This is an image for Grandma Will Save Civilization.
As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sanders and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:
1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs
Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sanders has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.
To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.
Sanders talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.
With this example, Sanders makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.
Sanders argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?
Sanders is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.
But back to Lean In.
I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sanders was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.
There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.
The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.
When I saw the blog post, "Why You Should Treat Aging As A Mystical Journey"(http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-8682/w...), I thought I might have found a kindred spirit in the author, Carol Orsborn. When I read this book, Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn, I knew for sure. Carol Orsborn is on to something that I, at age 59, am really hungry for. I want to know how to feel valuable, powerful and at peace in the second half of my life, while still fully functioning in a society that demeans, caricatures, and negates older people.
Carol, who is a good writer, describes a story arc that begins with everything falling apart. She is unwanted and then fired from her job in a world that worships youth. She tries to fight aging by staying in the ring with the younger people, but it gives her no real sense of security. She keeps coming up with ideas for holding back time, only to fail over and over again. Telling of her disappointments, Carol does a good job of layering the blows, one atop the other until we are reeling with her. When everything has been tried, every avenue exhausted, what the hell do we do next? Lie down and die? But we’re old, not dead! How do we navigate this new country?
Nearly immobilized with discouragement, Carol struggles with the questions I’ve wrangled with: So now what, at this age? Who am I without the accouterments of my earlier life? My job, my youth, my expertise in a particular field? If I’m not running the race, do I even have value?
One night, in the middle of a furious electrical storm, she stands on her balcony, screaming and shaking her fist at God, daring Him to kill her now.
And He tells her to get over herself.
From this point, Carol begins to glimpse another, more powerful reality. A gigantic paradigm shift later, the unfurling of which she describes in the second half of the book, Carol is once again back on top, no longer burdened by but rather fierce with age. And we’re fierce right along with her.
Carol is very skillful in using metaphor to describe her journey. Particularly satisfying is her change of heart regarding the story of Moses, wherein she finally understands that God was saying, “It's okay to get old. I love you just as you are. So should you.”
The only problem I had with the book was the spiritual, God aspect. It’s not like Carol misled me. God is in the title. Since I am not a believer, however, some points left me a bit frustrated until I got a brainstorm and began replacing the term "conscious growth" with God, and it worked fine! Here's an example:
Carol: To stop "doing" my personality and leave space for God requires...
Lynne: To stop "doing" my personality and leave space for conscious growth requires...
At some point on our nation's timeline, I believe people our age will stop trying to be young and start seeking and finding the intrinsic value of age. It takes courage, though, because so much of it is beyond our control. Carol makes the point that we have to develop the ability to be at peace with that, and with the strength of maturity, we ought to be able to.
The reward is freedom to become our true selves, unbound by the constraints of society as currently drawn. As Carol says, "The one thing that is up to you is whether you will make getting old a tragedy, or embark upon it as another of life's great adventures."
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