Rosalind Gill, a professor of social and cultural analysis at City University of London, and her colleague Shani Orgad, a professor of communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science, have long observed that something was wrong with the messages that the media and networks have been launched against women. They proved that the key to success in any area of a woman’s life was simply her self-esteem and self-confidence. Fed up with what they call an “illusion” and after researching dozens of self-help manuals with tips for success and hundreds of ads with self-love slogans, they decided to write Cult of trust. In the book, published by Duke University Press, we analyze how this sect (cult) of trust removes structural problems from the equation of life to place all the responsibility on the usual: women.
Why is our culture so obsessed with self-confidence?
Rosalind Gil: We think this kind of shift towards trust is partly due to the fact that there is a new interest in feminism and as a result the issue of women’s trust has entered the agenda. But it’s also due to the growing self-help movement and wellness focus you see all over social media. I guess our criticism is that women are encouraged to see themselves projected by their own internal deficits, by their own flaws, instead of sharing the responsibility with a patriarchal society, which is still very unfair.
in your book Cult of trust Emphasize that self-confidence can also be a good thing. When is self-confidence a good thing?
Shani Orgad: It is very important to make it clear that we are not against trust. Of course, we would like women to thrive. We would like everyone, all kinds of women, to have self-confidence. And the direct answer to your question is that trust is never bad as such. But, once again, our critique is about what it has become. The problem is that this trust is used as a solution to problems that are actually structural. It is complicated because we are told that the solution to inequalities and injustice lies in our trust, which is a personal problem that requires a personal solution. Only through structural changes that support women, empower women – not only as individuals but also as a community – will the positive changes we seek so much be achieved.
Rosalind Gil: It is crucial for us not to suggest that we are somehow asking women to lack confidence or to be insecure. That’s not what we say at all. But we are very worried because all the burden of the problems falls on women. We women should feel better in our own skin, be more confident, more assertive, love each other a lot and so on, without analyzing that many times it is patriarchal structures that undermine that trust. And without modifying these structural problems, it will be difficult for us to advance on our own.
The pressure to be self-confident is very high, while the beauty industry and beauty standards are at the same time very unrealistic.
Rosalind Gil: The fashion and beauty brands, through their slogans and advertisements, are trying to convince us that it’s all about feeling comfortable in your own skin. It’s about feeling good, being happy, and having confidence and self-esteem. But, at the same time, they send us messages with their canons of beauty, which are becoming more and more severe and intense. So there is this contradictory situation. It’s a real stress and women have to deal with it, subjected to all these truly elusive ideals. It is quite toxic because they tell you “Come on, you have to be comfortable with yourself” yet they sell you something unattainable.
Is the culture of trust tougher for women?
Rosalind Gil: Definitely. We’ve seen some examples of trust messages directed at men, and it’s quite different. I mean, it exists, but it’s quite different. So, for example, in one of the chapters, we looked at the intimate relationship messages men receive and looked at the kind of guidance they are given. It’s about being successful and getting more dates and stuff. It is framed in terms of performance and results and what will come from being confident. While for women, it is much more than some kind of internal psychological change. That’s right, something that disappoints us. It is a much deeper kind of work that is required of us. It is not just an external performance. It is also about looking within and working on yourself. And it is that work that seems to have added extra weight to women’s lives.
Shani Orgad: I would like to add that in the case of men the pressure is temporary. They seem to have to work on confidence, improve performance, acquire these skills, and achieve the goal. While for us women it is a continuous work and it is a bottomless field. The goal is never achieved. It is a moving target and there is always more work to be done. Even if you have presumably achieved some level of confidence, there is always a warning that comes with it that says to be careful as it is something that can wear out very quickly. So for us it is a deep psychological work, quite intimate with your body, in the psyche, in everything, in how we breathe, in how we sleep, in how we care, in how we think, in how we feel. In a way, it never ends.
Do you know any concrete examples of how the culture of trust makes us responsible for problems that we cannot change?
