Learning how to ‘Lean In’ with our daughters and sons

    “I wish the answer were easy. I wish I could just go tell all the young women I work for, all these fabulous women, ‘Believe in yourself and negotiate for yourself. Own your own success.’ I wish I could tell that to my daughter. But it’s not that simple. Because what the data shows, above all else, is one thing, which is that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.”Sheryl Sandberg in her TED Talk, “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders”

    One of the most talked-about books this spring is Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” Sandberg is Facebook’s COO. I haven’t read the book yet, but I was interested in the national dialogue surrounding it in 2013 — my subscription to plenty of feminist and pop culture blogs and news sites were all referencing it. I know the percentage of women in top corporate and political positions is still ridiculously low, but even as a feminist born in the ’70s, I am ashamed to say I just didn’t know how much of a conversation we had left here. For me, fewer women in the top of the workplace was a mix of gender roles, social policy, and a variety of other factors that have been rehashed in the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s.

    But I watched Sandberg’s TED talk, and I will read the book in the very near future. And some of what she said in that fifteen minute talk really struck a chord with me. She’s a mom of two children, and admitted to how challenging it can be to make the decisions needed to stay on top and still be at home with your children. What really struck me though are her examples of how women constantly underestimate themselves. I’ve been searching for fulfilling and well-paying full-time work now for over a year, and as demoralizing as a job search can get, I can see the examples right in front of my face. My hesitation to own my success. The way I credit everyone else except myself. What I feel like I am worth.

    It made me start thinking about how I could organically start the everyday process of instilling a sense of what Sandberg calls “sit at the table” in my daughter, and a sense of supporting my sons’ views of women. What are some basic tenets I need to work on?

    Give my daughter a sense of leadership in the house 

    She’s already the oldest, so she feels it. My challenge is to stop making her feel the pressure to be accountable for the boys and their behavior, and instead focus on herself and what she needs to do to move forward.

    Empathy for all!

    My sons are obsessed with superheroes. Superheroes win. It’s a good vs. evil world in comic books and movies, and they want to kill the bad guys. My daughter thinks it somewhat interesting, and at the same time becomes bored with watching the Avengers for the third time. What I have started doing without even realizing is while reading these graphic novels or watching movies with them, I point out every single example of empathy. Did you see that? He could have destroyed him there, but instead he let him go. I’m trying to show them my weaknesses, and how they could help support what I need to do around the house and in the world. Are these life changing moments? Not necessarily. But my three-year-old son has recently been finding ways to do things for me and his siblings to make life easier.

    Everybody does housework 

    My mom really let us off easily, I will have to reluctantly admit. My sister and I didn’t have to learn how to correctly do domestic work, and neither did my brothers. She did it all, well, almost all of it. Another part of Sandberg’s talk mentioned that even when both a man and woman of a house were working full-time, a woman still did a much higher percentage of both the housework and the childcare. It’s 2013, and I know there are some households out there that are not like that, but I sure know a great deal that still are. I would rather do almost anything than spend hours cleaning my house. Guess what? All of my kids are learning about housework!

    Acknowledge your own true selves 

    Maybe my daughter won’t want to take a major role in the workforce. Maybe my sons won’t either. Maybe they’ll want to stay home and take care of their kids. Maybe they’ll push me to make sure they are in the highest positions possible. Whatever the case may be, I have to remind them that their choices are valid. Whatever their choices are, I want to make sure that they know (especially my daughter), that they should be valued. Their future partners should support them. Their household should be supported. I’ve got to show them examples of how to build themselves a supportive community that helps with childcare, emotional, and logistical support, and vice versa.

    This is just the beginning of my brainstorm. Any ideas, Philly Parents?

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal