This is because biology would shape what we today call “gender roles.” Pregnancy is a long, grueling process that tends to reduce female mobility. Even after a baby is born, the mother provides the milk that keeps him alive. So a mother can only go as far as she’s able to carry her child. That limits her food-gathering ability for a year or two. Men, meanwhile, are always free to roam about, hunting or farming at will.
Meanwhile, genetics comes into play. A confident man is more likely to pursue prey, and therefore more likely to bring back valuable protein. A confident man is more likely to plant a crop (recall that our ancestors didn’t enjoy federal crop-insurance programs) and therefore more likely to raise valuable produce.
These confident men, being more successful at bringing back sustenance, would be more likely to push their genes into another generation. Do that generation after generation, and confidence becomes a crucial male trait. And so, as Shipman and Kay found out, it remains today.
Biology matters in a different way, too. Some women, Shipman and Kay included, are beautiful. They enjoy clear advantages. For example, it’s easier for them to get coverage on magazine covers. And while Shipman writes that she “had a habit of telling people she was ‘just lucky’—in the right place at the right time—when asked how she became a CNN correspondent in Moscow while still in her 20s,” luck had little to do with it.
As People magazine explained in a fawning 1995 profile, she went to Moscow as an intern, married the bureau chief, and returned as a correspondent. That marriage didn’t work out, but she’s now married to the White House Press Secretary, which must do wonders for her confidence.
In conclusion, the authors hint that it’s important for women to take action. “To become more confident, women need to stop thinking so much and just act,” they write. “If we keep at it, if we channel our talent for hard work, we can make our brains more confidence-prone.”
Perhaps. But simply acting confident won’t be enough. “Most people can spot fake confidence from a mile away,” they admit. I’m confident it will take a few generations for biology to catch up with where we might want it to be.