This week I was reading about the results of a recent study on the gender difference in the amount of “uptake” at the end of answers given on Jeopardy!
“Uptake” is when the tone of your voice goes up at the end of a sentence and is associated with uncertainty and lack of confidence. The study found that women use uptake more often than men, especially when they are in the lead. The inference is that women are “apologizing” more when they are smarter than their opponents.
As I finish up my less-than-picture-perfect photography class and head off to my intermediate glass bead-making class this weekend, I realize how much this resonates with me.
I was made fun of as a kid for being smart. Well, to be more accurate, I was made fun of for doing well at school. I was good at school. My dad was a teacher and then a vice-principal and I learned to follow the rules. At home, following the rules meant that things stayed peaceful and calm. Or, at least the lid stayed on the tension and stress and did not blow off into a mess of scary chaos and yelling.
But at school I was made fun of for getting high marks. And, I was teased when I got things wrong, too. Or, when I didn’t get the top mark in the class. So the message I got was make sure I was extra nice and humble when I did well and don’t take too much credit for my achievements. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t get anything wrong. Because there is no forgiveness for that.
Kind of confusing for a kid.
But the thing is, neither one of these messages is serving me terribly well as an adult. On the one hand, I struggle to accept compliments on my photography or glass art and I find it hard to feel that it’s okay to be proud of my work and my art. On the flip side, I am held back by my fear of making mistakes and by the fear that my work is “not good enough”.
I think it might be time to replace those childhood messages with my own confident and unapologetic voice. To remember that most adults aren’t going to act like those few kids who teased me. And, that if I do run into an adult bully, I am so much better equipped emotionally to deal with that situation than my child self was.
To remember that mistakes are part of the learning process and that they are often beautiful in themselves. Unlike a grade 7 math test, perhaps there are no mistakes in art.
By the way, the study also found that men were no more immune to these gender roles than women. The research found than men used uptalk more often when correcting a female contestant than at male contestant, perhaps seeking to protect the women from their failure.
So, apparently chivalry isn’t dead yet. At least on Jeopardy! anyway.