Imposter Syndrome

I don’t usually go to Psychology Today for feminist content (they’re all but obsessed with sexist evolutionary psychology), but I was intrigued by this post on something called “imposter syndrome”:

According to [Susan] Pinker, many highly accomplished women suffer from the feeling that they are imposters and they do not belong where they are and they don’t deserve what they have accomplished through their own talent and hard work…The stories of professional women Pinker interviews vividly illustrate a widespread phenomenon first documented by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 study of 150 highly successful professional women in various fields. “Despite accolades, rank, and salary, these women felt like phonies. They didn’t believe in their own accomplishments; they felt they were scamming everyone about their skills.”

It turns out this is a widely-known concept, though not an official part of the DSMIV. The blogger mistakenly notes that “imposter syndrome” is only something that afflicts women, when in fact it was also documented widely in working class kids first entering elite colleges in the 40s and 50s, and today among kids who are pipe lined into elite schools from low income neighborhoods (programs like Prep for Prep).
I was sitting across the table from a highly successful friend of mine in the restaurant business the other day and she expressed this exact sentiment–being asked to speak in a capacity she couldn’t believe she was qualified for–and I quipped back, “Welcome to my world. I feel that way all the time.”
The more I thought about my response, however, the more I realized I had some reflecting to do. It’s one thing to be intimidated by new situations, to do the ol’ fake it till you make it trick, but it’s another to truly not feel like one belongs or deserves certain kinds of opportunities or accolades. Where’s the line? How do you know? In what ways is this gendered? In what ways is it “raced” or “classed”?

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