I’ve just finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. While it is an inspiring read — she is a woman of many accomplishments and who seems genuinely interested in improving the lot of the professional woman — I couldn’t help but think as well that as women, our work is never really done.
Each day, we have to maneuver through a tricky dance and at times, for me anyway, it feels as though the ‘to do list,’ or the boxes that need to be ticked off, are never-ending. On the one hand, we’re expected to fulfill the destinies won for us — and desired — by women of previous generations. The suffragettes and second wave feminists fought hard and endured extreme prejudice to ensure that women would have a place at the table, the executive table in particular. On the other hand, some of us want to ‘lean back’ from our careers and ‘lean in’ to family — but we worry that if we do, we’ll be called traitors to the cause.
Today’s woman has to be strong and smart, ready and alert at all times because, in many circumstances, her work needs to be as good, if not better than her male counterparts in order to receive the same recognition — or to justify that recognition. And, as in Condoleezza Rice’s words on the jacket of Sandberg’s book say, while we have to “[manage and overcome] the challenges that arise on the ‘jungle gym’ of career advancement,” there is also an expectation that we act as wonder women of sorts: simultaneously hot-shot career women in power suits and “Sex and the City” heels; yummy mummies; nice and amiable, but not too nice, of course; ladies in the street but freaks in the bed. Oh, and we also need to “lean in,” tap into our greatness, and be the leaders we need to be at work and in life. And, I should add, find a good partner in the home who will share domestic duties 50/50 and support our career aspirations. I don’t know about you, but it can all feel heavy and makes me go slightly out of breathe.
Don’t get me wrong, the hard work is worth it and our loads are lighter because we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. And if we carry on the work for parity and equality, it will be even easier for the generations to come.
The reality is that our lot is different — our lives come with specific ‘accoutrements,’ if you will, whether we like it or not. We’re the Ginger Rogers to the Fred Astaires, doing everything the male counterpart is doing, but our dance is complicated and weighed down as we sashay, somewhat burdened, in our metaphorical high heels.