Before LinkedIn, before Monster.com, there were Help Wanted ads in newspapers. Divided by sex. Most of us have gladly forgotten those days when work was as sexually segregated as drinking fountains were racially segregated in Alabama.
We are happy to forget the days when a woman could not get a mortgage, a loan or even a credit card without a male co-sponsor. It is not that we were unreliable credit risks individually, but everyone knew that as women, our main purpose in life was to get married, quit our jobs and have babies. This was just an accepted fact of life. And we were expected to deal with it.
Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was the spark that lit the fire of the second wave of feminism that had been building since the end of World War II.
The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night— she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—“ Is this all?”The unhappiness of the American housewife was often attributed to the fact that they were over-educated and among others, one solution was to just not let them attend colleges. Another was to educate them only in Home Economics, instead of stuff like calculus and physics or even literature which would only serve to make them unhappy with their lot in life. Seriously.
In order to refute this common wisdom of the unhappiness of the college educated suburban housewife, Betty Friedan expanded the survey that she sent to her Smith classmates in advance of their 15th anniversary reunion, to include graduates of Radcliffe and other college educated women. What she found provided the backbone of the Feminine Mystique.
Her book was revolutionary and led to the women's movement, NOW, NARAL and the fight for the ERA.
Betty Friedan was a college educated middle class woman who wrote about other middle class college educated women and has been criticized for this narrow focus. I find it ironic, as in the past, it was the middle class women who agitated for the right of women to attend college and then the right of women to vote. It always made sense to me, because who else had the time? I can't imaging the young women of the Triangle Shirt Factory or the mills of Lowell, MA devoting their time to organizing protests and speaking out in public on women's suffrage. Not that they didn't, but their lives were already so exhausting that just getting through the day was hard enough. And the same was true for their mothers.
But even with her focus on this single class of women, Friedan spoke to the yearning that existed for women of all classes and colors who were deprived of the ability to pursue their dreams if any of those dreams led them out of the home. Trust me, the women in the suburban neighborhood of my youth were not college educated, but the message in The Feminine Mystique resonated with them as well.
It amazed me to realize that I had never read it. When I did, in honor of the 50th anniversary of its publication, I wondered what would be next. The ills that she described were real, and some of them have been changed. As have many of the attitudes she reflected (homosexuality is no longer listed in the DSM, nor blamed on a frustrated mother). It seemed to me that now, instead of being bored in the home, a woman was assigned small tasks in the business world, a cheap source of corporate labor, on a constant treadmill that demanded she "have it all" when she could barely keep her children in decent clothes. Friedan was all well and good, but was her work relevant to women today?
Yes. It is the foundation upon which we build. We must know what life was like for women in the 40s and 50s so that we fight returning to that era. Betty Friedan's work is well researched and gives a very clear history of that time. And she is an engaging author, which made her work a compelling read. But today's women need more than the identification of the issues, they need solutions.
It is not enough to know the world is unfair, we need some help in changing that unfairness. Who will lead the next charge? I don't know but I do believe that it will look and be very different from the last one.
I had heard the buzz about Sheryl Sandberg's Lead In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead that many of you may have heard as well. Written by an elitist with a double Harvard degree who was mentored by Larry Summers (gasp!) and is worth hundreds of millions in stock from Google and Facebook (oh no!), she couldn't possibly have anything to say to women in less fortunate positions. It was a vanity book designed to elevate Facebook (really?). I have to admit that it has been a long time since I remember a book being so roundly condemned by so many who hadn't even read it. The fact that a book authored by a woman about women was raising such a stink intrigued me. If I hadn't planned to read it before, I certainly looked forward to reading it now.
I should be used to pundits being wrong.
Honestly, there were some points in this book that almost had me wishing I were thirty years younger and still working. It takes a lot to do that. I am happy with my life (except for the grief part) and I don't generally envy the lot of today's working women.
Lean In is not so much a feminist manifesto, as it is a hands-on guide to how a woman can think about and alter her chances for success. From the cultural inhibitions that women internalize to the social judgments levied on our performance, Sandberg presents possibilities for change. She addresses many of the same issues I tried to deal with in my career. And although I did okay, I know that some of the advice she offers would have made it possible for me to do a lot more. (Of course in those days she could not have attended Harvard. Or Yale. And COO of Facebook? Not likely.)
Times have changed since Betty Friedan. Women can now attend Harvard. Women can become the COO of Facebook. But not enough of them do. And that is what Sandberg is trying to change with Lean In.
In her NYTimes book review, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first woman director of policy planning at the Sate Department under Hillary Clinton, and author of "The Atlantic" article Why Women Can't Have it All, says:
Her point, in a nutshell, is that notwithstanding the many gender biases that still operate all over the workplace, excuses and justifications won’t get women anywhere. Instead, believe in yourself, give it your all, “lean in” and “don’t leave before you leave” — which is to say, don’t doubt your ability to combine work and family and thus edge yourself out of plum assignments before you even have a baby. Leaning in can promote a virtuous circle: you assume you can juggle work and family, you step forward, you succeed professionally, and then you’re in a better position to ask for what you need and to make changes that could benefit others.Well researched and documented, Sandberg uses statistics, personal anecdotes, and stories from other successful women to present her case. She then uses some common sense, more research, and creative thinking to propose solutions.
