What a whirlwind of a month it's been for women since the launch of Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In. Does sexism still exist in the workplace? Are women living up to their professional potential? Can we really have it all? No one has yet to point out the obvious, which is this: The debates ignited by Sheryl Sandberg's book are doing nothing good for women.
The main problem with the current conversations about women and our careers is simple. Rather than looking at the real issues that are holding us back -- hegemonic corporate cultures and pathetic family leave policies, to name two -- women have taken the Twilight approach to the career debate and divided ourselves into two teams. On the one side we have Team Sandberg, which is made up of ambitious women who believe we need to focus more on leaning in at key points of our careers. Then there's Team Slaughter (as in Anne-Marie Slaughter), which is made up of ambitious women who see our careers not as a straight path, but as a windy road with a couple of convenient and strategically-placed rest stops along the way. Whose team am I on?
Neither. And the reason for this is that neither Sandberg nor Slaughter represents the reality for most women today. Do you come from a home with two parents who encouraged and supported your education? Did you receive an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League university, a degree that opened countless door for you? Did you have a well-placed mentor like Lawrence Summers or bosses like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? Are you in a financial situation that gives you the flexibility to lean in and out as much as you need or want to?
It you answered no to some or all of these questions, then Sandberg and Slaughter don't represent you either. Yet, there they are, on the national stage, framing the career conversation for the rest of us. For women who work two or three jobs and graduate from a regular old college with crippling student loan debt. For young women who have to take whatever job they can get because they're living in their parents' basement. For underemployed women over 30 who've had babies and are struggling to reenter an inhospitable workforce still battered by the Great Recession.
I'm supposed to look at Sandberg and Slaughter, two women who joined a privileged elite and managed to play in a man's game by a man's rules, to see how it's done? Cool. Why don't I go ask Ivanka Trump for career advice? How about Chelsea Clinton? An alarming number of college graduates are now forced to work for minimum wage while women my age are realizing that we'll never afford what the generation before us has, yet we're now expected to follow the advice of women who glided through the doors of opportunity armed with everything they need for success? Please tell me: In what bizzar-o world does this makes sense?
I can't help but see the whole Lean In movement as a social platform for the privileged few who don't get it. Just yesterday, I read an article by a woman who thinks she has never experienced sexism or has been at a disadvantage because she's a woman. According to her, the fact that women make about .80 cents to a man's dollar and are woefully underrepresented in the upper echelons of Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. Senate don't mean much. She, like many others engaged in these futile online debates about gender equality, goes on to say that all you need to do is work hard and your career will go where you want it. I wholeheartedly disagree with this argument and sort of want to wring her neck, which I won't do because I'm not a violent person. The point is, if women can't even come to a shared understanding of the issues we're facing, how can we move forward?
The funniest, and by funniest I mean saddest, part of this entire Lean In conversation is how it completely lets men off the hook. If I were a guy right now, I'd be sipping a beer and watching gleefully as all the professional women around me rip into each other about whether the word "feminism" creeps us out or whether not having the career of our dreams is our own fault. As we explore the reasons why women are still struggling for equality, what are we requiring of men? Nada. What are we requiring of institutions that don't offer parity in their wages or policies that will benefit mothers, fathers and those among us who are caring for elderly or sick members of our families? Again, nada. But we are spending a lot of time criticizing each other, which is a total waste of our resources.
Let's hope that some day, women will stop battling each other and find a few role models who can actually present a realistic model of what's possible in our careers. And while we're at it, let's create career paths that allow women to join the Peace Corps, travel the world or sleep off crazy hangovers on our parents' couches for a few months. Life can't be all about fancy degrees, internships, mentors, stepping stones and getting ahead. At least it shouldn't be, because that would make us boring and maniacal career robots with no personalities who only take two weeks off for maternity leave. I encourage you to quit Team Slaughter and Team Sandberg, because they each require punishingly high standards that no woman should ever have to live up to.
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