I like leading. I like being in control. Every group project I ever had in college I wrestled for the lead spot, and I usually got it–not because I’m bossy or a strong personality: I’ve got a voice so small, people in a one-on-one conversation with me often follow-up my statements with a side-lean and a “what?” I usually get the lead spot because I’m organized, a bit of an over-achiever, but largely because I’ve got a strong vein of fear for unpreparedness running through me that makes me, in most situations, over-compensate so I can feel controlled. I have high expectations, and I don’t really trust other people to help me to get to that level of expectation when I can just do it myself in my own way that I know works for me. I know what I need to feel comfortable while I work, so why not get myself to that position? I guess you could call it a pessimistic view of humanity, but I’d rather be surprised by someone as prepared as I am then count on them being prepared and be disappointed, stressed out, and joining them in looking the fool when it turns out they’re not. So, in short, it’s just natural for me to fall into taking the lead.
In one specific class project I vividly remember in my Senior year as an undergrad, we were broken up in groups of three and tasked to make connections between one of Jane Austen’s novels (Persuasion to be exact) and a romantic poet of our choice (Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge etc.). If you’re not an English major, this probably sounds pointless, horrific, and dull, but there was a reason for the project which is, well, another post completely. The point is, my group broke up the project evenly into three parts and we agreed to reconvene a few days later, share our conclusions, and mutually agree on the ones we would present in our portfolio. A good plan, yes? Very “fair.” Hah. I went back to my apartment and happily charged ahead on the project–it’s no secret Austen is my specialty and my brain was already overflowing with connections. I came up with my conclusions I was assigned and then, well, I came up with all the rest too, you know, just in case. After four years of college I had had enough experience in groups to know being over-prepared is never a waste because there is always, without fail, someone to be made up for. Sure enough, by the first group meeting, three group members had fallen to two with no word from the third about the project, her absence, or her plan for getting her portion to us. “Ah yes,” I thought, “no worries at all, I’ve planned for this catastrophe.” The project was turned in with two names gracing the title instead of three, and our third “team” member concluded in creating massive drama—another story for yet another post. My point is, I led not because I necessarily wanted to lead, be the boss, or establish new, never-before-thought-of Austen connections (trust me, they’ve all been explored: Every. Single. One.) I led because I knew what I was good at: organization, planning, Austen. And I led because, well, there wasn’t much competition, so…it was just natural for me to do it.
By now you’ve probably heard of Sheryl Sandberg…if not for her COO position at Facebook, but for her wildly popular book Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. What I didn’t know though was that “lean in” has become sort of a new catch phrase, a hot hashtag, and a whole .org site dedicated to what lean-in-ers describe as “changing the conversation about what we [women] can’t do to what we can do.” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But what is so very irritating about Sandberg’s message and all her women “leaning in,” is that they’re insistent upon this idea that if you’re a woman not leading, then you’re “fearful” of being a leader and damn those misogynists, WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOU? At a “BlogHer” conference earlier this year, Sandberg was re-wording some of her book’s urgings that many had criticized for being “elitist or critical of women who don’t have sky-high aspirations.” She admitted that perhaps her opinions had come off wrong and restated that “leaning in” wasn’t about every woman wanting to be a CEO but “about each one of us asking ourselves what we would do if we weren’t afraid and then reaching for those ambitions.”
It was meant to be “all-inclusive” she said, about all women, in every position, breaking out of their “fear” of…what? Being a woman? I don’t get it. I don’t get it at all. Why are we still making this about gender? If I’m “afraid” of something, I never think, “well, if only I were a man, I could do this.” No! For most things I don’t do, I’m not really afraid, I honestly don’t want to do them because I don’t think I would be good at them–not because I’m a woman, because those aren’t my natural strengths. And if I am afraid, it’s usually because I know I’m not good at it or I don’t know much about it yet. Never ever does it cross my mind that my femininity is holding me back. That group project I took control of? Sandberg would probably pat my shoulder and say “yay! Good for you for leaning in and taking control.” But I didn’t do it for that reason, I don’t want to be the boss, I just want to work to my own strengths. If a male team member had had better connections than I did for our Austen-to-Romantic-poet connection project, then I would have stepped down, held back, and given him a nod. Not because I’m suddenly afraid of the manly beast, but because hey, his ideas sound better. The content–not the producer–was better. But Sandberg? The article said she’s “concerned” about how we’re raising our daughters because “by middle school, in survey after survey, more boys say they want to lead someday versus girls.” Uh-oh, EMERGENCY!!! GIRLS ARE AFRAID!!! EMPOWER THEM!!!
Wait, what? Why? I don’t take that statistic that way, I take it that, for the majority, boys naturally have the desire to lead, that’s why even when they’re young (oh hey, in middle school) they’re already showing this tendency. Does that make me afraid? No. It’s not a rule, it’s just a majority. Some girls naturally have the ability to lead, and they will, without all of this obsession. Try and get a naturally disorganized girl to lead and you’ll have a leader who wasn’t meant to lead. That’s not forward-thinking equality and woman-empowerment, that’s a waiting disaster. My boyfriend recently asked me if I ever wanted to see a woman president. I thought about it for a long time–I knew what he was asking, if, like most women, I wanted to see a woman president because she was a woman. And I said yes, I would vote for a woman to be president, but I wouldn’t be voting based on her gender, I would be voting based on who the heck she was. How offensive to her to vote for her just because she’s got boobs. Come on ladies. Men usually get hired as high school teachers faster than women…I don’t take that as women are afraid to lead, take charge, and go get that job, I take it as school districts knowing that perhaps for the age group, men are just better at handling a room of 30+ teens. The reverse usually occurs with elementary school though, women are better at connecting with younger children…you know, just naturally. The dumbest idea employers ever had was to have rules on the types of people they had to hire. I would be more disappointed if I knew I was hired to “lead” just because they had to meet their female quota than if I was turned down because a man just did it better than I did. It’s not about being afraid, being brought up differently, or having different gender expectations…it’s just natural: Leaders are personality types, not gender specific and if we try and even out the ratio based solely on which bathroom we use, we’re going to have a really, really big problem…starting right at the top.
image inspired via
– <3 A.