Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg

I am a feminist.

Abashedly, such a declaration makes me cringe. A voice in my head adamantly screams fury and repulsion, refusing to let me associate myself with the characteristically outspoken, obstinate, and vehemently bitter female advocates of feminist rights.

But I am a feminist.

I believe in social, political and economic equality of the sexes. I am a feminist.

I think it’s time to embrace that fact. I think it’s time we all embraced it. We all (generally and hopefully) stand for equal rights, and yet whenever anyone mentions the feminist movement or feminism, a slight twinge of discomfort is inevitable.

But as I flipped through these pages, I couldn’t help but nod my head furiously in agreement and chuckle at some of the (very) true scenarios that somehow chance upon every woman in one way or another. I couldn’t help but cringe and try to shake off the uncomfortable feeling of shame as I inwardly professed to doing many of the things she outlined.

Self doubt becomes a form of self defense. In order to protect ourselves from being disliked, we question out abilities and downplay our achievements, especially in the presence of others. We put ourselves down before others can.

A little jolt ran through me and I couldn’t help but fidget in my seat with unease. I’ve always found it natural to deny compliments and could never quite accept it when people called me ‘smart’ or ‘brilliant’ – I always thought it was untrue and at any rate just polite to say ‘Nah, not at all’ and quickly change the subject to his (or her) achievements.

I never consciously acknowledged the fact that I was constantly muting my accomplishments – it was instinctive. Sandberg outlined the Howard/Heidi study where in testing perceptions of men and women in the workplace, two professors presented subjects with two scenarios: exact same scenarios of a successful entrepreneur, the only difference being the gender of the entrepreneur. Howard (the male scenario) and Heidi (female scenario) were both rated as equally competent, but Howard was rated as much more likeable and appealing in terms of personality. Success, it seemed, was only positively correlated to likeability in men, but negatively correlated in women.

Is that why I constantly mute my achievements and refuse to advocate for myself (whenever anyone asks me to speak about my accomplishments I feel an inward cringe)? I recoiled from the idea – firstly because I didn’t want to acknowledge such a discrepancy (in what I believed to be an equal world), and secondly because I thought acknowledging it was a pathetic excuse for my behavior and a repulsive show of arrogance (for it would be admitting that I am smart and I am brilliant).

Then I realized I was doing it again. Tormenting myself over the unnecessary and putting myself down for the fear of coming across as arrogant or proud. ‘Very assertive’, ‘strong-willed’ and ‘very competitive’ portray a successful and attractive man, but when applied to a woman – we’d imagine a successful woman but a sharp-tongued and unpleasant one.

In addition to facing institutional obstacles, women face a battle from within.

Sandberg also points out many things that people do in general (more so in women, however). While she refers to how women behave at work and how they manage their career, the things that she says apply to women (and men) in general.

The most common way people give up their power is thinking they don’t have any.

So incredibly true.

How can I do better? What am I doing that I don’t know? What am I doing that I cannot see?

Questions for self-improvement. The only corner of the universe you can be certain of improving is yourself – and how can you improve yourself without knowing what to change? We tend to have a biased view of ourselves; to view ourselves objectively or from the outside is nigh impossible. It’s always important to receive feedback, whether positive or negative, to be aware of our actions, our little shortcomings and unwitting idiosyncrasies. Having that one honest friend who won’t hesitate to let you know what she/he thinks of you is crucial: I once asked a very close (and brutally honest, sometimes to the point of insensitivity) friend what my biggest flaw was, and she said I had no backbone. Rather than take it badly, I took it in my stride and became a lot more aware of my actions and words and became less afraid to speak up and stand up for what I believed in. It helped me change for the better.

Instead of pondering the question “Can we have it all?” we should be asking the more practical question “Can we do it all?” And again, the answer is no.

Nothing is impossible may not be true, but ‘everything is impossible’ is definitely so.

Personal choices are not always as personal  as they appear. We are all influenced by social conventions, peer pressure, and familial expectations.

Rarely is there one absolute truth, so people who believe they speak the truth are very silencing of others.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. weihan2013 says:

    skype at 8 30?

    On Fri, Jul 12, 2013 at 6:57 PM, je pense, donc je suis: ruru’s

  2. Finally, a practical non-extremist feminist opinion! Well written and expressed as well :)

    1. ruruhoong says:

      Thank you! Means alot :)

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