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.
Copyright Notice: The contents of this site are copyrighted so don’t steal. Republication is by permission only. Excerpts, commentary, and fair use applications should be accompanied by a link back to the original content on this site.