"Men with High Self-Esteem are Confident, But Women Are Cocky," calls attention to the "fine line of self-esteem" girls and women are asked to walk. While boys and men are allowed to brag about their personal qualities, physical and intellectual accomplishments, even their sexual prowess, girls and women who do the same are seen as too self-confident. Given the plethora of negative consequences for girls of having low self-esteem, educators often champion programs that aim to develop girls' pride in themselves. Yet the social consequences for girls who give active voice to the very self-esteem such programs aim to foster are often deeply negative. Other girls, in particular, often feel that a "cocky" member of their sex needs to be put in her rightful place, to be "knocked off her pedestal," Theodoris argues. Since parents and educators rarely openly discuss or even acknowledge the contradiction between these two very strong messages, girls are left on their own to figure out just where that narrow window of acceptable self-esteem lies.
The Economist article, reporting on a study recently published in the journal International Organization (abstract here), demonstrates that the self-esteem conundrum is not just a problem that plagues girls, but one that continues on, far into adulthood, with real consequences for women's career and financial advancement. University of San Diego researcher Barbara Walter compared the number of times male political science scholars cited their own work in subsequent research, compared to the number of times female scholars did the same. Her findings—on average, male-authored articles were cited five more times than those by female-only authors—reflect the fact that not only do men tend to cite their own previous work more than women do, but also that men cite other men "more often than chance would suggest they should." Since Promotion and Tenure committees increasingly regard the number of times a scholar's work is cited by other scholars as a sign of said scholar's standing in the field, such a clear gender gap in citation might account in part for why full professors of the male persuasion still outnumber tenured females, typically by at least 4 to 1 in most disciplines.
How do women in romance novels fare in the self-esteem wars? Romances in general do tend to push heroines to develop higher self-esteem. But I can't begin to count the number of times I've read a romance in which the heroine is compared favorably to a "cocky" female rival, said rival embodying the "bad" confidence upon which society frowns. Why does society demand that women have some self-esteem, but not too much? Do romance novels teach women frame themselves in the narrow window of "acceptable" self-esteem? Would you admire a romance heroine who crowed about her own accomplishments or skills? More or less than you would a romance hero who did the same? What are your favorite romances that feature "cocky" women? And can we come up with a term less gender-biased than "cocky"?
"Tell me...": Girls Inc.