Leaning In and Lashing Out
Before I left my house for work this morning, I did something my mom has been begging me to do for a year now. I grabbed the copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In that was given to me as a gift. I had been putting off reading this book because whenever presented with the decision to either pleasure read the crap out of some mysterious plot-twisting fiction novel or take on an honest account of the structural sexism in our society’s work force, I always opted for the former. Ignorance is bliss, right?
I think the main reason I let Lean In collect dust for as long as I did was that I could not relate to it directly. However, as I wrote that last sentence I realized how much it sounded like the excuse that it is. I did not directly relate to Katniss Everdeen either, but that didn’t stop me from binge reading The Hunger Games along with the rest of the population.
So, why have I put off this off until now? Well, I was a female athlete at one of the most liberal universities in the country when I first received my copy of Lean In. The only judgment or unequal treatment that I dealt with on a daily basis was battling the assumption that I was drooling, ape-like moron because I had to wear my athletic department-issued sweats to class after practice. Alas, that is an entirely different issue. It wasn’t until I joined the working world after college that I really found myself in need of this book. It’s not that I needed guidance or self-help in any way. I needed to know that my almost-daily experiences were being shared by women all over the country.
Up until this morning I was constantly complaining to my mom that anytime I took a direct tone with a vendor or employee, I was labeled as a “little bitch” while my male coworkers were given pats on the back for displaying good leadership and take-control attitudes. There is one personal experience that stands above the rest as my personal favorite – I was referred to as an “emotional little girl” when a vendor made a vital error in the preparation for an upcoming event. After traveling two hours to pick up an order that they had not even started, I directly told my contact exactly what I needed. After the “emotional little girl” comment, he managed to make me like him even more by telling me to “learn my place”. I called my mom and recounted the interaction to her and she told me that she wouldn’t offer up any advice until I read the book, yet I still put it off.
Days passed by and I felt compelled to add more and more exclamation points and absurd amounts of gratitude to all e-mails just to keep from upsetting anyone. Most importantly, I couldn’t risk sounding like “a little bitch” again. I began accepting blame even when it should have been allocated elsewhere just to keep managers happy and those who were truly in the wrong even happier.
Yesterday was my tipping point. Nothing particularly appalling happened. Perhaps it was just the last bullshit exclamation point that sent me over the edge. Whatever it was, a switch flipped and I found myself nose-deep into Lean In this morning. Every page I turned may as well have been met with a resounding “AMEN SISTER!” and I could finally appreciate the words my mom had wanted me to read for the past year. One hour into my typically 45 minute train ride I resurfaced from deep within the pages of Sandberg’s wise words to realize that I had missed my stop. I was currently deep into the heart of San Francisco and decently late to work.
I snuck into my office undetected (thank god) and it seemed like the words from this book were narrating every phone call, e-mail and interaction. It’s not because this day was an epic coincidence of sexist behaviors aligned perfectly with the moment that I finally adhered to my mom’s demands. It was that my eyes were now open to everyday occurrences that I had allowed myself to see as normal and expected. Don’t get me wrong, I’m nowhere near the point of igniting the flames and torching my bra on a soap box for all to see. Besides the fact that we are in a recession and even Target-brand bras are damn expensive, I can’t bring myself to destroy such a rare vessel of support. In a male-driven industry positive support is hard to come by and has a tendency to be confused with subtle condescension. This is not a time to eliminate the people or things that support us, but precisely the opposite. Even female-to-female support is rare as limited opportunities drive us further apart.
LeanIn.org could barely attempt it’s #BanBossy campaign without other successful women chomping at the bit to put it down. It only took minutes for #EmbraceBossy to begin trending as critics decided that they wanted to change the message that the Lean In Organization was trying to initiate. We all have this really fun habit of shouting louder than any voice that isn’t saying the exact same thing as our own. The shouts of politics, religion and other set-in-stone institutions raise the white noise to a dull roar without us shouting at each other. The only chance we have to be heard is through a united voice in a time where widespread unity has been misplaced among opinions, egos and a society that confuses news gathering with confirmation bias.
We can’t afford to burn our bras anymore ladies. We need all the support we can get in this crucial moment. We can agree to disagree, but we can’t cut each other down. In the end, we all want the same outcome. Extinguishing the burning flame of our fellow females will only put a lengthy detour on the road to equality. We can #BanBossy, we can #EmbraceBossy, but we can’t successfully move forward until we #BanPettiness and #EmbraceEachOther.
Instead of standing on the toes of your sisters, staring backwards at your differences, stand on her shoulders instead, for it is the only way to see what is waiting for all of us on the horizon.