First, they will encounter a ceaseless series of complaints: I’m tired! I’m so exhausted! I am too old to eat cold pizza for breakfast!
Should they manage to endure these moans, they’ll come across our brags: I got a raise! I got engaged! CircusToday has crowned me the world’s best trapeze artist!
Finally, they will discover evidence of a dark and terrible and somehow hybrid sentiment. They will unearth the humblebrag.
“The traffic in LA is so bad #Oscar #lol”
“It’s such a nightmare to see your own face on a billboard #lol”
“Green rooms are super weird! #lol”
And they will be irritated. Because they’ll know more than we did, they will also understand that none of this works.
Earlier this year, a team at the Harvard Business School evaluated how people respond to shameless brags, out-and-out complaints, and humblebrags. They discovered that we endure boasts and muster up some respect for genuine complaints.
What we don’t like, however, is when calls for compassion and occasions for praise are mixed together.
“Two fundamental goals in life are to get people to be impressed by us and feel sympathy for us,” said Michael Norton, who co-authored Humblebragging: A Distinct-and-Ineffective-Self-Presentation Strategy. “People think they can get the best of both worlds by being indirect. Instead they are perceived as insincere.”
As a concept, the humblebrag is supposed to make our boasts more palatable. But given that so many of us cannot stand it, I wonder why we still do it. I wonder why women, in particular, still do it. I am no social scientist, but I did go to Harvard (#lol), so I know that women do not only offer up faux-humility to look modest. We do it because women who promote themselves are often belittled. We do it to protect ourselves or maybe because some of us really believe that we haven’t earned our accolades.
Addressing women writers on Twitter last week, the novelist Jennifer Weiner insisted that women be better trumpeters of the work they do: “We have got to stop with this kittenish/self-[deprecation].”
We have to force ourselves to be prouder because the alternative doesn’t work. We would do better to brag; the universe needs women to do things and change things and talk about it. No one is going to do it for us.
This corner of the Internet is a place for experimentation and trial and error and the revival of feather boas, which I know are due for a comeback. Practice here. Tell us about the beautiful stuff you make. Brag! Complain! Sing your own praises! We promise: it is so much better than pretending none of it matters.
For confident women, check out stories about some of these women: Joan Rivers, Fran Lebowitz and Joan Didion. Learn how to #spotafeminist here. Re-start the conversation about “the f-word,” send this to anyone who’s still confused (feminism for dummies) and, to keep in-theme, read this MR Writers Club essay, “Like a Woman.”