That’s what my pretty friend with the soft blue eyes said to me as I sat across from her at lunch ranting about a woman’s book getting a ton of publicity. I droned on about how it implies women may not be doing our best, may be approaching issues more passively. “I didn’t do that” I challenged as if the author was writing the entire book about me, but she’s not. She is however pointing out some real issues of which my friend needed to remind me.
The successful and beautiful author told us, other women, that we need to be more assertive, to lean in to our challenges instead of leaning back thinking someone better would handle it. She’s right, of course. Statistics show that fewer women run for public office or stay in the work force all their earning years choosing instead to take time off for parenting. My lunch friend called it leaning back instead of leaning in.
So if the author is correct in suggesting that as women we’re not entirely victims of a sexist society, what’s my problem? Well our society is sexist, women are marginalized and we as women may take fewer risks as a result, but that’s half the story. The other half is that we as women don’t always throw ourselves in the game and those who do may often find their most hateful critics are other women.
It doesn’t matter what book I’m talking about or who wrote it because after this one there will be another and if history shows us anything we will systematically rip that woman author limb from limb. My friend reminded me that women will nearly always destroy another woman if she gets too successful. The profit industry, which is all industry, can continue paying women seventy seven cents on the dollar, block the boardroom and refuse to fund women running for office without consequence because we don’t even notice. We’re too busy eating each other alive. As my friend said, “We eat our own young.”
But why did I do it? I’m a big believer in empowering other women aren’t I?
So my problem is two fold: on one hand I’m plagued by self loathing that I didn’t “amount to much” by my standards and it makes me jealous of other women who did better and because so few women really make it on the brutal playing field of business and politics I meet the ones who do with suspicion.
This must change. I’ll start with me. I’ve got to take that jealousy thing out of play. I did what I did. If making a whole bunch of money really mattered to me more than say, taking that year off to travel and write, then I probably would have. If standing up to those guys in various boardrooms was less important than keeping my job, I probably would have kept my gig and shut my mouth but they made me miserable so I told them off and opted out. It felt good. That was my choice. Now I have a job where I virtually never feel like telling anyone off because they’re my friends. Maybe I’ve arrived right where I should be. So what’s that jealousy about? I suspect an unchecked and dated assumption is at play.
Part two: the assumption that so few women make it big, the ones who do must be up to something. How about if I just let that go? There are lots of successful women who are as wonderful as they seem and followed their path thoughtfully. They most likely brought other women with them, most of us do, and even if they may be “prettier”, “smarter” or “luckier” than me is no reason to be nasty. The goal is to see all women successful. What’s that cliche’, a rising tide lifts all boats? How about I help bring the tide in rather than drowning the competition?
Then there’s this; if society kept me down then is it okay to do that to another woman? I am part of society. That makes me part of the problem or solution. My mom who is now eighty and who you know I love if you follow my blog believed for her entire life that women are inferior to men. She believed that a woman who took a “man’s job” was wrecking it for everyone by not knowing her place. She believed this while I worked my way up through the news business which was entirely the domain of men when I started in the late seventies. I didn’t agree with her, I wanted to break down those barriers. Yet here I am all these years later with enough of those values of female inferiority to forget my real place which is arm and arm and shoulder to shoulder with other women who want what I wanted–an equal shot, the chance to define their own happiness and to go as far as they can, as far as they want. What’s wrong with that? Not a thing.