Feminist Leanings………

Marissa Meyer, Sheryl Sandberg – we don’t play in the same sandbox by any stretch – but their wealth and visibility give them a chance to make noise about an issue that the rest of us continue to struggle with daily.

Women getting ahead. Women having it all. Women leading.
So why don’t we “lean in?” Lots of folks are weighing in on why we do, why we don’t, and, then come the old school debates on moms at home, moms at work, moms who have money and help, moms who don’t.

The psychologist in me wants to reduce this to its essence. People do what they are rewarded for. And are we incentivizing leadership in women? Does leaning in turn out to be a painful yoga pose that doesn’t work out for most women who are trying to juggle careers, marriages, kids, finances, households, and the mother-porn demands of perky breasts, and clean homes as well as organic-produce-consuming-athletic-star -straight-A-musical-prodigy kids? We are caught in an ideational shitstorm of Donna Reed meets Kim Kardashian meets Golda Meir. And because women are so vulnerable to their stakeholders – and raised to please others, guilt is almost wired into the X chromosome. Ultimately the question isn’t “Can women lean in” but rather “Can women lean into broken structures?” Structures that don’t have female leaders, that don’t provide family leave, that offer little guidance on how to tough it out and become a leader with less than a multi-million salary or a nursery next to your office.

This idea of “leaning in” to leadership can’t be an aftermarket add-on. We can’t start having these conversations at the age of 30, we need to start having them at the age of 3. We need to scrap the animated Disney princesses and replace them with animated warriors and leaders. We need to scrap the Honey Boo-Boo’s and The Face and the “Housewives series” of every stripe and raise kids on stories of women who build skyscrapers and do surgery and change their communities. We need to stop talking to girls about happily ever after and instead raise them with the expectations we give our sons.

Here’s the rub. Women CAN’T have it all. We want families, careers, aspirations, meaning, health, connection. But we also want to do this without being judged. I have met women who have healthy marriages, wonderful children, successful careers, clean homes, healthy finances, good social support networks. That’s having it all – right? For them, even if they have all of this, but are met with the castigation of people who think they shouldn’t work outside the home, the castigation of bosses who think they shouldn’t telecommute, the castigation of coworkers who resent them missing days due to a child’s illness – then it can somehow detract from having it all. Our need to please our stakeholders makes the very debate about having it all impossible. You can craft the life you want – but don’t expect that other people will congratulate you – they will judge, that’s what our mean spirited world does – it judges. So perhaps every one of us can have it all – create authentic lives for us and our families, some of us will work, some will not, some will have nannies, some will not, some will have messy homes, some will not – but if you craft a solution that works for you and yours – despite the criticism of others – isn’t that having it all?

I am on trains, planes and automobiles for the next week in NY and then to DC – to promote a book that represents a lifetime’s work and then to discuss issues of women, leadership, policy and health with a group of feminist scholars in DC. Because of this, I am missing my daughter’s 13th birthday. What’s the choice in this case? Some will sneer that I am letting my daughter down and that I am being selfish, others may feel that I am modeling a professional identity. Ultimately, it is between her and I. The kudos comes with the criticism – and none of it should really matter.

Many of us can try to “lean in”, most of us will fall down, and hopefully all of us will dust off, silence the stakeholders, and keep trying.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 14th, 2013 at 9:17 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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