Pretty lies.

liar liar

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is causing quite a stir with her new book, Lean In. I haven’t read it and don’t plan to increase her considerable bottom line by buying it. This is not a book review. This is wonderment about why women pay any attention at all to advice from women who make them feel bad with their pretty lies.

In an interview on 60 Minutes, Sandberg gave an oh-so-sad account of her self-doubts as a young woman. All that negative self-talk clearly held her back. Being born to an upper-middle-class family who educated her at Harvard was evidently of no help whatsoever. The message: If I can do it, so can you, the only thing holding you back is you. Pretty lie #1.

Betty Friedan gets a lot of credit for jump-starting the “women’s movement.” Her education at Smith College was wasted on this mother and housewife because other options weren’t available to women at that time. Pretty lie #2. “I had a fellowship in psychology,” said Miz Friedan in a PBS interview. “And then I won a really big fellowship to go straight on to get my PhD for the next three or four years…I decided not to accept it. I just decided I didn’t want to be an academic.” She chose motherhood.

But it’s possible to scale the corporate ladder on one’s home-making skills. Witness the mother of all domestic goddesses: Martha Stewart. The very name fetches up visions of gourmet dinners created with herbs grown in the dirt you made yourself, served on the finest porcelain at your handmade faux bois dining table, last-minute cocktail parties for 100 people in your white-carpeted living room, with pate de fois gras from the duck you raised by personally cramming food down his lovely neck, and every stinking thing in your perfect house arranged in matching pastel French-inspired crockery with labels in calligraphy you did yourself. According to Martha, you can do anything you choose. Pretty lie #3. You can be a “business magnate, author, magazine publisher, television personality and convicted felon” (Wikipedia) if you get a scholarship to Barnard College and you’re insanely focused and built like a brick shithouse. Just don’t expect there to be a Mr. Martha with whom to share all that domestic loveliness. (There isn’t.)

Madeleine Albright, no slouch herself, said there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other. Where do we put the ones who give us advice that is nearly impossible for most of us to follow? Why do we let them flaunt their success and make us feel bad because we can’t seem to get there?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy that Sheryl, Betty and Martha were successful. They got to do exactly what they chose to do. They had options. They had natural gifts. They had help. They had luck. They had focus. And they worked hard. And we are sick of hearing about it. I mean, mazel tov and all that, but I’ve got laundry to do and client work to finish and my dishwasher is doing the death rattle and I’m executrix of my mother’s estate and my hormones are going nuts and my yard looks like hell. And I don’t even have kids to raise or elderly parents to look after.

Here’s the biggest lie of all: that being a housewife and mother is for losers.
I know for a fact that my own mother would have loved to have had the luxury of bitching about wasting her fancy education while she moldered away in suburban luxury. Or that the glass ceiling was a wee bit low. Or that her negative self-talk kept her out of the C-suite for a few extra months. How facile it is for these exceptional women, who were born on third base, to make us feel like losers because we didn’t get to home plate as fast as they did. Even women who have had more moderate success in the corporate world and resent being told they can also be stellar mothers look at motherhood as “downshifting.” Slower. Lesser. Sad.

Do you want to know one truth in all this? Here it is: the biggest obstacle to equality between men and women is biology. It’s that simple. As long as women have the babies, we get the back seat in the working world. Nothing wrong with having babies, just don’t expect to have a top-tier career, a happy husband or partner, well-raised kids, a mutually satisfying marriage (legal or otherwise), a perfect house, a spiritual life, great friends, volunteer commitments, a hobby, a killer body, regular meals as a family, contemplative time, and enough sleep. It ain’t gonna happen.

Stop lying to us, ladies.

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About lucidgal

Marketer, artist, blogger, entrepreneur, teacher. Helping people connect.
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17 Responses to Pretty lies.

  1. Julie Greenberg says:

    AMEN!! Sing it, sister Kim! Now for some laundry before heading to work . . . ;-)

  2. I’m pretty sure these do-it-all women have assistants, maids, nannies, top notch hairstylists and nail techs… Bottom line, many other women are working to make that woman’s life look oh so perfect.

  3. lucidgal says:

    Martha has an army of helpers. And she wants me to make my own soap. Right.

    • beccakinla says:

      I think the biggest problem with the Martha Stewart image is that she took homemaking–which is supposed to be about giving and building–and turned it into a competitive and materialistic endeavor. As if the only way you can make a “woman’s job” (mothering, cooking, etc.) worthy of respect is by making it just at cut-throat and attention-seeking as the professional activities of men.

      And she’s not really successful at homemaking. No matter how beautiful everything looks, the substance isn’t there.

  4. Judith Wolf Mandell says:

    Well said, terrifically written. (I KNOW you had fun writing the Martha paragraph.)

  5. lucidgal says:

    Dad-gum right. That woman is a danger to the self-esteem of women everywhere.

  6. catseyewriter says:

    What you say here is so important. Another example (as if you need more) is Julia Child. The movie “Julia and Julie” aside, I know more about her background because she graduated from Smith (in the 1950s, I believe) and my daughter is a Smithie who will graduate this May (no silver spoon here; she got a full scholarship).

    According to Child’s own book (“My Life in France”), her parents saved a spot at Smith College for her (and paid the tuition) the day she was born. I can’t recall her degree (I’m thinking it was Philosophy), but I’m damned sure it wasn’t cooking, bacause even in the 50s, Smith was known for building “a life of promise for women of distinction.” And yet cooking was what she became famous for. Why? Because she married someone who worked in an embassy. She was bored with her file clerk job but her husband’s salary was enough so she could take some time and figure out what she really wanted to do with her life. But through all that, her options were still limited: hat making, participating in hobbies like bridge, etc.

