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Women and bragging rights

Sacramento has plenty of bragging rights. Check out the Sacramento Bee article, "Novel depicts California Capitol as full of sex and corruption." The article notes, that California's Capitol is full of hard-drinking, skirt-chasing, and corrupt hypocrites - or so Dianne Harman, the wife of a former state senator, would have readers of her new novel, Tea Party Teddy, believe. But how many 'average' Sacramento women who have written novels set in Sacramento ever get bragging rights such as an interview with a mainstream newspaper?

Women and bragging rights.
Anne Hart, photography and novel.

Numerous women, especially those who are in their late senior years, may feel that they're lucky if their novel ever gets on the shelves of public libraries in the area. On the other hand, how do most women feel about even thinking about bragging rights also sometimes called media and/or social media promotion?

Novels known as the roman à clef genre

For example, the novel, Tea Party Teddy (The Teddy Saga) is a roman à clef that fictionalizes several well-known incidents, says the Sacramento Bee article. But now a new study from Montana State University researchers has found that women (in general) may dislike promoting their own accomplishments. But it's possible for negative effects to be offset and to improve self-promotion.

Are you tired of bragging only to be told "she's not all that," or some other remark that makes you feel put down so another person can feel lifted up? Typical examples are horrific reviews of your self-published novel that you've worked on for decades giving your achievements your best, pouring out into your work everything you're capable of doing with what you have, regardless of the achievement or creativity.

When your achievement never gets bragging rights

And do you feel your achievement, say a book or play will get different attention from mainstream media if you're the wife of someone with a job considered important than if you're married to a retired blue-collar local repair technician, or that it doesn't make a difference if you're a novelist if you went to college in various humanities subjects or not? What's important is who you know more than what you know? Does being well-connected make a difference in how far your achievements reach?

Why do so many blogs, Facebook groups, and other sites forbid bragging rights and throw you out of membership the second you promote your own accomplishments in any small way, such as a link, and especially if you're female and you brag or promote your accomplishments? Seems the only accomplish you can brag about is your work as a senior volunteer delivering necessities to the poor and homebound. Or is it that way? You may wish to read the study's abstract, "Women’s Bragging Rights: Overcoming Modesty Norms to Facilitate Women’s Self-Promotion." It's published online since December 20, 2013, in that issue of the Psychology of Women Quarterly.

A new study from Montana State University (MSU) shows that interventions help women's reluctance to discuss accomplishments. There's a reason for the reluctance. You put your toe in the door of accomplishment, and you're tossed out like yesterday's newspapers for seeking kudos (or customers). Suddenly you're spam to be deleted.

The study published by Jessi L. Smith, professor of psychology at Montana State University, and Meghan Huntoon, who was Smith's student at MSU when research was conducted, has found that gender norms about modesty help explain why women don't feel comfortable bragging about their own accomplishments. However, intervention techniques can help women to communicate more effectively about their successes.

Gender norms about modesty and bragging about your own accomplishments

The research, which sampled nearly 80 MSU undergraduate women, confirmed that women downplay their own accomplishments but have no trouble promoting a friend, Smith said. Past research had already shown than men are not affected by modesty norms like women are. However, this was among the first studies to test ways to intervene to help women write about themselves effectively.

"We also showed that we can intervene positively, and women can absolutely write about their accomplishments effectively," Smith said, according to the January 13, 2014 news release, "Bragging rights: MSU study shows that interventions help women's reluctance to discuss accomplishments."

Smith said she and Huntoon, now a doctoral student in psychology at Northern Illinois University, launched the study when Smith observed an interesting response to a request for submissions to an MSU Women's Faculty Caucus newsletter.

"Nobody responded about themselves. Not one," Smith recalled in the news release. However, many women told Smith about really great things happening with their friends and colleagues. "We wondered what was going on, so we began looking at the research," Smith said, according to the news release.

Cultural norms promote modesty

Smith said they found that American women are reluctant to talk about their own accomplishments because cultural norms promote modesty. And, society disapproves of women who are perceived to be bragging about themselves. However, Smith said, American men who brag about their accomplishments are perceived as confident and capable.

"We live in a society where cultural gender norms are powerful and imbedded in our history," she explained in the news release. "This is no way, shape or form to be blamed on women. It's just part of our culture, and it is our job to find ways to change these cultural norms."

Smith and Huntoon wondered whether this could be reversed, so they devised a study in which four groups of about 20 mostly freshmen female students at Montana State University (MSU) each were asked to write essays for a scholarship based on merit that ranged in value up to $5,000. The subjects were told that the essays would be used as samples to help other students improve their essay skills.

Essays written for a scholarship based on merit

One group was asked to write essays about their own accomplishments; another group was asked to write about the accomplishments of someone else. A group of impartial judges evaluated the essays, awarding an average of $1,500 less to those essays in which people wrote about their own accomplishments rather than about someone else's.

In order to study whether the female modesty effect could be overcome, Smith and Huntoon had another two groups write essays about themselves and introduced a distraction. A black box of about 3x3 feet square was placed in the room where the students wrote the essays. The researchers told one of the groups of subjects that the box was a "subliminal noise generator" that produced ultra-high frequency noise that couldn't be heard, but could cause them discomfort.

Does the female modesty effect exist when it comes to bragging about accomplishments?

"There is no such thing as a subliminal noise generator," Smith said in the news release. "It was total fiction. But, we had given them an explanation for any anxiety they felt while writing their essay."

The other control group wasn't told what the box in the room was. The group that had the black box as justification to explain their discomfort wrote essays that were awarded up to $1,000 more than the group that had no explanation. And they enjoyed the experience of writing more, too.

"The key here is that when women had an alternative explanation for why they might be feeling uncomfortable – the supposed noise generator- the awkwardness they felt from violating the modesty norm by writing about themselves was diverted, and they did just fine," Smith said in the news release.

The research has broad practical implications, Smith said.

"Basically, people in authority positions need to put in place practices that make it feel normal for women to promote their accomplishments," she said. "Cultural shifts take time, so while we wait, our results also suggest that people should be proactive and promote the accomplishments of their female friends and colleagues to their bosses. Women were very good at promoting the accomplishments of friends."

Smith said, according to the news release, that she has already used the results of the study while she talks to search groups and pay equity task forces and others in a position to review applications from women. "This sheds light on an important issue and brings into question how we look at self-nomination for awards, cover letters for job applications and even pay raises," Smith explained in the news release. "I tell them that the woman that you are reading about on paper is likely really more outstanding than she appears."

Almost anyone can achieve their dreams, but bragging about what you've done in life to make a difference is really focused on meritocracy as well as who you know, even if you're a very low income senior citizen with a creative streak that keeps producing plays, scripts, stories, or novels or spends most of the day researching areas that others may not have the time in their busy day to explore. Also you may wish to check out the slideshow on Examiner.com of 50 of Anne Hart's 91 paperback book covers.

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