Impostor Phenomenon

Around 250 words.

To begin our discussion of Katharine Graham’s excerpt from her memoir Personal History, I have to introduce you to this idea of the imposter syndrome. I myself have and, at times, still find that I struggle with the impostor syndrome.

sometimes called Impostor Phenomenon or Fraud Syndrome, is a syndrome where sufferers are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Regardless of what level of success they may have achieved in their chosen field of work or study or what external proof they may have of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced internally they do not deserve the success they have achieved and are actually frauds. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they were more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Rather than offering assurance, each new achievement and subsequent challenge only served to intensify the ever-present fear of being…. Found Out.

This syndrome is thought to be particularly common among women who are successful in their given careers and is typically associated with academics. It is also widely found among graduate students and transfer students. (All the information on Impostor syndrome comes from the work of Dr. Valerie Young, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. You can find links to their work by clicking on the hyperlink.)

I call your attention to this phenomenon because in reading Graham’s excerpt it was apparent that she too was in part struggling with the impostor syndrome. Graham’s experience as a successful woman in a historically male profession, tells the story of many women who like Graham find themselves in positions that were not and are not considered women’s work. In our excerpt of Graham’s Personal History, she takes us through her journey from the time she inherits the position as publisher of the Washington Post to her new found identity as a feminist woman. I would like for you to discuss her journey by answering the following questions:

According to Graham, how did women of her generation become “somehow inferior” and why did she attribute her “problems” to “being new and untrained” rather than a woman?

How did Graham participate in reproducing sexism and inequality?