I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.
This was my first (that I’m aware of) foray into what could be classified as feminist writing and I have to say, I’m not sure I want to take many more journeys in to the genre.
I had written about Sandberg’s book in November as a Wednesday Wanna-Read (read the post here) and I had hoped for tips on how to make the most of my career.
Instead, the majority of what I got was a brow-beating. I don’t know how many ways there are to say “don’t let a man or your desire for children interfere with your career,” but Sandberg probably found them all.
I’m not the type of person that would want to pick just being a parent or just having a career. I think I can do them both, in large part because I’ve been around many women in my life who are doing both successfully. Also, I’m not sure I would be happy not going to work every day and having something to do besides watching my own children. (Disclaimer: I’m not at a point in my life where that decision is inevitable, so my thoughts on this could change as my life unfolds.)
That’s not to say I disliked the entire book. There were several things I identified with that I even marked to make sure I blogged about. All of them were things I personally identified with or had dealt with in one way or another throughout my life.
One of the things I noted when reading Sandberg’s introduction was what she discussed regarding women facing a unique set of hurdles in the workforce. She talked about women facing sexual harassment.
It’s not always blatant harassment though. Being a young, single woman in the workforce, I have had people imply that I’m involved with others simply because I’m young and single. I’ve been offered to be set up with men. I don’t think a guy in the same position as I have would have those same issues.
Another thing I noted was an assertion that young girls are treated from young boys, even in infancy. As a girl grows, if she tries to organize or be a leader, she can often be called bossy. That word has a negative connotation and it discourages leadership and ambition. Boys are encouraged to take those roles and treated differently by adults and their own peers when it comes to this.
That’s not to say that girls can never be bossy. Bossy is a thing and sometimes that is what is going on rather than ambition or leadership.
The final thing I noted was this: girls who have academic prowess are for some inexplicable reason made to feel inadequate.
I can personally attest to this one the most. I remember sitting in a classroom in middle school and knowing the answers to many of the questions. I would frequently answer, because I knew the answers and many of my classmates did not. I’m a voracious reader (I have a book blog for goodness sakes!) and that started young.
I remember a boy in my class telling me I needed to not be a know-it-all because nobody liked that. Knowing the type of pre-teen I was, I may not have been the nicest about knowing all the answers. But the comment stung, obviously, or I wouldn’t remember it nearly 15 years later.
I stopped raising my hand so much in class. Even if I knew the answer, I wouldn’t answer all the time. I didn’t want to be seen as a teacher’s pet because that was uncool. And I was trying desperately to be cool.
The same thing happened in college. I didn’t want to be that way too into my education nerd. I wanted to be accepted by my peer group, so I feigned apathy like many of my classmates.
It’s something I regret. There’s nothing wrong with knowing the answers or being smart. If a guy does that in class, they don’t get looked down on as much. They’re a smart, young man with potential. But for me, and girls like me, that isn’t always the case.
While I agree that women need to be encouraged to succeed and be given the same opportunities and considerations as men, I’m not sure Sandberg’s way is the only way. I’m not in the business world, so I can’t speak for that environment, but I see nothing wrong with women making decisions for themselves.
There were points in the book where I felt Sandberg was basically advocating that all women work outside the home for their entire careers. Personally, I feel that is a choice that each woman must make individually based on her own wants and the needs of her family.
And thinking that probably makes me one of the women Sandberg was warning us all against becoming.