Being gracious means looking back at the ride and taking it all with you moving forward. It means knowing how you got here. Appreciating the people who made it possible, and knowing you weren't alone. It doesn't mean that anything was handed to you, you always have to earn your spot.
I read the weekly Gender Letter from The New York Times gender editor, Jessica Bennett, and I usually walk away with a greater understanding of a current topic. But Bennett's piece from the first of June has me less convinced. The headline reads, "Stop Being Grateful!" and the body serves it. Bennett argues that gratitude often implies luck, a sentiment that women express far more than men, when they actually worked even harder to get there. It doesn't seem fair that men often feel like they get what they "deserve," while women are filled with "gratitude" for the opportunity.
She's right, but I don't think gratitude is so simple - especially for women.
A girlfriend of mine was recently rejected from a job. The recruiter admitted they found her to be too self-deprecating in the interview. That she backpedaled on her talents and made excuses for things she might really be great at.
In my experience, confidence and a little bit of luck go a long way. But nobody likes a dick, at least not a talking one, and chalking yourself up without respect to your journey is super lame. So where is the fine line between expressing gratitude, and misrepresenting the credit you deserve?
It's kind of hip to be grateful - which is really bizarre. Kale and quinoa lovers can barely breathe without telling you "just how grateful" they are. For the sun's energy, their new succulent, their dog's unconditional love.
As Bennett voices in her NYT piece, we're all guilty of this. And how great! But also, your light is what you make it. You bought your succulent. You rescued your dog, and take time and energy to nourish it. This road didn't pave itself.
The blogosphere and influencer culture embrace the gratitude thing in a very public way. It can be to the point of ridiculous, but it also runs along the lines of cautious, feminine behavior. While many online personas appear seamless and successful, a picture doesn’t always spill a thousand words. Instagram doesn’t reflect reality, but it’s tough to be convinced.
“Women’s success usually comes with an asterisk,” says Los Angeles based blogger Marissa Pomerance, The Editorialist LA, who got real about blogger business over coffee. “I would be creating a false perception of my business if I acted like I never got any help, but do I feel like I need to constantly thank others? Not exactly.”
The pressure to outline your life in squares comes with an extra layer of tension when it’s more than showing off new shoes - it’s your livelihood. Brands today can be marketed directly by the consumer. It’s not freeloading, it’s an exchange of goods for services. And with minimal surprise, audiences are quick to be critical.
“Gifted product doesn’t pay the bills,” explains Marissa. “The idea that bloggers should be happy and incredibly grateful just to get a product without compensation isn’t really fair,” she reminds.
I'm starting to think that gratitude has become the new confidence for women. Confidence is a superpower, but also bears a few ugly faces. As Marissa describes, women particularly walk a fine line.
Careful confidence has kept women on eggshells, mindful not to take up too much space or insist on too much prestige. Meanwhile, men are swimming circles around us.
Has confidence been the key in keeping men mighty? How is it that men feel comfortable bullshitting at risk of sounding unqualified, while women waver - quick to admit their shortcomings?
Can we call that misogynistic confidence? Or is that just plain misogyny? The stereotypical, boastful, entitled kind of confidence that somehow convinces a lot of people to take notes. I’ve had several moments at the heel of commanding men where I thought, wow, if only I had the audacity to say that.
Feminism isn’t for women to be like men, it's for women to be like women - and earn respect anyway. That being said, both parties could learn a thing or two from the other, and women’s tendency to be appreciative shouldn’t be dismantled in full.
Let’s challenge men to resort to a little more gratitude and celebrate humility. Maybe it’s not about women being too grateful and more about men missing the mark. Maybe women even have something to learn from men - you were meant to be here. You did it, you deserve this, too. Why not learn from what we've historically done differently and work to bridge that gap?
Gender Letter, I love you, but I’m not willing to give up gratitude. I am gracious for the opportunity, and I will prove I deserve it every day. That’s hard work with chutzpah. Pave your way and pay it forward. Celebrate your accomplishments and know when to bow out. Know your strengths. Hammer at your weaknesses. Don’t just be grateful, be great.
x Dani Pinkus
Special thanks to Marissa Pomerance for her input. Follow her @TheEditorialistLA.