NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 28, 2004

In her new book, Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women's Changing Lives, New York psychiatrist Anna Fels notes that despite vast strides in women's movements, modern women continue to deny themselves recognition and praise for a job well done.

Using examples of women from Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham to singer Madonna, Fels notes that women consistently turn away the recognition afforded to their male counterparts for their accomplishments. By doing so, women undermine their own self confidence. According to Fels:

  • Men seek praise, and the confidence that engenders encourages increased effort; women, however, are more likely to be self-deprecating in order to be perceived as feminine.
  • Being seen as unfeminine invites harassment and unfavorable opinions; thus, women speak less at meetings, fail to push for raises and promotions, and even smile more at the office.
  • As a result, they face emotional distress at having their achievements overlooked and their sense of self-worth can be destroyed.

Likewise, Fels argues, the greatest "emotional peril" comes from choosing the most thankless job in society -- motherhood. She maintains that women who are full-time mothers are at risk for a lifetime of depression.

For women to avoid the pitfalls of their self-inflicted subordination, they must learn to accept and, in fact, demand recognition for their achievements.

Source: Michelle Conlin, "Self-Deprecating Women," BusinessWeek, June 14, 2004.


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