I am fully aware that most women are not focused on changing social norms for the next generation but simply trying to get through each day. Forty percent of employed mothers lack sick days and vacation leave, and about 50 percent of employed mothers are unable to take time off to care for a sick child. 21 Only about half of women receive any pay during maternity leave. 22 These policies can have severe consequences; families with no access to paid family leave often go into debt and can fall into poverty. 23 Part-time jobs with fluctuating schedules offer little chance to plan and often stop short of the forty-hour week that provides basic benefits. 24(Emphasis mine)
Too many work standards remain inflexible and unfair, often penalizing women with children. Too many talented women try their hardest to reach the top and bump up against systemic barriers. So many others pull back because they do not think they have a choice. All of this brings me back to Leymah Gbowee’s insistence that we need more women in power. When leadership insists that these policies change, they will. Google put in pregnancy parking when I asked for it and it remains there long after I left. We must raise both the ceiling and the floor.
Yes, Sheryl Sandberg has had a storied career, leaving her worth close to a billion dollars, named as one of Forbes top five most powerful women in the world, but then, who would want to read a book by a failure? Who wants advice from someone who hasn't succeeded in making a difference?
Maybe this is all just an evil plot to grow Facebook's audience and the value of her stock. Or maybe it just is what she says it is. A way forward for women and their life partners. (She devotes an entire chapter to how important a life partner is to anyone's success in life.)
Lean In doesn't have to have all of the answers in order to be pointing in the right direction. It is clear that the women's movement has stalled: on Friday North Dakota passed the most repressive anti-women laws the nation has ever seen, virtually denying women the rights guaranteed by Roe vs Wade, and we learned that NYPD officers have been ordered to run criminal record checks on the victims of domestic abuse. Clearly we need to do something. Until we have a greater share of power, our rights will continue to be dictated to us by others. It is time women started reaching for the levers of power in corporations, institutions and governments.
Lean In doesn't stop with the last page. In addition to her TED talk, she has set up, of course, a Facebook page, and a website looking to continue the conversation. She envisions women meeting in small (8 to 10) Lean In Circles to learn from each other and support each other's growth. Small circles that have been disparagingly referred to as a throwback to the consciousness raising of times gone by. What her critics forget is that those consciousness raising parties did a lot of good back in the day.
Jodi Kantor, of the New York Times, in an attempt to show how evil this plot is, published a copy of the document that is being circulated to potential corporate partners in the Lean In movement. (BTW, said corporate partners are only asked the use of their logos and endorsement, not funding, and their support for their employees who chose to join the circles.) I read the document. And wish that when my girlfriends and I got together during the 70s in an informal support group at a nearby watering hole that we could have had access to the material and format of the new Lean In Circles. We got the job done, and helped other women move along their career paths, but not nearly enough and not quickly enough.
All profits from her book go to Lean In.org which is a non-profit public benefit corporation that runs the website of the same name.
Lean In is not for all women. Nor is it meant to be. Not all women want a high powered career and a family. But for those who do, and their partners, it is a book well worth reading.
Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule
|DAY||TIME (EST/EDT)||Series Name||Editor(s)|
|SUN||6:00 PM||Young Reader's Pavilion||The Book Bear|
|Sun||9:30 PM||SciFi/Fantasy Book Club||quarkstomper|
|Bi-Monthly Sun||Midnight||Reading Ramblings||don mikulecky|
|MON||11:30 AM||Political Book Club||Susan from 29|
|Mon||8:00 PM||Monday Murder Mystery||Susan from 29, michelewln|
|Mon||11:00 PM||My Favorite Books/Authors||edrie, MichiganChet|
|TUES||5:00 PM||Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left||bigjacbigjacbigjac|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00 AM||LGBT Literature||Texdude50, Dave in Northridge|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00 AM||All Things Bookstore||Dave in Northridge|
|Tue||8:00 PM||Contemporary Fiction Views||bookgirl|
|Wed||8:00 PM||Bookflurries Bookchat||cfk|
|THU||8:00 PM||Write On!||SensibleShoes|
|Thu (first each month)||11:00 AM||Monthly Bookpost||AdmiralNaismith|
|Thu (third each month - on hiatus)||11:00 PM||Audiobooks Club||SoCaliana|
|FRI||8:00 AM||Books That Changed My Life||Diana in NoVa|
|Fri||6:00 PM||Books Go Boom!||Brecht|
|SAT (fourth each month)||11:00 AM||Windy City Bookworm||Chitown Kev|
|Sat||9:00 PM||Books So Bad They're Good||Ellid|