Tag Archives: women in leadership

One Step Further

Rachel Simmons, the author of the ground-breaking Odd Girl Out and best-selling Curse of the Good Girl, has just co-authored along with Kate Farrar an article in the Huffington Post entitled “The Confidence Gap on Campus: Why College Women Need to Lean In.” Many readers will recognize the reference to Sheryl Sandberg‘s brand new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. In the book, Ms. Sandberg argues among other things that women need to work to overcome “the stereotypes we internalize that hold us back,” (Sandberg, quoted in Adams) and “own their own ambition.” (Simmons and Farrar)

After presenting undeniable evidence that college women are not getting the leadership positions they have earned and deserve in as great a proportion as college men, Simmons and Farrar ask the women themselves what they need. Their answer? “Provide us the skills, supports and mentoring to build confidence to take risks and test our leadership on campus. College women want to be aware of and prepared for the barriers both on campus and as they enter the workplace.” (Simmons and Farrar) This sentiment echoes those expressed by many members of my 8th grade Life Skills class, namely that they are finding their voices, and they know they are being heard in our school. They want us to help them ensure they will be able to make their voices heard out in the world.

So both ensuring there is awareness of the inequity in the world and preparing girls and women to self-advocate is part of the solution. But we can’t place the entire weight of reform on women’s shoulders. True, only women can learn to self-advocate, and they must do so. At the same time, men and people of other genders need to join in as well. “This crisis of confidence in the face of unrelenting — and unfair — pressure is what Sandberg is shining a light on. Yet, she is being criticized for blaming women, when she is in fact indicting a culture that forces women to second-guess their own strengths.” (Simmons and Farrar)

Already, her book may be having some positive effects. John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, has written of what he learned from the book: “I feel a renewed sense of urgency to make the progress we haven’t made in the last decade… After reading Lean In and listening to Sheryl, I realize that, while I believe I am relatively enlightened, I have not consistently walked the talk.” (Chambers, quoted in Upadhyaya) I’m sure others are out there, and with continued work, we can continue to change minds. The old boys network is real, and at some point in time, the old boys need to take the initiative to do the right thing.

That said, I would love to see us take these ideas one step farther. So often, it seems, we say we need to get more women into tech and into leadership positions at the highest level for two main reasons. One, to provide role models for younger women and girls. Two, to provide a viewpoint lacking in a male-dominated culture. We absolutely need positive female role models, and we absolutely need multiple viewpoints. However, knowing that the variance of ways of being within different genders is far greater than the variance of ways of being between men and women (usually, such statements are made within a binary concept of gender), we can also be aware that our real goal is not just including multiple genders in the workplace in truly equitable fashion, but also multiple viewpoints. In short, if our ultimate goal is to undermine and eventually do away with patriarchy and to claim equality and equity for absolutely all people, part of that goal may need to be acknowledging that gender is far more complicated than a simple binary system would lead us to believe – what we have traditionally called femininity and masculinity can be applied in differing ways not just to men and women but also to all people of all possible genders.

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Filed under Gender, On Education, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Women in media

Not Your Mother’s Feminism

It’s now been nearly a year since I wrote “Not Quite Post-Feminist” examining what author Susan J. Douglas calls “enlightened sexism” and how it could be seen in the attitudes of Stoneleigh-Burnham students. Enlightened sexism, for those who haven’t heard of it, can essentially be seen as feminism in fishnet stockings and high heels – the idea that, having won all the major battles, women can now be free to enjoy the power that comes from… sexualizing themselves.

Forgive me for not cheering.

Though she doesn’t use the term, Susan Faludi’s recent article in “Harpers,” “American Electra: Feminism’s ritual matricide,” offers an interesting historical context for the development of enlightened sexism. She notes that the history of feminism is like the ebbing and flowing of the tides, with a period of regression often following a major victory. In the 1920’s, with the passage of the 19th amendment, advocates of women’s rights had just won one of their most significant victories, and it was followed by one of the most major regressions. Fueled by the rapidly developing advertising industry in the United States, young women pulled skimpy dresses on over flimsy underwear and went out to dance in ways thought to be way too suggestive by their parents. In the process, for the first time in the history of feminism, mothers and daughters were placed, and placed themselves, in opposition to each other. This pattern would be repeated again and again.

Indeed, Faludi argues that feminism has never fully recovered from this splintering – even Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which is often thought to have ignited the modern era of feminism, was written in a spirit of daughters observing the quiet despair of their mothers and not wanting at any cost to have that happen to them. In the centerpiece of the article, Faludi describes the recent election for the president of the National Organization of Women as more than just a choice between candidates but rather as a battle for generational supremacy and, in the process, a referendum on what the very nature of feminism ought to be. During the build-up to the election, older members described what they saw as a refusal of the younger generation to respect all they had worked for, while younger members wondered openly whether they themselves would ever be taken seriously. Older members wondered why younger members were wearing exactly the kind of clothing they struggled for years for women not to have to wear, while one young woman told about how she didn’t even realize she was a feminist until she attended a talk given by another young woman in, yes, fishnet stockings and high heels. Older members expressed concern over those younger members who, rather than working to open up possibilities specifically for women, wanted to throw out the gender binary altogether.

As with so much of public dialogue these days, one is left feeling there is way more common ground than is being acknowledged. All these women wanted to be respected, not to be forced to conform to someone else’s concept of what they should look or act like, and to work for equity and equality. Yet somehow, the differences are getting emphasized, and in the process communication is being undermined.

Upset by how she was portrayed in Faludi’s article, “Courtney,” a young feminist, offers the following response: “If you want to find feminism-in-action, you need to go where some of the most dynamic work is–environmental justice meetings where young leaders are talking about the disproportionate effects of climate change on women of color, safe houses for former sex workers where young women are helping one another get out of “the life,” veterans who are bonding together to fight back against military sexual assault etc. There are young, feminist-identified women doing community and political work every single day, aware of their legacy and confident about their future.” [ http://feministing.com/2010/09/27/electras-talk-back-responses-to-susan-faludis-harpers-piece/ ] Many people of my generation have spent years working toward the day when what truly matters is who you are and what you do rather than what you look like. In that context, it would seem counter-productive if not downright paradoxical to mumble complaints about what shoes are being worn by women doing such vitally important work to bring respect, equity, equality, and the right to determine one’s own destiny to girls and women.

Last night at our annual Winter Solstice Presentation, I watched the members of the Upper School Rock Band take the stage, and I mean take it. They walked up like they owned the place, made darn sure everything was set to their liking before beginning, and then crashed their way without any visible inhibitions through Blink182’s “I Miss You.” I would challenge anyone of any generation to deny the power of these girls. Indeed, anyone who attempted it in front of them would do so at their own risk.

Personally, I will confess I still don’t 100% understand the perspective of young feminists who have bought into enlightened sexism, and I continue to believe that teaching media literacy is of the utmost importance. But I also continue to believe in the power of simple, honest and respectful communication. In that context, as I open my eyes and really look around me, I am beginning to think that maybe there is something to cheer about after all. I once again hold the hope that we are indeed a bit closer to reaching the goal I mentioned a year ago: “achieving a genuinely enlightened and post-feminist era in which people of all genders can simply live their lives as the people they were always meant to be.”

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Filed under On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School