Looking Forward Without Leaning In

 Cathy Guisewite

Cathy Guisewite

When I was asked to read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, I could actually feel myself cringe. After the melee surrounding last year’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” I was not exactly looking forward to yet another conversation about the possibility of advancing women in the 21st century. As I sat down to give Sandberg’s book an honest read, Gloria Steinem’s voice popped into my head to remind me that “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.” Putting my master’s degree in Historical Studies to further use, here’s my take on Lean In, leaning in and how to move forward. 

Sheryl Sandberg is roughly 15 years older than I am.  Based on her book’s approach to the world, this may as well be a millennia. Reading more like an undergrad essay than management manifesto, Sandberg’s attempt at inspiring women to ascend the corporate ladder felt stodgy and left much to be desired. Turning my thoughts back to Steinem, I found myself poring over the book, trying to unlearn my own biases and learn from Sandberg’s message.

At this point another voice popped into my head. It was Kathleen Hanna, figurehead of the riot grrrl movement and third-wave of feminism, screeching, “We want revolution, grrrl-style now.” It occurred to me that Hanna and Sandberg were born just a few months apart. Yet, Hanna’s life and career embodies a form of leadership and worldly success not found in the pages of Sandberg’s book. So what is Sandberg really trying to tell the women of today? Leaning in and taking charge means that we have to emulate the corporate man?

Born under the Reagan administration, I was raised to view the world (you might have read about that over here) as a level playing field. Instead of belaboring my own neuroses and worrying about my popularity, I opt to follow my own road and create my own definition of success.

Perhaps women my age have yet to storm the C-Suite but is that what it takes to lead in 2013? Rather than found success on the historical role of men in corporate America, I suggest we work to inspire original thinking and ingenuity. I propose dropping the back-and-forth rhetoric that stymies social progress year-after-year and start working to move forward. Rather than push one another to lean in and fit arbitrary definitions, focus on making strides every day.

A few weeks ago another voice commented, “If America is going to lead the way we expect ourselves to lead, we need to empower women here at home to participate fully in our economy and our society. This truly is the unfinished business of the 21st century, and it is the work we are called to do. I look forward to being your partner in all the days and years ahead. Let's keep fighting for opportunity and dignity."

Duly noted, and looking forward. 

Kate AchilleComment