    As far as opportunities for young women in the 60s, when I was in high school, I wanted to be an interpreter at the United Nations. I eagerly opened my issue of SEVENTEEN magazine to read the cover story : “You Can Work at the U.N.!”, only to find that the available positions for women were in the secretarial pool.

    Reading this, I sound bitter. I am not. I think that we all do what we have to do. But gender bias AND lack of resources was a lethal combination in the 1960s. I only hope that things are different for my daughter.

  7. lucidgal says:

    I was a child of the 70s and, by that time, things were better in terms of job possibilities. Women who were former slaves started their own businesses right after the Civil War, so ostensibly any of us could do what we want, right? It only takes capital, mentors, luck, smarts, crazy desire, and looks don’t hurt. We just can’t do all that AND be mother of the year. And the perfect wife. And the best friend. Not saying I’d rather be a dude… women’s lives seem far more complex and interesting. But it does help you if your main interest is business, even today.

  8. Some great plain speakin’ truth here. Thanks for pointing out the priviledge behind these “self-made women.” I, too, find Martha incredibly damaging as a role model. I agree that she tainted the domestic sphere by commercializing it / making it a competitive space. Blargh. Karen (from #GenFab)

  9. Aletha says:

    I agree with much of what you said, but this bothers me: “…the biggest obstacle to equality between men and women is biology.”

    I agree it is impossible for women to “have it all,” but I do not think it is that simple. Is the biggest obstacle biology, or the cultural expectations attached to biology? In other words, this culture makes being a working mother much harder than it has to be, which is a political issue, not a matter of biology.

  10. Kim Phillips says:

    I would respectfully submit that, without the biology, none of this would be an issue. When did a woman ever leave a pregnant man with both the physical fact of a child to raise and the financial cost of raising it? When did a man ever have to miss work to have, and to recover from having, a baby? I have lost count of the number of employers (some of them women, and mothers) who have told me, “I don’t want to hire a 20-something woman for that job, because I’ll train her and she’ll leave to have a baby.” That is an illegal statement for a business of a certain size, because the government has made it so. It is antithetical for business to be concerned with the family life, and happiness, of employees; their job is making money for stakeholders, not providing social services. So it surprises me how many women, and mothers of daughters, vote for pro-business politicians; women can be their own worst enemies sometimes. We are not equal and never will be. Women with advantages may be able to navigate this fact a bit more easily than those without the fancy education, big job, rich husband, and ability to hire a lot of help.

  11. Aletha says:

    “We are not equal and never will be.”
    Unless the basic principles of our culture are thrown out, along with the bums currently in office, I would agree with you, but you seem to imply equality is impossible because of biology. How many politicians do you know that are not pro-business? There may be a few, but they have no power. If you cited the President, I would laugh bitterly.

    Nobody ever said achieving equality would be easy, but it is not just a matter of passing laws and electing less sexist politicians. It would require a revolution far more profound than any the world has seen to date, but I cannot agree that biology makes it impossible. Cultural attitudes, expectations, and behaviors attached to biology are artificial, as are common business practices. None of that is inherent or inevitable, any more than conventional wisdom. Women are expected to make it all possible. We have had precious little choice, but that does not mean no alternative is possible. It does mean no alternative will appear to be possible or practical, unless a feminist revolution makes it happen.

    I could elaborate, but this discussion is drifting far afield from the good points you made in this post. This culture is chock full of pretty lies; I could say, it relies on people believing those lies, so I appreciate you calling some of them out.

  12. Kim Phillips says:

    I’m not implying that we’ll never be equal because of biology, I’m flat-out stating it. I don’t think that cultural positions based on biology are entirely artificial; survival as a species sort of depends on it. Again, when a pregnant man can be left to fend for himself, then we will be equal. I appreciate the discussion!

  13. SickofWomenBullies says:

    To those women who say they want things to be better for their daughters, why are you so quick to dismiss the thoughtful, educated, successful and most importantly HAPPY and satisfied women of this generation? You continue to perpetuate the “mommy wars” and the acrimonious dissent and undervaluing of all women.
    If you’d read Lean In (and it is so apparent from your quick, flippant opinion that you have not) you’d have seen that Sandberg repeatedly says that women should truly have the right to choose, guilt free, what they WANT to focus on and that all people, men and women, should encourage diversity, equality, collaboration and inclusion.
    re: Martha, why can’t we just respect that she did some things really, really well? Why point to the things she didnt do well? Men dont tear down Tiger Woods for his very well known shortcomings, they say, “he’s a good golfer.” A woman does something well and other women (like yourselves) just stand there and tear her down… no wonder men don’t take women’s value seriously, women like you tell them not to. Even where we have a representative who does something, anything good, you tear her down completely and make excuses and pass judgement. It’s horrible, petty behaviour.
    Having said that, Martha is a totally different issue than Sandberg. Don’t muddy the waters because you are too lazy or ignorant to get up and make a difference for yourself and your daughter.
    It’s easy to sit and poke holes in other’s attempts… far easier then say, getting out there and actually doing anything…
    You are right about one thing: as long as women like you have sway, your daughter will be no better off than you are. Hopefully (for your granddaughter’s sake) she will be smarter, more compassionate and more collaborative with other women.

  14. lucidgal says:

    If you had actually read the post, you’d have seen that a) I said I don’t intend to buy the book and b) I never mention a daughter, because I don’t have one. I can see from your handle that you are on the lookout for women “bullies” but you haven’t found one here. Am I picking on these poor ladies, who have been given every advantage in life, only to tell the rest of womanhood that the only reason they don’t succeed is that they don’t “lean in?” To my mind, that’s the worst kind of bullying, blaming women who didn’t have the opportunities they had, largely a result of someone else handing them fancy educations. I don’t begrudge them their success, only their arrogance. And you’re right…Martha is in a category by herself.

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