The gender issue is front and center in the culture again because of Sheryl Sandberg's aggressive campaign around her new book, Lean In. While I applaud her effort, I worry that the message she is sending -- explicitly in her rally cries and implicitly in her tactics -- is only adding fuel to the fire.
Here's my problem with Sheryl Sandberg as a spokesperson for women's rights: I'm not sure she actually knows what it means to be a woman.
She may have mastered the boardroom and I'll grant she is a capable teacher for those women who still believe the answer to gender balance is to get ahead in a man's world. But, she expresses no sense for human nature or Mother Nature. In the speeches I've seen and the messages she's begun to churn out, there's no acknowledgement of the differences between the innate masculine and feminine energies, behaviors and tendencies.
I haven't read the book, yet. But based on her speeches and interviews, I get the sense that Ms. Sandberg is tone-deaf in the same way so much of contemporary culture is; running roughshod over the subtler Truths in pursuit of big, blasting effects. From her metaphors... "leaning in" and "raising your hand"... to the controlled way in which she's attempting to manufacture a social movement, she's just adding fuel to the fire of the gender wars. This kind of effort can expect a massive backlash, not simply because the topic is already hot, but because of the aggressive and unnatural way in which the message is being broadcast. The natural state of femininity is love. I haven't felt love in Ms. Sandberg's message yet. She is clearly on a crusade, but I haven't heard from her in a meaningful and personal way... why she cares.
Ms. Sandberg's strategy for changing the world reminds me of a real estate developer's giddy excitement as he works up plans for yet another massive structure that will displace people and animals, disrupt nature, without a single thought for the effects of his project on the earth, the Mother that sustains us all, the feminine that will be hidden under his masculine structure. What she is doing is putting more bricks, more steel and yes, more glass, into the corporate tower that houses the proverbial glass ceiling we're all supposed to shatter by climbing higher and higher through it. What about demolishing the actual tower in which this ceiling exists and rebuilding a structure that is suited to women and men, that sits comfortably and gently on the face of the earth, that brings nature into the picture instead of shutting it out? The structure itself is damaged, Ms. Sandberg. Find your own essential femininity and you will be able to see that... no, you will finally be able to feel that.
As a woman, a mom (to a daughter whose future I consider daily), a wife and a successful businessperson, I am happy every time I meet or read about a female executive. We need more role models for our girls and like Ms. Sandberg, I believe balanced corporate leadership is the key to better corporate culture and behavior. But, the answer is not to fight harder for more of the same. The answer is not a revolution; it's evolution.
Before we can advance, we've got to expose the ocean of shame related to gender just below the surface of our culture. This is going to be painful and it's part of why we're "stalled." We've come as far as we can with the arguments of gender equality until we all admit our personal, daily defeats. The remorse will not be of the obvious, depersonalized variety -- "Oh, look at how the media treats women," or "There is a crisis of masculinity that is effecting our boys..." It will be a deeply personal remorse for the feminine or masculine dreams, desires and roles we've all suppressed in our confusion about what it means today to be a woman or a man.
This doesn't mean we need to act on all of them -- you can accept truths without acting on them. It doesn't mean that the working woman who quietly cries for the children she's missing (while she's raising her hand at work) needs to quit... And the man who feels a thrill when someone submits to him -- a woman or another man -- doesn't need to take advantage of that power. But, these feelings are real and they must be acknowledged or they become a part of the shadow side of the culture, part of our deep anger, despair and distance from each other. If we can start to stem the flow of shame at the source, the ocean might start to dry up, giving us a more solid, less emotional space on which to rebuild ourselves and our conception of gender today.
When a woman gives herself permission to be a woman in full, with complexities, light and dark, love and abundance, and when a man gives himself permission to be a man, still and strong, pure and deep (and we each give each other that space), we create the dynamic for healing to occur. Things start shifting back into place of their own volition.
No matter how hard we push and how high we raise our hands, Nature's domination is absolute and that is good, right and as it should be. There is no battle between the sun and the moon. The moon does not try to be the sun. It doesn't deny the night or covet the day. It has its own orbit, its own role and its own majesty. The moon reflects the light of the sun and never once has it ever refused to do so because this is the way of things, the natural order of things. It would be ridiculous to tell the moon to lean in.