I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (SS) last weekend. I found it accessible, compulsive reading and surprisingly radical. I would recommend it to both women and men as it’s full of enlightening and useful insights as well as constructive advice.

Sheryl

A lot of what SS says chimed with me. I don’t believe we have perfect equality yet, but I certainly believe that I’ve had opportunities that weren’t available to my mother or her generation, let alone to women in less developed parts of the world. I am thankful to earlier generations of feminists for their work and for being born in the UK.

I was also brought up with the expectation that I would work and support myself; that my parents would support me through my education, but then the rest was up to me. Finding a rich husband wasn’t encouraged…nor discouraged for that matter. I am grateful to them for letting me discover my own path.

I do agree there are subtle differences in how girls are brought up and how we are treated in the workplace. “Benevolent sexism” Sheryl calls it. Girls are encouraged to be good and nice and not assert themselves too much, especially around boys. Women in powerful positions are judged far more harshly than their male counterparts by both men AND women. It always shocks me how appearance seems to matter so much more for women than for men for example. Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel all had to modify their appearance. John Prescott could certainly afford to, but never did!

But I also agree that we hold ourselves back, or don’t “lean in” as Sheryl would say. I can think of countless times when I let male colleagues dominate in meetings or didn’t put myself forward for things. I didn’t want to get noticed too much. I also tend to take on the supporting role, helping other people get on, avoiding the limelight in many ways. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made a good career out of this, but have a sneaking suspicion I could’ve done more had I pushed myself a bit harder and didn’t worry so much about what other people thought.

Changing ourselves is where we have absolute power to change. And change things in our own way. One of the things I’ve noticed recently is that women seem to support each other more. There are numerous groups both inside and outside organisations supporting women. Mentoring or being mentored has become a normal part of business practice (not just for women of course). And there are also plenty of good female role models these days, from businesswomen to politicians to journalists, academics and other public figures.

So I’m always shocked when women say they aren’t feminists and, apparently, only a quarter of us do. For me feminism means equality – social, political and economic. No more, no less. It isn’t aligned to any single individual or point of view. That would be like saying you aren’t a conservative because you don’t like a particular Minister, or you aren’t a socialist because you object to a position on a single policy. So let’s stop throwing baby out with the bathwater and get the feminist revolution moving again – our way!

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