Is the ‘lean in’ thing bugging you? Here is why.

00000665I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s (and channeled MTV’s Duff in the 90s) yet sadly all I remember learning about the ‘women’s movement’ in school was something about marching for equal pay, that feminists thought bras were oppressive and this weird concept of something called the ‘glass ceiling.’

I remember thinking how it already seemed so distant. Like a math problem from three semesters back; long ago solved and graded. That ‘the women’s movement’ was one for the history books like the suffrage movement before it.

The interest in it then, and now with the release of Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’ -confuses me. 

Why am I confused? Well, maybe because I have never felt oppressed as a woman.

The fact that I was a girl seemed like an invisible fact to my parents. My dad taught me to ride motorcycles and refurbish carburetors like his son. I was never told to ‘act like a lady’ or reminded to be more demure or coy. In fact, when I was told I couldn’t play soccer at recess with the boys because I was wearing a skirt, my mom sent me to school with shorts under my dresses. And hell yes, I played soccer with the boys. I was encouraged to speak up, speak my mind and never ever take what I was given. When my park district didn’t offer baseball for girls, my mom made sure I played on the team with the boys. And mind you- I was horrible at sports- but dammit. I played.

As a young woman, I discussed careers and dreams and never encountered one adult who told me being a CEO of a Fortune 500 company would be impossible because I was a woman. I was never told I couldn’t become a world famous defense attorney because I would want to have children some day. No one said it would impossible to be an FBI field agent either. Of course I didn’t become any of those things (yet) but it is important to note- it never occurred to me that I COULDN’T. In fact, no one has ever told me I couldn’t do ANYTHING because I was a woman. Of course once I walked into a meeting with a group of eager investors from Iran who refused to talk directly to me- so I told them the deal was off. They quickly changed their mind.

In essence I have done more than ‘lean in’ as Sandberg has coined. I have leaned so far in….that I have stepped over the line. I simply never processed that I was at any disadvantage because I was female. I also never altered my drive for my education and career because I planned to have children some day.

You see- while Sheryl and others want us to ‘not worry’ about the ramifications of having children on a career ahead of time…I disagree. I think it is smart to strategize and plan and consider a path that is going to leave you with minimal tug and pull between work-you and mom-you. So if that means DELIBERATELY not pushing yourself to the next level- because you want to be less conflicted with your goal of having children soon- then that can be smart as well. But here is something that seems to have been lost in all this….Guess what gals? Women do not HAVE to have children. Lots of Sandberg’s book talks about this work/life balance thing and seems to set up childbirth as the biggest drawback to achieving male like success (It is still a ‘mans world’ she wants us to believe), however very little discussion is offered about the option to NOT have children. To find fulfillment in a partner and yes, a career.  Remember just because you can make a human, doesn’t mean you are obligated to breed.

So is it a man’s world? Well in Sheryl’s world big business- yes. Yes it is. The percentage of female CEOs and COOs is astonishing low. But let’s look beyond that…women are thriving at  becoming authors, as doctors, practicing law, professors, artists and on and on and on. They are leaders in communities and small businesses every where you look.   Oh and yes, they are also successful in their CHOICE to stay home and raise children.

If I could sit down with Sheryl (and I plan to someday soon) and say one critical  thing- I would gently tell her that not ALL women are like us want to rule the world. Some women are happy with the choices they have made, even though they might not align with Sheryl’s choices. And they are not PTA-president-homework-checking-hamster-feeding-backpack-finding moms because they neglected to ‘lean in’…they are that way because they PREFER that life.

I love that Sandberg’s book/website and other amazingly timed productions like the Makers have brought this discussion back around. I think it is important that we continually remind young woman (um, and men) to see past any perceived obstacles and to strive for greatness.

But first we must acknowledge that ‘greatness’ looks different to each of us.

00000026Marcy was a young executive in the apparel industry, before walking away cold turkey to be a stay at home mom for over 5 years. She then returned (after reinventing herself) to the world of marketing and PR. She is currently Director, Digital Engagement at Weber Shandwick. Call her a ‘Mommy blogger’ and she will cut you.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Brett Blumenthal April 2, 2013 at 7:05 am

Love this. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve never felt as though I was disadvantaged for being a woman. Don’t let the name fool you, I’m pure female. I worked in male dominated industries for years, and actually felt being a woman was an advantage…something that put me in a better position to excel.

At business school, I resisted the temptation of joining the WMC (Women’s Management Council) because I never saw the need.

Glad this perspective is out there…and I’m not alone.

