Imposter syndrome is actually the human condition.

Imagine asking a room of five hundred women, “Raise your hand if you’ve experienced impostor syndrome.” I did this recently. A sea of ​​hands went up, including mine. Because we have been taught to believe that we are under the clutches of this “syndrome” and that every time we feel doubts, insecurities or questioning we should label it as such. It is painful and feels unpleasant. So naturally we want a diagnosis. It makes sense if the patient has impostor syndrome.

My goal, however, was to show that this must be nonsense. I’m not a doctor, but it seems to me that if 90 percent or more of people report that they have a condition, then it’s most likely the disease known as the human condition. Next question: “Is there anyone here who has never had impostor syndrome?” A brave woman raised her hand. You could feel the famous quote from when harry met sally flash through the collective mind: “I’ll have what she’s having.”

The point was made. We have labeled natural and reasonable self-doubt “imposter syndrome” when it is just part of a healthy professional life. But there is something about sharing these insecurities that gives us, and women in particular, a sense of community. And, perhaps most importantly, these self-blaming concepts also offer a kind of explanation. Why do these statistics persist, like the one that more men named Dave or Steve become CEOs than women? Why, in UK Conservative leadership elections, are 63 per cent of Conservative members eligible to vote for men?

In many countries we are decades into universal suffrage, education and literacy, and yet much data illustrates our desperation to cling to the strange medieval gender attitudes that are reflected throughout society and, more markedly, wherever we live. there is power, status and money. The appeal of attributing this to impostor syndrome reminds me of the Oprah Winfrey quote: “There is no discrimination against excellence.” That’s the 1990s take. That if you feel attacked and oppressed, you have no one but yourself to blame. Be more confident! Be more excellent! Stick it to the man!

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But I am hearing more and more women privately complain that they are tired of improving themselves and that they need to learn to negotiate or change themselves to function better in a given environment. There is a sense that such self-development initiatives, often well-intentioned and successful, are almost a form of “trolling” women. There is a backlash to Imposter Syndrome and all that it stands for and it can be summed up in the title of Laura Bates’ new book, Fix the system, not the women.

Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism project, is a brilliant thinker and activist. In this book, he takes an in-depth look at the changes that need to be made in education, politics, the media, criminal justice, and policing. It’s a strong case for the kind of entrenched institutional bias that is almost impossible to fight against as an individual. (Example: The man who threw his ex-wife into a car and, after an assault conviction, was instructed to pay £150 compensation to his ex for her injuries and £810 to the owner of the BMW dented).

The conclusions echo Caroline Criado-Perez’s research in invisible women where he lists the parts of life designed for “the average man”: crash test dummies, driving controls on vehicles of all kinds, voice recognition systems. Even smartphones are designed with the male hand in mind. All the little ways women are designed to disappear. No wonder that makes you feel like an impostor in the world you live in.

But to blame the system and expect it to change without any of us changing anything about ourselves is naive. The fault is not exclusively with the system or with women: it is with all of us. Because we are all part of the system. At the end of the event where she was speaking, the woman with impostor syndrome zero came up to me and she apologized, which I thought was unnecessary but made me like her more. She didn’t mean to be arrogant. She just doesn’t blame herself when things go wrong. She just asks why and thinks about what to do next. Yes, we need data and arguments that question the system and point out its flaws. But we also need people within who are focused on solutions rather than themselves and their own perceived failures.

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