Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of the bestselling book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” has coined an upgraded mantra for feminism, “Lean In.” She exhorts women to “Lean In,” so that they can reboot feminism while achieving corporate equality.
“Lean In” was released in March 2013, and immediately struck a raw nerve with feminist pundits who struggled to reconcile “Lean In” tactics with helping the feminist movement accomplish its goals. Equal pay and reproductive freedom were the core feminist issues in the 1970s; they are still the core issues in 2013.
Gloria Steinem, an icon of the feminist movement, defines feminism as “complete social and economic equality between men and women — not man-hating, angry women, as pop culture often makes feminists out to be.” The image of man-hating, angry women has been so effective in shaming and alienating women that many of them refuse to call themselves feminists and have distanced themselves from the movement.
Kristopher Wells, assistant professor and associate director, of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, University of Alberta, studies and writes about the power of demeaning words.
“There are many ongoing challenges within the feminist movement, including an entire generation of young women who think that feminism is the new ’f-word’ and don’t want to be associated with it. So yes, a cultural shift is needed, as is ’re-education’ as to what feminism actually means and represents to women and to men!”
Misrepresenting the word feminism has had a ripple effect across social and economic norms. For more information on this ripple effect, refer to the infographic, “You Say Feminism Like It’s A Bad Thing.”
Not all women grapple with an allegiance to feminism, and for those women “Lean In” is simply another way of looking at what they have done all along.
Linda Lingle, an Energy and Education consultant based in Washington, D.C., has worked and “Leaned In” on political campaigns for years. She was most recently involved with Elizabeth Colbert Busch’s 1st Congressional District special election. She believes for equality to happen, women must have a practical political presence at state and federal levels. During the interview, she pointed out that while there are only 20 women Senators, their numbers are now strong enough that they are introducing legislation for equality.
But she acknowledges that women have a long way to go in achieving political equality and she attributes the inequality to the age-old practice of gerrymandering.
“Gerrymandering is one of the things that hurt Elizabeth the most in this past election,” she said. “Being a woman didn’t hurt Elizabeth in her district, but being a Democrat and being consistently tied to Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat that Southern voters don’t like, did.” Colbert-Busch’s South Carolina 1st District is 75 percent white and Republican.
Lingle reiterated that while gerrymandering has happened for years at the state and federal levels it is starting to influence local elections.
“Women must become politically involved to effect real change,” she said. “Otherwise gerrymandering will continue to perpetuate ideologies and agendas that have historically discriminated against women and minorities.”
Other women believe that creating collaboration among women and involving men will help feminism “Lean” successfully.
Deborah Young, Ph.D., a plant pathologist at Colorado State University, believes that for feminism to succeed, women need to continue to bring other women along. Thirty years ago the state of Arizona hired Young as the first female county extension agent. She was responsible for working with farmers in rural Arizona. When going to visit a farm, she made it a point to drive up to the farmhouse and introduce herself to the farmer’s wife first.
“These were family farms and the women contributed as much as the men did,” Young said. “I wanted to make sure these women knew I valued their expertise and wanted to include them in any discussions about their farms.”
Madi Lapidot, Board President of Har Shalom temple in Fort Collins, Colo., works closely with families to help build a strong community. She is also a working mother of three and believes that women must include men in any discussion about equality, particularly as their role in the family expands.
“It’s complicated,” she said. “There’s very little acknowledgement that men and women are different. There is an innate, integral difference that is exacerbated by socialization.”
Gloria Steinem seems to agree when she pointed out what the debate surrounding “Lean In” has ignored. “I would say the most radical thing in [Sandberg’s] book, and perhaps in the long run the most important, is that she suggests that fathers can equally raise children and be equal at home.” She continued, “I have not seen that in the coverage of her book. Maybe I’ve missed it. She also says the most important career choice you will make if you want to have children is who your partner is. I don’t see that discussed either.”
Women Can Begin To “Lean In” By Becoming Contributors
Genevieve Berry: Women face obstacles to equality every day. To overcome those obstacles women must step up and see themselves as contributors. Nancy Ogren, Director of Pathways to Wellness, explains how women can do this.
Nancy Ogren: This is the place in life where we also see ourselves as part of a collective rather than I’m by myself in this.
Genevieve Berry: Warren Buffett recently said that women are the key to America’s prosperity.
Nancy Ogren: In my picture of me at whatever point in life I’m looking at myself I want to see
myself as where do I belong? Where am I going? How am I stepping up?
Genevieve Berry: As everyone steps up, feminism isn’t just about women.
Nancy Ogren: We’re all either, either we’re contaminating or we’re contributing, and there really isn’t, it’s sort of like a resounding yes or a no. We’re either contributing or we’re not and that’s contamination. So, see yourself as a contributor,
Genevieve Berry: Contamination exists, but we don’t have to be a part of it.
Nancy Ogren: “I’m going to give you something of myself” that’s the ultimate contribution, and as you give of yourself, you create in others a confidence that you didn’t even know you created for them. Because if you can contribute, they can contribute and we’re all in this together, so we all must contribute. And the contaminators don’t serve anybody.
Genevieve Berry, unfinishedbusinessblog.com.