Women Becoming

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 I recall the day a parishioner at a church I served texted me asking if I had read Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book “Lean In.” I had not read the book. I had not heard of the book. Nevertheless, I offered to purchase it, read it, and agreed to meet with her to talk about it. What I found, in part, was Sandberg’s take on gender inequality and why women were underrepresented as a valuable part of the workforce, showing how they unintentionally hold themselves back, and suggested ways for women to take the lead. Sandberg advocated women taking charge of their own careers and pushing forward at a time when gender bias was more alive and well than most would admit. The idea for women to Lean In seemed to be an encouragement for women to demand a seat at the proverbial table by recognizing and overcoming their passivity and insecurity in the workplace (even while simultaneously stepping up in their home lives). When I met with my new conversation partner, I told her that it was baloney! I had spent my life up until that point leaning in. Still, the obstacles, prejudice, and discrimination against intelligent, educated, and assertive women were thicker and higher than ever. Later, the social commentators would agree with me saying “basically what we’ve learned is that Lean In hasn’t worked.” Two books, both titled Lean Out, came out in 2015 and 2016—both authored by women pushing back against Sandberg’s message. Sources say that in 1970 American women made 59 cents for every dollar men earned and as late as 2010, women earned just 77 cents for every dollar men made. Interestingly, to earn that 77 cents on the dollar, women are required to conform to external standards that seek to diminish our personhood and individuality. My experience and Sandberg’s observation is that for a woman to succeed, she must be nice and feminine just enough to not come across as rude, while arguing for what she wants without looking like she is selling herself too hard. I call this standard being between a rock and a hard place. Some common tips for navigating that impossible space include avoiding strong words and statements like “this is wrong,” “I want,” or “you should consider” in favor of being nice and accommodating. They say it also helps to generalize and argue on behalf of a group, rather than yourself and quote other leaders and industry statistics and facts. Basically Sandberg concluded that when a man is successful, he is well liked. When a woman does well, people like her less. What a conundrum! Most humans want to be liked. But if our success means that others don’t like us, that’s a high price to pay for 77/100 of the pay. Michelle Obama later told a sold-out crowd at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn: “It’s not always enough to lean in, because that s--- doesn’t work all the time.” Research shows that significant issues— such as gender-based pay inequality, the disproportionate burden of domestic responsibilities on women, and the number of U.S. companies offering paid family leave — remain largely unchanged. The #MeToo movement exposed additional systemic and systematic roadblocks faced by working women and mothers, problems that “leaning in” does not address. Rosa Brooks in the Washington Post article titled, “Recline, Don’t Lean In (Why I Hate Sheryl Sandberg),” put it succinctly: “I ate protein bars and made important telephone calls during my morning commute. I stopped reading novels so I could write more articles and memos and make more handicrafts to contribute to the school auction. I put in extra hours at work. When I came home, I did radio interviews over Skype from my living room while supervising the children’s math homework. And I realized that I hated Sheryl Sandberg. Because, of course, I was miserable.” Then, there is the experience of Former Lehman Brothers CFO Erin Callan Montella when she lost her job during the collapse of Wall Street in 2008. At that time, she realized she had failed to find a fulfilling identity outside of her job. As chronicled in her memoir, Full Circle: A Memoir of Leaning In Too Far and the Journey Back, Montella blames a temporary loss of her authentic identity to leaning in too far, while earning professional accolades and financial success that appeared to be a crowning achievement. I am recovering from leaning in and learning some new moves. What about you?

Clergyman Consultant Counselor