The Difficulty with Bragging

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in , , | Posted on 12:39 PM


The semester is almost over (thank my non-existent left testicle). I managed to finish Chemical and Nuclear engineering, despite never having taken any engineering course and just now taking Calculus I, with a solid A. The finals for the rest of my classes take place next week, two at 7:30 am.

I'm crossing my fingers for something in the B range, but at that time in the morning, I'm taking my chances.

When I received notice that I had made an A in the CHNE course, I wanted to turn to my partner, to crow at him. But immediately, my mouth gummed up.

I was experiencing preemptive shame. Who was I to say something like that about myself? Professors in graduate level engineering courses almost never give A grades. Who was I to think that my accomplishments merited my own voice, my own pride?

Surely, if I were actually worth anything, I would never have to tell anyone I had done well. Who was I to think my accomplishments meant anything? Surely, if they did mean anything, someone would come along and tell me about it.

Someone male. Someone who could tell me what my accomplishments were worth.

I won't speculate on how common this is in women raised in this society, since my experience of this society is decidedly different than the normal. I will, however, talk a bit about what this does to women.

The barrage of links focuses on impediments to women in tech jobs/management, and the price of self-promotion for women. Pro-tip: not only is it hard to do, because of social conditioning, it's also sometimes dangerous to your career [first and last links]. I've read any number of articles which advise women to just do it, as if for some reason it were a matter of wanting.

Because the only thing keeping me from telling my partner is definitely the desire not to. I just hate myself that much.

Why do I have trouble telling people that I did something awesome?

First, because I was taught that bragging was immodest. My family is deeply religious, despite the fact that my father and his (male) siblings are very well educated. Of the four children my grandmother had, two of the male children are engineers. The other is a biker (the black sheep), and the single female child is a nurse. This, in no way, prevented the family from believing that the best place for women was at home, and that women who insist on joining the professional world are 'unnatural' (my poor aunt; she is quick to explain that she picked a geriatric specialty so that she can stay home and care for my grandmother, trying to stave off criticism). They were especially bothered by the habit some of these women had of being 'forward.' Even talking generally about their achievements was troublingly masculine.

Bragging was frightening, the ever-present (and in my case, explicit) threat of what may happen to those women hanging over my head. I experienced, throughout my childhood, being beaten because I was deviant: for making A grades, for drawing attention to myself, for trying to 'compete' with my father or brother. I also heard my family and other families brag when anything negative happened to those women, attributing it to their deviance and a return to the 'natural' order.

I made that leap rather easily: the idea that deviance could result in physical punishment, and not just the scourge of harassment.

Second, I noticed that the frequency of negative remarks about women rose, based on their position and occupation in society. I feared what it would mean to have that focus turned on me, what it would mean for my personal safety and for my mental health. The middle links discuss strategies employed by female engineers and scientists to negotiate the demands placed on them by social conceptions of their gender; the demand to 'fit in', by allowing discrimination or by not protesting discrimination, and by attempting to be more masculine, in the hopes that their gender would be ignored for their performance. They cover up, focus on work, get a reputation for being humorless.

 Lastly, for me, there was the ever-present fear of having social support withdrawn from me. It's likely, because of my childhood, I am more sensitive to the implications than most. However, I've found abuse because of my deviance to also be common in my working life. I joke with my friends that if someone has problems with gender politics, it will take me less than two days of working with them to 'out them', mostly without trying.

I bragged anyway, because the practice of self-promotion is necessary, though it's terrifying and has already cost me professional relationships with both men and women in my department (not a few of those people are professors.)

It's not without cost, performing the way I long to. I'm probably never going to be quite comfortable with telling people about my accomplishments. I've been dreaming, since I was a child, of being able to soar. It's taken me some time to stop self-sabotaging my grades for fear of punishment, to let myself be what I am. I will continue to pay for it, but at least I am able to say it now.

I made a damn A in CHNE 515. Goddamn it, I want to enjoy that.

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