Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams responds to accusation of Imposter Syndrome

Like every other feminist on the internet, I’d be beyond thrilled if Jessica Williams, who has been keeping us lolsob-ing since becoming The Daily Show‘s youngest correspondent ever in 2012, took over Jon Stewart’s role as host. But the fact that she shut down that dream pretty quickly by tweeting that she felt, at age 25, “extremely under-qualified” for the job seemed totally understandable and unsurprising to me.

At The Billfold, though, Ester Bloom wrote a piece saying she “rejects” Williams’ humility, blaming it on Imposter Syndrome, and arguing that she just needs “a pep talk” and “the best Lean In group of all time.” Imposter Syndrome is certainly real. And I don’t doubt that Williams, just like every other woman in this culture, may affected by it to some degree. But that hardly makes her a “victim” and that’s hardly the only reason a young comedian might decide against trying to jump right into filling Stewart’s rather large shoes.

Worse, Bloom’s piece frames Stewart’s replacement as an “opportunity” to “finally put a lady and/or Person of Color behind the desk,” and so Williams’ supposed Imposter Syndrome is implicitly blamed for maintaining the dismal lack of diversity in Late Night television. In response to Williams’ “self-effacing” tweet, Bloom writes, “You can almost hear all the old white people who benefit from the status quo nodding their approval.”

This is exactly the problem with “lean in” feminism: It puts the burden on individual women — even, in this case, pressuring them to do things they don’t actually want to do — to change a status quo that, in reality, is upheld by systemic inequalities that all the “leaning in” in the world can’t fix on their own.

Williams responded to the piece with a series of on-point tweets, concluding, “I am a black woman and I am a feminist and I am so many things. I am truly honored that people love my work. But I am not yours.” She added: “No offense but Lean the Fuck away from me for the next couple of days.” I’ll give her the last word.

Header image credit: Getty Images

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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