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White Male Confidence

March 29, 2009

For those of you who subscribe, I apologize for not writing much recently. I’ve been busy and a little depressed. I hope to get back into the swing of things soon. Let me start with a few comments on my own self-confidence.

Feminists have noted that white males tend to carry themselves in a way so that it appears they assume anything they have to say about any topic will be worth listening to. That is, white males seem to operate on the assumption that they are authorities on everything they talk about.

I’ve noticed this both in and outside of academia. My white male peers in graduate school had no difficulty with self-confidence, and it showed in their research, their presentations, their diction, classroom debates, etc. By contrast, most of the females in the program were much more reserved and had difficulty projecting an air of authority when speaking, even when speaking on their own areas of expertise.

Outside of academia, I have several white male friends who often interrupt conversations with statements like, “well, actually, that’s not true …,” even when they have no expertise whatsoever on what’s being discussed.

I’ve tried to become sensitive to this, but it’s tough. I have a white male habitus, and I tend to project an air of authority even when I should not. I’m trying to get better and better at noticing and stopping it.

Twice in the last month I’ve been speaking with utmost self-confidence in conversations with my faculty peers, and I’ve had to stop myself and say something like the following: “Wait, I actually don’t know that much about this topic. In fact, I’m completely speculating and talking out of my ass. I take back everything I just said and defer to your expertise.”

Hopefully I’ll learn to stop myself before this sort of reversal is necessary.

Unfortunately we live in a culture where I can get away with this; no one has ever tried to stop me or challenge my presumption of authority (except my wife!).

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2009 8:23 pm

    Great point! It takes a real man to pull back and reconsider like that. Er, wait a minute . . .

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    March 30, 2009 8:47 pm


  3. Henry permalink
    April 3, 2009 12:09 pm

    Apperently you haven’t talked to any of the white female supervisors I’ve had.
    Not agreeing with a male supervisor may get you an argument/reprimand but disagreeing with a female boss will bring out a long list of responses: 1. how dare you disagree with my power 2. that’s why I don’t like men 3. men always want to be in charge 4. this could be construed as sexual harrassment 5. the other women in this unit don’t like you either….etc, etc..

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