Kim Clune April 2, 2013 at 7:54 am

I haven’t read the book, but I love that you never grew up with the harmful influences that I did. I’m guessing we’re roughly the same age, but my background is the opposite of yours. The only thing I an comment on is that, while our beginnings are so very different, all things are possible – for everybody – yet there must be recognition that a phenomenon does exist, whether you feel it or not.

In my family, pretty, quiet, subservient girls were the goal. My father who ruled with an iron fist instilled a suffocating fear of – and deference – to men. My job was to be attractive enough to catch a man who would care for me when I came of marrying age. Not kidding. “Just sit there and look pretty” was common instruction.

My father controlled everything in my life to that end, including my college courses, a right he apparently paid for. I was to become a teacher, an appropriate and acceptable role for a woman, when all I wanted was to be a writer. His mother was never allowed to learn to drive, so that I went to college was moving light years ahead, however condescending the means became.

My absentee mother who fled my father when I was 7, became a NYC makeup artist. While the relationship wasn’t all bad, she turned her nose up at my hair, my clothes, and she hated when I defended myself. I was her fixer upper.

When I questioned how I had become boxed in by these parental rules, she called me abusive and angry , and she told me to keep my mouth shut about horrific things that should never happen to a child. That would be too unsightly, too ugly. Things were always either beautiful or ugly. And nobody wanted to look at, deal with or be around ugly.

Of course, my mother came from a mother who hooked her on speed to lose weight when she was a teen. That same woman bought me shoes that were too small for my tremendous feet, and offered to pay $20 per lost pound (of normal teen weight) when I was in high school.

I simply withdrew from condemnation, retreating into self loathing and doubt. As a teen, I cut my hair into an awful mess, dressed tough to shield my vulnerability. Pretty was painful. Pretty was always to please somebody else. It wasn’t until I hit the rock bottom of unhappiness in my thirties that I took hold of my own life. I fought for my do-over.

I went back to school, graduated with a 4.0 in English Lit with a focus on Cultural Studies, volunteered in Africa (which I wanted to since college the first time around), and started a business in which I write often. As of now, the rest is behind me, but not without a fight, and not without self doubt still creeping in all-to-often, unnecessary doubt about my freshly carved role as a strong woman. Three quarters of my life has not been what I enjoy now.

So, how much of women being held back or holding themselves back is purely business culture? Nothing is pure. The phenomenon is often the undead remnants of dysfunctional families. In my economically depressed home town, man-centic families like mine were a dime a dozen. Oppressing and abusing young girls was all the rage. I still see many who have been marred, unable to shed the consuming film of it. While they cannot escape the stranglehold, they hope their daughters fare better, all the while teaching them by example to acquiesce.

I don’t know when it ends. Since the scars of slavery continue to this day, I think it may be a while. But I’m happy to know there are people like you who never knew it and never will.

Lynette Young April 2, 2013 at 9:06 am

I grew up in a family that seemed to value the matriarchal postion above all else. As someone forced to sit at the kids table on holidays, it seemed the women were the strong ones in my family. Women seemed to be the more successful sex as far as I could see. I had a strong upbringing in my opinion – even if we were dirt poor. As soon as I hit the workforce in the early 90s reality hit me square in the ass.

I’ve worked in a department of 40 people with me as the token female and had my desk covered with Vagisil and tampons as a joke. I’ve been literally patted on the head, pinched on the ass, and grabbed by the breast by bosses and direct reports alike. I’ve been told my a boss that no one will ever pay me more than he did because of what I had under my skirt (that was the first time I had cause to drop the F-bomb and walk out of a job). I’ve had phones ripped from desks and thrown at me on financial trading floors (I picked up the phone and threw it back – rumor says he wound up with 5 stitches on his face). I’ve had hands shoved up my skirt while sitting in department meetings under the table (I know I broke his pinky, I heard it crack).

I am in NO way a pushover, as anyone that has met me in person can attest to. I have lived the corporate life described in “Lean In”. I can assure you that I have never put myself in a position to be harassed (I don’t think that is even possible) but yet the insults and assaults happened. If the behavior is learned on their part, a stronger behavior can be learned on our part.

Some people have great experiences in the work world, some do not. I have it good *now* but I have not always. I have it good now because I have actively worked over the past 25 years to put myself in a good position and distance myself from idiots. I feel it is up to me to help out women that don’t have either as strong a personality and drive as I do or don’t realize that this behavior isn’t normal.

Besides, I’m from Jersey. I have no problems breaking a few fingers…

C McClelland April 2, 2013 at 9:17 am

Wow. What great stories. I’m speachless.

