Friday, September 26, 2008

And I thought it was just me . . .

Judith Warner's most recent post to her Domestic Disturbances column struck a very personal chord with me. It also surprised me that the phenomenon Warner describes -- the phenomenon of female insecurity, the so-called impostor syndrome (which may also afflict men)-- is as widespread as Warner suggests. Warner writes:
[O]n Tuesday afternoon when I went to The Times Web site and saw the photo of Sarah Palin with Henry Kissinger, a funny thing happened. A wave of self-recognition and sympathy washed over me.

* * *

I saw a woman fully aware that she was out of her league, scared out of her wits, hanging on for dear life.

Warner goes on to say that Palin's evident impostor syndrome may be the women that so many women relate to her. Warner also compare Palin to Elle Woods, the "Legally Blonde" character who appeared to be in over her head, but who "charms her way into Harvard Law School and takes the stodgy intellectual elitists there by storm with her Anygirl decency and non-snooty (and not-so-credible) native intelligence."

Warner asserts that many women have an "inner Elle" and that hers is manifest "every time I dress up my insecurities in a nice suit."

I saw this feeling in Palin — in a flash, on that blue couch, catty-corner to Kissinger, as her eyes pleaded for clemency from the camera. I’ll bet you anything that her admirers — the ones whose hearts really and truly swell with a sense of kinship to her — see or sense it in her, too. They know she can’t possibly do it all — the kids, the special-needs baby, the big job, the big conversations with foreign leaders. And neither could they.

The critical bit of Warner's message is that --contrary to the Elle fairy tale--people cannot "do anything" just by believing in themselves. The message is not that we should not take risks and show confidence. (I wrote earlier that this is a page we might productively borrow from Palin's book). It is that it's hard--and highly perilous--to skip too many steps in reaching our goals. Moving to the next step is stressful enough. We are going to find ourselves in over our heads from time to time -- indeed, we need to do that to grow and advance personally and professionally. The problem with Palin is not that she's in over her head per se -- it is HOW FAR she is in over her head. She's clearly drowning. Do you think she even knew enough to imagine how in over her head she would be when she said "yes" to McCain's invitation to join him on the Republican ticket? But she can hardly jump off the treadmill now . . . Yikes.

That brings me to Warner's closing paragraphs, which note the disservice Palin's selection has done to all women. Warner goes as far as to call it an act of cruelty to Palin herself.

An act of cruelty, indeed. How many women will pay the price, in one way or another, for Palin's selection? How many of us will choose not to take the sort of "next step" risks we need to take and can constructively take, and how many of us will now not be given the opportunity to take those risks, all because of the spectacle of an in-way-over-her-head Sarah Palin?

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