By Principal Davis
I consider myself a person with a healthy amount of self-confidence, but I must admit that this has not always been the case. When I was in school, I never voluntarily spoke up in class. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I figured out that I was just as smart as everybody else and that the people speaking up (often men) weren’t saying anything all that profound or unique. So I started forcing myself to speak up. It hasn’t always been easy, and at times, I still struggle with using my voice.
This phenomenon is not unique to just my experiences. In fact, the authors of the book, The Confidence Code For Girls, conducted a large scale survey that shows that there is virtually no difference between girls and boys in terms of self-confidence until adolescence, at which point there is as much as a 30 percent drop in girls’ confidence level.
Even the most introverted men don’t seem to struggle with confidence the way that most extroverted women do. There are a lot of theories floating around about why this disparity exists. One theory proposes that when girls go through puberty, their bodies change at an earlier age and at a faster rate than boys, making them uncomfortable with drawing attention and their way.
Another theory is that as women we are taught that being “bossy” or a “know it all” is unattractive, so we keep in the urge to take the lead in academic and professional settings.
I think that the answers lies in the middle of the Venn diagram of all of these theories and may vary depending on the individual. For myself, I believe that I tend to want to have the perfect answer, but at the same time, I do not want to come across as a “know it all.”
So why is this a problem? If a girl doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up in class, shouldn’t we just let her stay in her comfort zone and say, “Girl you be you”?
The problem with that mentality is that our classrooms are microcosms of society and are the training ground for the adult world. Watch the news and pay attention to the questions female presidential candidates are asked compared to their male counterparts. Look at how the public reacts to a woman who speaks up and is not placid: Is she celebrated or is “she off-putting”? Is she rewarded for using her voice or is she condemned because “she persisted”?
The long-term effects of classroom dynamics hurt not only the girls who aren’t raising their hands, but also the rest of society that is not benefiting from the full extent of the talents of half the population. It’s not a competition. Making sure that the female voice is heard in the classroom and the workplace does not diminish the male voice. Rather, it will make the conversation richer, more authentic and as a result, more valuable.
To the girls struggling to find their voice in the classroom, look inside yourself and assess what is making you feel uncomfortable—it is different for all of us. Is it the anxiety of having all eyes on you? Is it fear of how you will be perceived? Is it wanting to be absolutely sure you have the right answer? Figuring this out will help you to combat it. Overall, celebrate yourself and your strength—you have it, I promise.
One of my heroes, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (look her up), said it best: “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.”