Shani Orgad: Maybe I can give you an example from the workplace. When we researched the book, we focused a lot on seeing how trust materializes at work and looked at a few. best sellers, advising women on how to be more successful and how to advance their careers. All those books have good intentions, at least they are framed in a feminist field and speak to you as if they were your friends. In fact, in one of the examples we looked at, in Rachel Hollis’ book Girl, stop apologizing she says, “I’m your friend.” So you interpret it as a colleague talking to you. Yet these texts, these books are full of advice, examples and metaphors that have to do with internalizing the idea that something is wrong with us. An example that we also use is the book Trust code, written by two reporters, Patty Kay and Claire Shipman. Again this text is framed as a manual to help women. But once again he stresses that what we don’t get at work is our fault, there is something wrong with us, it is not the system but us who should be more sure of ourselves.
Rosalind Gil: I will also give another example from the field of labor. And it is that in many companies, women do not show up to ask for a raise. And now, instead of blaming the company or holding it accountable for not allowing women to thrive in their jobs and encouraging them to level up, to get better paid, they are being accused of not having enough self-confidence to be assertive. needed to ask for a pay raise. There are examples of tweets about this and they are really aggressive towards women. They are really awful. They come to say that it is your fault, that you have failed at this, and that is why you earn less. It is very worrying that all responsibility is ours. Also that of not thriving and not breaking the glass ceiling.
You speak of Lizzo as an example of a famous singer who sets a good example of self-confidence.
Shani Orgad: I think Lizzo is a really, really interesting example. And we felt like we couldn’t have written a book about the culture of trust in the first place without her because she is her self-love queen. Of course, she too participates and reproduces many of the themes that we criticize and examine in the book, it is impossible to escape everything. But there are some things that are really interesting about Lizzo. It makes the work behind trust visible. She, very explicitly on her Instagram, in media interviews, says: “I’m working on it, I’m in therapy.” He puts the work to be done on the table. Second, perhaps more obviously, unlike the dominant elements in the culture of trust – who continue to conform to rather narrow heteronormative standards of body image, beauty, straight, white, middle class – Lizzo is a revolution. A radical revolution in his way of acting and in her person. I think the third thing we find really interesting about her is part of the celebrity culture, but it also constantly emphasizes the fact that she is not alone and that she relies heavily on her family for her support. A rather rare thing about Lizzo is that she is accompanied on all of her tours by her friends and her family, which is not common among celebrities. And she insists that she couldn’t survive without this support, that these kinds of triumphs don’t come by themselves. And this, to some extent, goes against the highly individualistic culture of trust.
As parents, how can we teach our children to have a positive relationship with trust and self-esteem?
Shani Orgad: I think the main message would be to encourage our children to feel good about themselves, but also to think in collective and structural terms. Make it clear that trust is not something that should only be cultivated individually and competitively. Much of what we discover from the research is that children are often raised in a very competitive environment, competitive among parents and competitive even among children. The kind of thinking we hope to emerge from the book is that the educational system structurally needs to nurture a climate in which children feel supported and empowered, but not in the narrow, competitive, individualistic terms of contemporary education and neoliberal culture.
Rosalind Gil: In the book we also look at what we call the double whammy of the culture of trust in relation to motherhood, where women are responsible for their own trust, but must also be responsible for that of their children. , especially the trust of her daughters. And it becomes another job, another place of potential failure and we really wanted to open it up and take a critical look at it.
What would you say to someone who repeats the mantra: “All your dreams are possible, you just have to believe in yourself and that you can make them come true”?
We would tell him that it is very, very good to believe in yourself and to believe that there are possibilities open to you. But what’s not helpful is believing that all the barriers you encounter, all the challenges you face are yours alone as an individual. There are structural forces and systemic inequalities at work in all of our lives. They may not be as visible as you feel internally in terms of trust, but they really are there and they matter. Not everything will depend on you.