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Is ‘Imposter Syndrome’ Really a Women’s Issue?

Have you ever acted confident when deep down you felt unqualified or incompetent — in short, like an imposter? Have you ever felt that someday you would be discovered as a fraud? A blogger for Psychology Today linked this “imposter syndrome” to women, asking “why do so many successful women feel they are frauds?” It’s an interesting question to be sure, but I can’t help wondering if the “imposter syndrome” is really specific to women, and if there might be a danger in framing it as a women’s issue.

A post about this article sparked an interesting discussion at Feministing. Many commenters agreed that the “imposter syndrome” was related to gender, and gave examples of situations that support this connection. One commenter brought up the issue of women in the sciences, arguing that women who are accepted into science and engineering schools like MIT are told they only got in because of their gender. This type of affirmative action could be said to contribute to insecurity among women in the sciences who must repeatedly confront the assumption that they do not really deserve to be where they are.

The sciences are not the only field in which women are regarded with suspicion. As recently discussed in the Forward, women face barriers in Jewish communal organizations as they confront assumptions about their abilities as leaders and fundraisers. The same assumptions can be found in business, sports, and other traditionally “male” arenas. I have no doubt that women in these fields, and all fields, experience the “imposter syndrome.”

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Leah Berkenwald is the online communications specialist at the Jewish Women’s Archive, and a contributor to its Jewesses With Attitude blog, which cross-posts weekly with the Sisterhood.

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