to the confidence gap, its not just their nagging self-doubt that’s holding them back.

It’s the subtle hints and the blatant actions, it’s the inescapable innuendo and discrimination, it’s the unavoidable fact that not everyone around you has confidence in your abilities.

Being confident in the face of all that is the challenge.


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