April 27th, 1991 - A baby girl is born to a schlubby Jew from Maryland and an amazon woman reincarnate, from Canada. This baby is me. I'm told my parents watched Star Trek up until the moment of birth.
Now, when two humans from opposite ends of the athletic spectrum procreate the results are...incredibly average. I am such an average athlete. A little less let's go throw a ball, and a little more let's discuss existentialism over a glass of wine and a spatchcocked chicken. 25 years into taming the schlubby, spastic Jew that is half of my being, and I am now relatively confident in my physical abilities. However, this post begins with a moment of low confidence.
I was up on a ladder, about fifteen feet in the air, failing at a task as a group of spectators watched from down below. This was back in July, and I was working on my first feature film -a small indie shot in Sonoma county California. The goal at this moment: attach a medium sized light to a point fifteen feet above ground.
I assume it is already clear (from the Star Trek in the background at birth, and the fact that I've used the words 'schlubby' and 'Jew' twice already) that I did not grow up around ladders. I think you could even go as far as to say that I had a ladderless upbringing. So here I am, on my first ever ladder of this of this magnitude, being told to put up a light I've never seen before in my life, in the forest, and it's about 3 am. Oh, and the crew watching from below was comprised entirely of men. Surprise, surprise I did not succeed in putting up the light. I failed. And everyone was watching.
I felt all of their eyes on me. And as it became increasingly clear that I would not be able to successfully complete my task, I felt all of them, in turn, become my savior as well. I looked down and there was quite literally a swarm of men rushing to help me get off the ladder, a swarm of men taking action to save me from my own inability.
Their belief that I was fragile made me feel fragile. But I'm not fragile, I'm just an average athlete with a ladderless upbringing.
I had a male counterpart on this film -another intern working in the same department as myself- and if it had been him up on that ladder, failing at that task, unable to do something he'd never before been asked to do in his life, the people below would have told him to get the hell off the ladder and let someone more experienced put the light up. But for me there was a sort of sentimental saviorship welling up from below -reaffirmation of male superiority included.
Publicly failing, as a woman, is terrifying. Every mistake feels like an affirmation of your gender's inferiority. You're adding to the narrative, penning words to a story you hate, stoking a fire that you want, more than anything, to put out. Every mistake comes with the threat of dismissal, a label on your forehead that reads "incapable". Sometimes I think of all the sorries, of all the times I've said sorry without meaning or wanting to. I am apologizing for letting people down, for being a woman who made a mistake. The pressure is intense, you are always under review. It is a collective will she make it? Can she do it? What does it mean for those who witness if she fails? We hate to watch women fail, it feels wrong.
Why is it so hard, as a woman, to be truly confident? I think it's because we are scared to publicly fail, and, unfortunately, failure is the prerequisite for improvement. Any success I can point to I acquired by means of failure, by learning from mistakes. And herein lies the myth of masculinity. We allow men the privilege of failure. Women, not so much. And then when men know how to do something better, because they've been failing at it for longer, we say "wow look, men are so much better than women at x, y, and z." It's a masculine thing. She can't do it because she's a woman. And if she fails, that's evidence. And the cycle perpetuates.
Women need to fail more, and more frequently. I'm not saying failure does't hurt. It stings. Bad. But the wounds heal, and you learn from your scars. And you learn how to avoid future scars. And most importantly you learn that you are not failing because you are a woman, it's just a human thing.