“Impostor syndrome is a phrase that I’m not even entertaining anymore because it feels like career gaslighting. Women and other underrepresented groups aren’t suffering from impostor syndrome; they’re suffering in a system that wasn’t designed with their success in mind” – @Kashia
As an Indigenous woman I don’t think a quote could resonate with me more. The impostor is not within, it is systemic and created.
As I begin to achieve the things I’ve aspired to, I can’t quite shake the latent feeling that I don’t deserve to be here.
It should be unsurprising then that the term ‘impostor syndrome’ was coined in a study that looked at the phenomenon occurring in high-achieving women.
Women who felt like outsiders and frauds; felt that they had somehow tricked those around them into believing that they were smart or worthy enough of being in positions of power or succeeding.
But what’s not discussed enough is that these feelings are caused by a system that was designed to keep them out.
This is especially true if you are an Indigenous woman. For us, this feeling of being an outsider — an impostor — is felt even in those spaces that are supposed to be safe for all women. And one of the most uncomfortable truths I’ve learnt? Sometimes it’s worse because you feel like the people who are supposed to have your back, don’t.
A hidden barrier
Georgia Durmush, a Wailwan and Gomeroi woman, published author and PhD student says that despite her myriad accomplishments she still feels like an outsider and uses a recent experience facilitating a panel at the Sydney Opera House to underscore her point.
“I was facilitating a panel for International Women’s Day with (two well-known white women) and in a preparation meeting before, I tried to explain to them that for Aboriginal women it’s not a glass ceiling, it’s a concrete one,” she said.
“One of them made a joke about it. And I just thought this is the culturally unsafe space that I’m in.”
Durmush said the incident left her feeling “very low”.
“I have to be honest… I walked away and I was crying after it,” she shared. “I just felt so flat, very low. And before the interview they just ignored me.”
A double-edged sword
Indigenous women contend with rife sexism as well as racism.
I can’t remember when I started to hear the stereotypes of Aboriginal people, the low expectations people had for us or the ‘handout’ tropes. These sentiments have just always been there.
They exist both in the background and the fore, and they permeate Australian culture through the media and education system. Last year I experienced it within my own family.
With all of this against you, it’s hard to not feel like an impostor when you start to succeed. I’m trying to succeed within a system that was designed with the intention of excluding me and still is.
Like Georgia, I am often in spaces where I’m the only Indigenous woman. From the classroom in university to the workplace and industry events.
I look around and ask, “Where are the women like me? Who will back me up if I speak up?”. And, as an Indigenous woman trying to make a career in media, representation is scarce. There are few people to look up to and think “she did it, I can too.”
But there are those few. And I look up to them and wonder if this feeling will ever leave me. They are trailblazers and were up against even more than I am. And as scarce as that representation is, it did instill enough belief in me that I can do this.
I am so grateful for those women. Their resistance, resilience and perseverance has made my life a little bit easier.
So, when the impostor syndrome creeps in, I think of them. I hope that one day I can do the same for another young Indigenous woman doubting herself.
Georgia was right when she said there’s a concrete ceiling. But if she wasn’t the only Indigenous woman on that panel, she would’ve had back up, she wouldn’t have been in tears and she wouldn’t have again felt like an impostor.
That’s the place we need to aim for. A place where Indigenous women aren’t viewed as the other.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.