Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
Fashion designer Tory Burch recently released Ambition Guidebook, a workbook that instructs women to close their eyes, picture their dreams, block out negativity and naysayers, and so on.
The Huffington Post has published numerous self-help guides for women on how to "Close the Confidence Gap," and adopt the characteristics of confident women. Both of these pieces reiterate women's responsibility to "listen" and "support others," but also to "challenge institutions" and not "tolerate the everyday sexism" of the world.
Conversations about self-confidence are important and necessary, but why are nearly all discussions of women's self-confidence pedantic and condescending? Why do so many of the conversations about confidence and gender make it women's responsibility to fix a gap they did nothing to create?
In "The Confidence Gap," Katty Kay and Claire Shipman explore the deficit of female confidence, concluding that the ways in which females are taught to communicate from a young age — such as listening rather than speaking — result in a lack of confidence. But once girls leave the classroom and enter the working world, the rules of behavior change. Being "reserved" and a "good girl" is no longer valued; instead it cripples one's confidence.
The larger result of this is a culture in which women are held to archaic standards of behavior that value not their voices or opinions, but rather their ability to adhere to behavioral standards designed by men. And failure to adhere to these norms and standards further contributes to the culture of insecurity so many women face.
Another way to explore this problem is through the term "mansplain." American author Rebecca Solnit introduced the concept in her 2008 essay, "Men Explain Things to Me," describing a time when a man tried to explain a book to her without acknowledging that she herself was the author.
The poisonous condescension of mansplaining culture infects discussions of female confidence. Women are told to lean in and speak up, but not to be too loud or bossy — to dress professionally but also be feminine and warm. The pedantic, condescending tone of the workbooks, checklists and think-pieces about female self-confidence does a disservice to the discussion of gender, communication and confidence because it ignores that our norms of communication are fashioned by men.
Dwarfing women by speaking down to them and dictating the ways in which they carry themselves does nothing but amplify the androcentric norms that are woven into the fabric of our society. Telling women to be more like this but to also do less of that, to speak up but not be too loud, doesn't break these norms — it perpetuates them.
Breaking these norms requires education for both boys and girls that questions the messages our society conveys about gender, communication and confidence. Of course, it helps to talk to women about self-doubt, but closing the confidence gap requires large-scale structural changes in all of our institutions. That's a matter of collective will we are still painfully lacking.
Sarah Riback is a sophomore English and sociology major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.