What Sheryl Sandberg and her ilk don’t seem to understand is that I, and many of my sisters, don’t want to be them. I just want a job with flexibility so that I can earn a few dollars, get some mental stimulation and still have a full family life. I have a master’s degree and a law degree but realized early in my career that I didn’t want to be a slave to it. I wanted to stay home, at least in part, raise my kids myself and bake cookies. I don’t “lean in” because I don’t want to lean in. That said, I want any woman who wants to be a CEO to be given the chance and the opportunities to be CEO, and I don’t think any woman who makes that decision should be criticized for prioritizing her career over her family.
Telling women that they are, in effect, sabotaging themselves shows that Sandberg doesn’t understand many of the women who work under her. It also shows how women have a long way to go in accepting the decisions that other women make for themselves.
The “lean in” issue is not just a womens’ issue. I’m a man, and my husband and I had a daughter when I was 30, almost 15 years ago. Just at the moment I should have been leaning into my career, I had just become the youngest producer to win a Tony Award, it became clear to me that I would have to lean out because my husband (partner at the time) had a much bigger, more important, and more lucrative job and he was not going to think about playdates and if there was milk in the fridge and all the billions of other things parents have to fill their brain with to raise a child. It is all about balance, and until there is parity on chores and kid duty there will never be equal opportunity in the workplace. I leaned out (not totally), and I don’t regret it for a minute, but getting back in is very tricky, male or female.
One more point, the woman making $60K cannot lean into the impromptu meeting at 4:45 that might lead to drinks because she knows she’s got to get to daycare by 5:30. Sheryl Sandberg is not living in the real world.
I agree wholeheartedly with Michelle Goldberg’s statement that “leadership tomes by wildly successful male executives aren’t typically pilloried for ignoring the concerns of immigrant day laborers” and Jessica Valenti’s take. The following is actually about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, but it’s honest and refreshing and one of the most sane things I’ve read on this issue yet:
Mayer is more honest than everyone else. The workforce divides into two sides: people who try very hard to decrease the conflict in their life between work and home, and people who try very hard to get to the top of the work world. You can’t do both. You know that, you just don’t like that Mayer is institutionalizing it.
Once we get honest about what you need to do to get to the top, we can start having a real discussion about how to make choices in adult life. The reality of today’s workforce is that if you want to have a big job where you have prestige and money and power, you probably need a stay-at-home spouse. Or two full-time nannies. Which means most people don’t have the option to go on the fast track, because most people have not set their lives up this way.
So let’s just admit that most of us are not on the fast-track. Stop bitching that people won’t let slow people on the fast track. Stop saying that it’s bad for family. It’s great for family. It means people will not continue operating under the delusion that you can be a hands-on parent and a top performer. People will make real choices and own those choices.
I have no desire to be on the fast track. But good for those women who do want to be and who go for it. Yes, Lean In has little to offer women who want to focus on child rearing. So what. That’s not Sandberg’s audience.
I haven’t read Sandberg’s book, but am really looking forward to doing so. I don’t think I need to be a married, straight woman with children and a supportive husband in order to recognize a lot of other truths in the parts I’ve seen from Sandberg’s book. Do women, regardless of their marriage and childrearing plans, lean back more than their male counterparts? In my experience, I’d say, “Yes” and when they do show a more forward approach, their competitiveness or seriousness is sometimes greeted with less enthusiasm than when it’s seen in men. I’ll never forget an accomplished colleague of mine, who’s children were already off to college, who applied for a higher level position she didn’t get. When she asked the hiring committee (it was for a dean’s position at a university) how she could have improved her interview success, she was told, “You could have smiled more.” That was it. There is absolutely no way that would have ever been the feedback to a man.
But I digress. When I see that Kira Goldenberg asked: “(Where do butch women fit into that suggestion to adhere to societal rules of femininity?)”, I saw myself. I’m a 6’2″, athletic looking butch woman who wears men’s clothes to work. What I experience, at least at my university, is that I never get told I don’t smile enough. I’ve noticed men in higher positions do not really see me as a woman in the traditional sense. When I greet them, I’m eye-level with them or taller. I’m expected to be competitive. I get asked about sports and can answer because I played basketball in college. There’s no question of whether I’m an attractive, feminine woman they worry about thinking sexual thoughts about. I’m just not, for them, and that’s a relief. They shake my hand differently than they do more feminine women. And, I look like what they expect a dean or an higher-level administrator will look like … a man.
This idea that I adhere to societal rules of femininity just don’t apply to me and I’ve found a place where that works. At this point in my career and this stage in the evolution of gay rights, I’m beyond surprised to discover that being a butch has turned out to be a bit of an advantage for me. It only took 45 years or so of being on the outside to find that advantage, but I’ll take it.