A Legacy of Gendered Self-Doubt

How do we overcome a culture that demands women be humble to a fault?

Stephanie Sylverne
Human Parts

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Grandma and me. Photo: Stephanie Sylverne

TTwo years ago, while my grandmother was dying of cancer, I discovered she’d once had a calligraphy piece in an exhibition at the Newberry Library, an independent research institution in Chicago. She didn’t tell me this herself; I happened to find an old brochure from the event with her name listed as an exhibitor.

How could she neglect to mention this? Being part of a Newberry exhibition is a bragworthy accomplishment. Plus, I’d started working on a historical novel that featured the library rather prominently, and was also based quite a bit on her family’s past, so the connection was sort of serendipitous.

I asked her where the piece was. I wanted to add it to the shrine of her artwork I’d been steadily collecting at home.

“Oh, that. I gave that away a long time ago,” she told me.

“You gave it away? Why?”

“Someone offered to buy it. Lots of people had prices on theirs. But I was too embarrassed to charge anything for mine. So I said, ‘If you like it, you can just have it.’ I always gave them away if anyone asked.”

Later, she told me she was once asked to be a calligrapher for someone’s wedding. It involved writing hundreds…

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Stephanie Sylverne
Human Parts

Writer and aspiring time traveler. Essays at Crimereads, Rebel Girls, Mental Floss, Time, Kveller, Huffington Post, etc. Twitter&IG: @kvetchingyenta