Linda Landers April 3, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I’ve been struggling with this ongoing conversation since the story hit, and I realize that it’s because I, like you, was never made to feel like I was being held back or didn’t have the same choices as men. My father had two daughters, and like you, we participated in decidedly unfemale-like activities — like going out to the gun range to shoot, or learning to change a flat tire and the oil, etc. I’ve recognized that throughout my career, which I’ve seen as “chapters,” I’ve had to make some choices, but they were choices I wanted to make, not felt forced to make. I loved being a managing partner at a national PR firm, but I also enjoyed the time where I stopped out to put in more “mom” duty. As Maria Shriver once said, you can have it all, but perhaps not all at the same time. But I think that holds true for men as well.

Sabrina April 4, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I left my job some 7 years ago to have my first child and haven’t regretted it since. And you know what I planned to do it…almost since before I was even married. I always knew that I wanted the bulk of focus to be at home and not work. Since leaving, I have had another child and we have become a homeschooling family. Which means I am home all. day. long. with my kids. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I did the stressful days, the long days, the running around like a chicken to please my boss who would swear at me and make me feel like an idiot (did I mention she was a women?) most days and in my opinion it is for the birds. My success is staying at home, working part-time as a freelance graphic designer and raising my kids. As a black female I was raised by my parents to believe I was capable of ANYTHING. There was never a mention of disadvantages set up against me. And while there obviously were, I never felt it. I worked hard and still work hard every single day not because I know at the end I will be awarded with anything but the fact that I worked hard. I love the part of your article when you say “If I could sit down with Sheryl (and I plan to someday soon) and say one critical thing- I would gently tell her that not ALL women are want to rule the world. Some women are happy with the choices they have made, even though they might not align with Sheryl’s choices. And they are not PTA-president-homework-checking-hamster-feeding-backpack-finding moms because they neglected to ‘lean in’…they are that way because they PREFER that life.” I feel like this movement of women has unintentional belittled those of us that PREFER to make motherhood our priority. It writes us off, and makes us feel as though we are for lack of a word, badass enough to be apart of their exclusive club. Like we are all a bunch of pleated jeans wearing, coupon clipping, dullards that just want to please our children and our husbands. In the world we live in today nobody has balance, men, women even kids are expected to aspire/achieve scholastic success beyond their developmental years. I say lets learn to support one another, to lean on each other an little more and see where that gets us.

Erika Napoletano (@RedheadWriting) April 4, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Thanks for this — I’ve never felt disadvantaged on account of my gender either. And perhaps we should both be thanking incredible parents for not breaking down those walls, but creating a world where those never existed in the first place.

Andrea Memenas April 4, 2013 at 4:25 pm

You nailed it. I’ve always been told I can do ANYTHING I wanted and I’ve never thought otherwise. However, I did work in the automotive industry (overwhelmingly full of middle-aged males whose wives stay home to take care of the kids), and I can tell you that my choice to have children hurt my career there…which is one reason I decided to leave and start my own business where no one could hold me back. And no one has. That was 10 years ago, and I’m still here and don’t have any plans of leaving. Instead of leaning in, I stepped out…and up.

Ginger April 4, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Interesting to read from the younger generation. In my opinion, I think you need to thank other women for breaking the barriers that have given you these opportunities. I believe it was Title XX in the mid -seventies that actually really changed things for women, giving them opportunities to compete for athletics. Prior to that, girls were 2nd class citizens. We were expected to be quiet, seen and not heard, etc. It was not so much a family thing as a cultural thing. I always felt I was on the leading edge of the revolution. My generation fought for losing the dorm hours for girls in colleges. My sister, who was 4 years older than me, took a job as a flight attendant (formerly stewardess) and was told she would have to give up her job when she got pregnant. Things have changed, she recently retired after 40+ years and 2 kids. Things have changed greatly but the work is not done. There is a great threat with Sharia law for women and it is in our country and trying to usurp our rule of law. As women have grown in this country, they have been oppressed and suppressed greatly in other countries. Just look at pictures from Afghanistan in the 70s and now with women fully covered. Never let up on working for women’s right just because you think you have them. And don’t forget to thank an older woman today for sacrificing and helping to give you those rights and freedoms. It did not happen on its own.

Erin Street April 4, 2013 at 5:36 pm

What I love about “Lean In” is that it has sparked some great discussions like this one. In the book, Sheryl S. writes that she respects women (and men) who choose to be full-time parents (or anything else they’re passionate about). She says not all of us are called to the same path, and that’s totally OK. The whole point is to lean in to what’s most important to you — whether that be making a difference in your community, leading a company, etc.
Yes, much of it is written toward women who are climbing the ladder (or “jungle gym”) as she calls it, but that’s her experience. (And as a professional woman who was also raised to believe I could be anything, I’ve still found it useful.) It in no way degrades people who have chosen different paths. Great stuff.

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