I 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.