I read a book earlier this year called The Confidence Code: The Science And Art Of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. If you haven’t already, you should definitely pick it up. Not because I want you to agree, or disagree, but because it promotes productive discussion on how female confidence is built and broken, and what the possible outcomes could be if we tweaked our perspective on the female experience ranging from school participation to sport activities to the workplace. For example, the authors posit that girls who stay in sports become more confident as adults because –and this is a quick simplification – being athletic encourages girls to take risks, to be comfortable that those risks can lead to losses, and then to be able to rebound from losses more effectively.
In their research, the authors interviewed prominent female figures on the world stage. Like Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, and Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund. Both women reveal that they “over-prepare” at work because even though they are who they are and they do what they do, they still believe “that we don’t have the level of expertise to grasp the whole thing”. Would a man in their positions do the same? In over-preparing, are Merkel and Lagarde conceding to the stereotype that they HAVE to over-prepare? Why don’t they have the confidence to just prepare – not over-prepare – and go into their meetings and their business without any insecurity that they’re not ready?
I thought about all this while watching clips of Angelina Jolie in Australia at the Unbroken press conference today. She holds the room – because she’s Angelina Jolie. But also, she’s the director of the film, the last voice, the last decision. And there’s no doubt about that here among the actors. I don’t doubt that that’s the way it was on set, with the crew, either. In one of her answers, she talks about good men, about telling the stories of good men – I’ve attached the video below – and I don’t feel as I’m listening to her that telling these stories of men diminishes how capable and interesting she is as a woman…even though the question was about what she LEARNED FROM HER HUSBAND about making war movies. (Like, I get the impulse to work Brad Pitt into the conversation for the sake of gossip, of course I do. In this case though, I wonder if it would have been better to just come right out and ask the gossipy question. Do you guys talk about work when you’re in bed together?)
So I’m curious if even Angelina Jolie, like Merkel and Lagarde, had to “over-prepare” so that she could hold the room, hold the set, and establish her authority on this film. The easy answer is that her star power effectively takes care of any potential for not being taken seriously. And I’m sure that has something to do with it. But it doesn’t change how women feel inherently, the same way Merkel and Lagarde felt inherently, that they have to work harder to be taken seriously, informed by a society institutionalised by white male privilege – often a reality that overrides star power or even title.
Click here to watch another clip.