The reader comments below a recent New York Times article about Facebook’s extremely successful and pioneering COO businesswoman Sheryl Sandberg and her new book sound like the following: “Who has time for that?” and “This woman is as out of touch as her male counterparts”.
For Sheryl Sandberg, this response accompanies her latest accomplishment, a nonfiction book about her idea for a feminine social movement entitled Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, released this week.
Despite my first 5-second impression (I haven’t read the book yet), ‘lean in’ doesn’t actually refer to a tongue-in-cheek way of saying women need to show more cleavage to get ahead.
Her narrative focuses on women in business, their subconscious and tangible roadblocks, and other setbacks they face when trying to compete with men for success. Sandberg’s remedy is this idea of ‘leaning In’, creating women-only support circles where those in business and aspiring achievers can attend seminars, network, and open their minds up to the world of working women and all that entails.
After reading up on Sandberg’s social movement mission (something she always wanted to create – something on the bucket list of a millionaire) I instantly assumed that adding yet one more task to the plight of the busy woman would be a huge undertaking, one that would not be absorbed as easily as a pastime like a book club or even sending out the occasional tweet.
Women have gravitated towards information they find useful, accessible, and respectful of them. From watching a talk show (The View, anyone?) or following the career and contributions of a wealthy television mogul, the modern female revolutions are few and far between. When was the last time you read or learned something so outstanding that it changed your life and the way you live? Maybe not since Oprah’s favourite things.
Sex and the City, now a bit of a stereotypical retrospective on women (but a damn good show), nailed a gender revolution. Imagine if, every time you ordered a Cosmopolitan at the bar you thought of a certain TV character? That’s the success of SATC. What if Sandberg tried to nail her idea by using strong, good old-fashioned branding – a symbol that women can really relate to? What if ‘lean in’ didn’t preach business-filled, inspirational jargon, but instead created a catch phrase that went viral and became the new ‘do you want fries with that?’ We don’t need another thing to do. We need something we can use alongside what we do already.
We shouldn’t have to be reminded that we’re women facing setbacks; we need to own ourselves better. By constantly calling out our differences with men and how those set us back we highlight these differences. Let’s figure out what makes us more successful than men. For instance, we can alter our appearances more easily with haircuts, hair colours, make up and clothing – this does more than just cover up a bald spot. We can open up our hearts and minds at the same time, rescheduling a meeting that might not have gone so well because so-and-so just lost the family pet the night before.
Some of the most empowering images of women that come to mind are silly, ones where we are working our femininity to get something done. Heck, even Robin Williams’ lady makeover in Mrs. Doubtfire, when he’s putting on those panty hose, makes me want to fist pump and say: “yes, I have to put on those goddamn things every chilly morning and I work it!”
Perhaps it isn’t about grand, social movements or strict schedules and deadlines, but is instead about small, innocuous details in our lives that we can adopt. Remember the dish-toting, skirt-at-ankle-length housewife of sixty years ago? Try getting her to waiver from her routine. Unless, of course, a new behaviour meant cooking with a microwave, invented in 1947, cutting down on hours in the kitchen. That woman still exists. How does a COO of a social media company take on changing female behaviour and misconceptions? Is she really qualified to? She has the grounds to try, look at how Facebook has changed our behaviour. She knows a thing or two about motivating people.
And me, personally, I am fascinated with these uber successful women (the Sandbergs, Mayers, and Feys of the world) who are at the top of their game and living the dream under both praise and criticism. Maybe they need help. Maybe Sandberg’s first job should be to appoint a proprietor, a ‘normal woman’ who will do her bidding and run this social movement for her. Hands up, ladies!
Perhaps the bottom line is that a ‘lean in’ circle isn’t fun enough. It sounds like time we don’t have and a bit like segregation. Take this example: any guy can tell you what a mani/pedi is. He may not care, or get one himself, but he knows what it is because it means something to women and he notices the after effects because we show him.
I leave you with my most outrageous thought yet. Instead of a Doomsday Clock, we should support the implementation of a Female Clock (not biological, obviously). The primary purpose of the Female Clock will be to measure the sentiment towards and advancement of women. How many female CEOs does it take to push the minute hand either farther from midnight i.e. doom? Instead of nuclear strife inching the minutes closer to twelve on the Doomsday Clock, violence against women – another rape or murder – will do the same.
After we’re done leaning in, let’s put ourselves out there.
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