Monday, March 25, 2013

What’s A Woman to Do?

I’m interested in all the press surrounding the release of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In.  She’s a high profile woman and that makes her voice important. 

I certainly agree with her concern about not having enough women in leadership roles.   It’s true that the number of top women leaders in many fields remains low.  I, too, wish that there were more women in important positions and that the impact of more women could lead to a change in the power structure of the world.    

I also support her idea of reviving consciousness groups.  She calls them” Lean In” circles and I’m for anything that encourages women to speak out and build their confidence.   I’ve had the privilege of being in a women’s group for over 15 years.   It’s been an enormously important part of my life.   It’s been a place of safety and support, and has helped me examine myself and notice places where I hold back and don’t assert myself.   So I agree that it’s important for women to examine whatever internal stops get in the way of their advancement.  Maureen Corrigan, in a review article of Sandberg’s book says, "Lean In is worth reading because, even though many of its observations about internalized sexism may be old hat to us older feminists, they're, sadly, still true. Women do denigrate themselves to be liked; they phrase assertions like questions and politely raise their hands while men grab the floor. I see it all the time in my classrooms; I still see that behavior in myself.”

So yes, women can make changes by looking inward.   But I feel that looking outward is just as important.   Society creates images of women that are either tender loving saints or aggressive controlling bitches.   Realist images of women with dimensionality are not so common.   Aninteresting article by Heather Havrilesky examined female characters on popular TV dramas.  She found that being portrayed as smart and competent carried a price.  Exceptionalism for women cames with the disqualifying characteristic of being crazy.  Here’s what she said: “Many smart and confident female characters have paraded onto the small screen over the past few years. But I’m bothered by one persistent caveat: that the more astute and capable many of  these women are, the more likely it is that they’re also completely nuts.  I don’t mean complicated, difficult, thorny or complex. I mean that these women are portrayed as volcanoes that could blow at any minute. Worse, the very abilities and skills that make them singular and interesting come coupled with some hideous psychic deficiency."

So, plain old being smart and competent doesn’t seem to be an acceptable way to portray women.  I suspect it’s too challenging to the dominate male hierarchy.  Perhaps, as Sandberg hopes, having more women in leadership positions would begin to change negative stereotypes and allow us to accept women’s competence without demeaning characteristics.   I applaud her commitment and energy towards this happening.
I think though, that the greatest impediment to women’s achievement is the lack of infrastructure that could support this.  While it’s lovely to think of sharing responsibilities with a spouse, most jobs simply don’t allow adequate family leave, flex hours or decent benefits and wages to make this a practical option for many couples.

After my first child was born, my husband and I were committed to sharing childcare and work.   Unfortunately, when he wanted to cut back his hours to do his share, he encountered resistance and was questioned about his commitment to his career.  Unfortunately, we do not have sufficient family friendly practices in the business realm, nor do we truly value caregivers.   Little seems to have changed since we tried it many years ago.  That’s sad because good childcare is so important.  We know that helping children feel securely attached, which requires attention and presence, predicts to well being and success in the future.   Children’s need for this connection is paramount.  Allowing parents the social supports to provide this attention would allow us all to make a positive social commitment to the emotional health of the next generation.  It would also allow both parents to continue in their careers and move towards leadership positions if they chose.  

No comments:

Post a Comment