Sarah Jane Justice
Fighting In The Name Of Pride
I attended a writer’s workshop not that long ago, one of the many that always leave me buzzing with the excitement of new information. In this particular one, I was told something that has stuck with me months later, enough that I still think over these words on a regular basis. On the subject of writing effective author bios, I was told that I would need to overcome the challenge of not talking down my own achievements.
In Australia, we are taught to believe that being openly proud of yourself is ‘bragging’, and is the height of social sinning. For a woman, the level of sin is increased tenfold. It is an unfortunate side-effect of our culture that we find ourselves apologising for our highest achievements, not in any attempt to be humble, but because we fear how we will be perceived for being open about them.
When I tell people that I’m a writer, I always add a brushed over mention that I’m published, or that I’ve won a few awards, usually adding an awkward shrug to suggest that it’s no big deal. Almost always, it's my partner jumping in with, “She’s performed at the Sydney Opera House!”, or referencing some of the audiences my work has reached.
I find it challenging to feel comfortable with being openly proud of myself, and it is an ongoing battle. What makes it quite so hard is how often I, and many others in my position, find that we do, indeed, get criticised for it. We are called braggarts, and told to stop thinking so highly of our own work, no matter how successful that work might be. When I tell people that I’m a writer, I feel downright uncomfortable adding that I’ve been published on four continents. This is a problem that everyone acknowledges, and yet I am always surprised by just how insidious it is.
Like so many problems in this world, it is not easily solved, especially given that the onus is so often placed on the wrong party. Telling a person that they should work on feeling more comfortable with an action will never work when the reason for that discomfort remains as an ever-present part of society.
We can only work on ourselves, but I would ask people to work on this problem in an outward manner. Don’t JUST work on your own pride, but work on being proud of others. Don’t hesitate to tell people when they’ve done something wonderful, and additionally, don’t hesitate to point it out to the other people around them.
Although this attitude spreads far, far further than the arts community, it is, at the very least, a place to start. Congratulate your fellow artists. Celebrate their achievements. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, take a minute to question why that might be. We are a community, after all, and we will all benefit from working with each other, instead of against each other.