So last Friday I unexpectedly learned a little lesson about gendered bodies, as I mentioned already. But I also learned something else. Or re-learned it. Or perhaps “was smacked in the face with it yet again.”
And that something else is that while I have all kinds of skills and gifts and abilities, one thing that I am apparently incapable of is working a room.
Granted, I didn’t go to the prom to network, I went to dance. But I found myself almost pathologically shy about engaging with just about anyone, even the few I knew or had met before.
I don’t have this problem generally; I know how to talk to people in social/academic settings, and I can go to a gathering of mostly-strangers, provided they are at least friends-of-friends, and get along just fine. But in other situations, even in ones where I can assume some degree of common interest (like an event benefitting WAM!), I turn into a major wallflower/chickenshit. (Thank maude I never had to go through the looking-for-date- at-a-bar thing…) I guess what I need is a script, and a script that isn’t about myself, because I kind of hate talking about myself, especially with strangers.
Moreover, I hate promoting myself, or feeling like I’m promoting myself. “HI I’M PHDORK READ MY BLOG I’M IMPORTANT.” I’m excellent at curating and recommending others’ work (my students; scholars, artists, or bloggers I admire; friends, family members, etc.), and I love doing it, but I am loathe to recommend my own. It feels horrible. And whore-able.
I know that some of this is no doubt due to being raised as a woman. Don’t get too proud, too uppity. Work hard, but deflect credit and demur when you’re praised. I bet my midwestern protestant upbringing helped, too. Work is its own reward, and all that. Whatever it was though, the upshot is that I really don’t like tooting my own horn. It doesn’t bring me pleasure; it makes me feel either self-conscious and vulnerable (“like me? please?”) or gross and infantile (“mommymommylookitme lookit what I can do!”), or just straight-up douchey (“well, lemme tell you about my international award…”) If my work is good, I enjoy being praised for it, but asking for praise–or honestly, even recognition–kind of defeats the purpose for me.
And that’s a problem, I fear. I can apply for jobs, conferences, post-docs (if I find any), because there are formal channels and recognized methods. It’s a huge fucking hassle and I hate every second of it, but I can do it. But without those channels and formalities, I don’t know what the hell to do. But given that my job prospects are dim, I’m probably going to have to learn. Fuck.
That I’ve never gotten a gig that way isn’t helping me, but cripes, I can’t turn around without hearing about how we all need to turn ourselves into brands, and only those who aggressively market themselves will survive this crap economy, blah blah blah. So as much as I resent this model, I guess I’ll need to drag myself into the 21st century market, kicking and screaming (or at least pissing and moaning).
I’m guessing I’m not alone in my loathing though, among women; among people who just want to spend time doing the work, not touting the work; among those who cringe at the idea of people-as-brands. So, friends and readers, help me out. Are you good at this? Are there ways I can learn to be good at this, or at least not hate it with the fiery passion of one thousand raging premenstrual feminists? HALP.