Imposter Syndrome

Over the past year I’ve read Bossypants by Tina Fey, Yes Please by Amy Poehler, #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso and Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. And if memory serves, I remember every single one of them describing struggling with something called Imposter Syndrome.

A quick wiki describes Imposter Syndrome as

a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved… [it] is particularly common among high-achieving women.”

Before I even start, I just cannot with this. That we have people like Adam Sandler walking around without a care in the world, who hasn’t made a good film since I was still in nappies, and these extremely hard working and evidently successful women feel this way. It makes me kinda mad. The feeling manifests in very different ways- women saying that their achievements aren’t good enough, or aren’t as good as their peers, as well as expressing shock and dismissiveness when praised with good work claiming that the success was merely luck or they had a lot of help.

Emma Watson is another extremely successful celebrity who has admitted to being plagued with this. As well as being a world famous actress, she is now an ambassador for UN Women and an incredible role model. However, she still seems to be coming to grips with her incredible success and achievements; all of which she is very deserving of. In British Vogue’s September issue she explains that, “when I receive recognition for my acting, I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I tend to turn in on myself. I feel like an imposter.” She also describes in an interview with Rookie Mag that you can read here about how she felt that “any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are.”

Emma Watson at UN Women conference #HeForShe

The Imposter Syndrome originates from a study conducted by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes back in 1978 called ‘The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention’, you can read the study here. They explain that the Imposter Syndrome itself could manifest in “societal sex-role stereotyping” which would explain why the syndrome appears a lot more in women than in men. Girls grow up in societies which encourage them to be pretty and not play in the dirt, to not be bossy, to be ambitious but not too ambitious as to make men feel emasculated. As Clance and Imes go on to say, “a woman’s femininity is called into question by her success”- no wonder women are so quick to dismiss their successes. Being a ‘go-getter’ and ambitious are attractive qualities in men, it is a shame the same cannot be said for women. This article describes how the word ambition is a ‘dirty word’ and is practically an insult and when “applied to women, it’s almost a slur – the subtext somehow being that ambitious women are out to trample colleagues on the ladder to success, with family and friends littered somewhere down the bottom of the life priorities list.”

Similarly, the media have continuously portrayed successful women as being extremely unnattractive. Think Sarah Jessica Parker in ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’, or Sandra Bullock in ‘The Proposal’. It would be nice if women were encouraged to be successful and own it. Not to be described as ‘full of herself’ or ‘bitchy’ for knowing she’s a badass business woman and a successful woman period, whether she has two kids and a dog waiting for her at home or Netflix and popcorn.

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Feminism and Witchcraft.

Witches pop up in most peoples lives and cultures; from religion to media. The paradigm of the witch is incredibly interesting. Witches, primarily, seem to attempt to own their narrative and maintain agency over it and their sexuality; something which the patriarchy highly dislikes. Hence the ‘witch’ falling into categories such as; ugly, spinster and lesbians.

One classical component of the witch within the media is appearance. From way back in Shakespeare’s three witches in ‘Macbeth’, they are described as ‘wild in their attire’ and ‘should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so’. This conveys the idea that if women do not conform to regular patriarchal standards of beauty then they become an ‘other’ in society; in this case the ‘other’ becomes the witch. Similarly, in ‘Sleeping Beauty’, the main protagonist is the witch ‘Maleficent’. Interestingly, the three women with powers who help Aurora- Flora, Fauna and Merriweather, are called fairies. However, because of Maleficent’s appearance, (green and with horns) she is referred to as a witch. Interestingly, horns are seen as icons of the ‘devil’ and demons; a very male trait. This could be seen as confrontational to males and the patriarchy.

Also commonly found in the repertoire of witches in the media, is a constant state of ‘spinsterhood’; if the woman is single and seen as uncontrolled by a man, the patriarchy punish her and therefore label her as a witch. Take ‘Hansel and Gretel’ for instance, a story which outlines the fear of the single, childless woman. The witch that they meet in the woods is a single woman without children. It is speculated that the witch represents Hansel and Gretel’s new step mother; a former single woman who cannot live up to the idolised real mother. The ‘‘evil’ stepmother’ archetype is treated similar to the witch in the media, but that discussion is for another time. Upon Hansel & Gretel’s return, the step mother has died- seemingly the witch has the choice between spinsterhood or death. More recent, we can see examples of this in ‘Hocus Pocus’ and an extremely recent example is seen in Disney’s ‘Frozen’. Elsa (although approved patriarchally attractive) is shunned by society and at the end of the film is still single, whilst her ‘non-witch’ sister has found her one-true-love.

The Crucible is a major contributing factor to the modern day representation and understanding of witches. Written in 1953, the play is based on true events meaning that the analysis of fictional works surrounding witches to do with resulting representations and discussions are all the more potent. The play shows that the term witch is mostly just assigned to ‘the vulnerable’- women in general including women of colour, older women and the poor. I see witch hunting as synonymous with modern day ‘women hunting’; misogyny and resulting attacks surrounding a woman’s right to equal pay, abortion rights, and a continuing and never ending list of battles for something as simple as equal rights. A recurring theme in ‘The Crucible’ is that of hysteria- how an idea or a comment can be taken out of context and misunderstood. Much like today’s current misunderstanding of feminism, with a frightening amount of people believing that it is a women only man-hating club.

the craft

Sexual liberation is a major theme in modern day witches in particular. When considering Willow in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and the women in ‘The Craft’, they all are placed in modern day (well, the 90s) clothes and situations; including third-wave feminism and sex-positivity. The outfits often include short skirts and low cut tops as well as gothic makeup and jewellery in contrast to the outfits of ‘Maleficent’ or ‘Hocus Pocus’. In these recent cases, the women can be considered as being conventionally attractive, however, because of this, the patriarchy needs to place them in different categories- in the cases of Willow and the girls of The Craft, that category is lesbianism. Because the male viewer cannot understand why the women is attractive and yet a witch- these are two opposing ideals and the ‘witch’ part is not for him or his male gaze. Famously, Willow is a lesbian, and the girls in the Craft all experiment with lesbianism and so this is the patriarchy’s ‘reason’ that these women are single and witches; not because they are unattractive but because they don’t like men period. The average male needs to categorise an attractive woman into either ‘available for me’ or ‘not available for any man’.  

When you consider the witch’s male counterpart, the wizard, most people would think of Merlin, Harry Potter and Gandalf- all are considered the helpful, intelligent hero. The witch gets a much worse rep. Over time, I believe that the idea of the witch has evolved into the modern day idea of the feminist. The words witch and feminist are almost interchangeable; both words are not deemed attractive by most men, and nor is the woman who believes she is one. The modern day feminist can be considered as someone who disrupts the patriarchy, is sexually liberated, is quite happy being single and doesn’t care if ‘most men’ don’t find her attractive because she identifies as a feminist. The modern day ‘witch hunting’ has turned into online ‘trolling’ hate on YouTube comments and on 4chan boards and attacking women just for being women.