I’ve Got Your “Leaning In” Right Here

Since I’m a dude, maybe I’m not supposed to comment on the recent (as in the last year or so) phenomenon of the massive print and bandwidth spilled on why women can’t have it all, how they are just like men when it comes to dating on campus, how they should lean in[1] – which seems to imply sacrificing your family or already being an executive before having a kid – to break glass ceilings, and endless pieces on “what women want.” Or, if I do, maybe I’m supposed to write in support of it from a male’s perspective or lightly criticize it while overall validating its argument, once again, from a male’s perspective. Largely, male voices seem to have been lost in the entire discussion.

That said, I have no interest in lending my voice to that discussion. I’ve just grown too sick of it.

Rather, I want to discuss a couple of other serious societal issues women face – issues often reinforced by other women of all statuses. Issues that may shine more light on the unfortunate underlying assumptions in all the above “thought” pieces, and illuminate just how lacking are those arguments. I also offer up this piece because these are issues – personal, hurtful, angering – that my wife, Misty, lives with on a daily basis and we regularly discuss.

I don’t intend to go into an entire diatribe on this; I’d prefer to spark a discussion.

If Hanna Rosin and Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer really want to help women, maybe they should focus on deeper societal issues before blaming women for their own failures or offer advice and direction that is, for some, implausible and demeaning to others.

If they really wanted to address some core issues, maybe they would look at the pressures women face if they decide not to marry, not follow the tradition of marrying older men who have a higher income and/or decide not to have children. Make the opposite choices (all complete double-standards), and you risk the enmity of most of women-kind.

We’ve made great strides in expanding our acceptance and equality for gays and lesbians. It would be nice to see respect shown to those women who decide to live their lives in a supposedly nontraditional manner. You want to change things? You want women to lean in and “have it all?” Stop assuming that the only options a woman has to achieve full womanhood are being either a housewife or one more concerned about money and power than family. And the former is the far more respected “achievement.”

Just as with voting rights, women who want to make different life choices or are born with different desires are told to just hold on. Wait your turn. If your plight is ever truly acknowledged. Maybe, and this is not an original argument, it’s no surprise that a black man was elected president over a woman. Wait your turn. And could you imagine the even harsher backlash against a female presidential candidate without a husband and family would garner over a male candidate who’d made the same life choices?

This isn’t to denigrate mothers. I love my mom, and not just because she brought me into the world. She’s a compassionate, caring-to-a-fault, ambitious, intelligent, inspiring, successful and family-oriented person – whether or not I’m her son. But so is my wife. Misty has just made different life choices. Choices that are just as valid as my mom’s and others’ who decide to have children. Just don’t worry: I am not saying one lifestyle is better than the other.

But that is the problem with all these articles, columns, thought pieces, what-have-you. They all come back around to assuming that what all women or at least the thing that ultimately validates their womanhood is to want to marry an older man who can support them and have kids. But some don’t. And where are these women in the conversation? Nowhere. Because it’s more important for the “newspaper of record” to revive the same inane back-to-school focus on college-age girls being into meaningless sex as much as the next guy.

They could be focusing instead on the influences women are bombarded with from all sides – family, friends, television, female execs, men, women, society-at-large, everyone – everyday to follow essentially traditional roles, except now they can vote and work.

[1] I’ll admit I haven’t Sheryl Sandberg’s book because I already think her elitist thesis is based on a reality available to only a small minority of its readers. I’d be surprised if it’s flying off the shelves at my local grocery frequented by lower-class minorities. Plus, does she really need more money? I’m the broke one.

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