What is finally going to make us women get the message that we are, as a gender, squeamish about the subject of power? We don’t seem to be clear about whether we admire it or hate it in other women, we’re not sure if we want it for ourselves (but of course many do), and to top it all off, we don’t even seem to know how to talk about it. Although we’ve become very comfortable wearing trousers – once the exclusive dress for men – we have nowhere near reached the same level of comfort in wearing power – another once-exclusive male domain.
When I saw Sheryl Sandberg interviewed on 60 Minutes recently, I instantly knew a firestorm would ensue – and it has. Sandberg, the avowedly feminist author of “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” stirred a veritable hornet’s nest. And. Good. For. Her. As far as I’m concerned, there are not enough Sheryl Sandbergs in existence. She’s being chastised for having enough money to become powerful while other capable women raise her children, clean her house, and otherwise make life manageable for her. Does that sound familiar? Sounds like me when raising my three daughters, going to school full time to get two degrees, working part time, and loving it all. I relied upon, from time to time, amazing young women to care for my children. I relied upon my husband – also working hard to keep us solvent – to partner with me throughout the years. Many, many women I know do, or did, exactly the same. Is it the amount of money she makes that brings such wrath? Let’s be honest now.
However, I can look back now from my perch as a woman in her late 50s, and see how my gender – and the messages I bought into about women and power – gave me an excuse to hold myself back in my early career. Luckily I have found my power over the ensuing years, and life and work are even more enjoyable now. Men are no longer the “enemy”, but the peers that so willingly and graciously walk the path of life with me.
Here’s the shocker: I think it all boils down to our own sense of esteem and confidence. We are our own worst enemies when wanting or needing to be seen as powerful. Nobody puts us down quite as exquisitely as we do ourselves. Nobody intimidates us quite like the image in the mirror. Isn’t it easier to point the finger outward instead of inward? Instead of lashing out at the Sheryl Sandbergs of the world, perhaps we should see them for the blessings they are: incredibly brave women who ask us to step up, to raise the bar, to make something of ourselves, and to model that bravery for our children and our grandchildren. And to do it all unapologetically!
Must we wait for permission? If so, we’ve just received it loud and clear from Sheryl Sandberg.