I’ve just finished reading this really great article by James Allworth, called “It’s Not Women Who Should Lean In; It’s Men Who Should Step Back.” Allworth gives his take on Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, which discusses the obstacles women face when trying to work towards positions of leadership, and what women (and men) can do to overcome those obstacles. While I personally haven’t read Lean In, Allworth’s article really resonated with me.
I’ve spoken before about how progress towards gender equality means more than just women doing the same thing as men do. It means more than just women copying men. By copying men, we’re still giving men the authority to set the standard. The whole point of feminism is to give women the power to shape the standard as well…so, maybe we shouldn’t just emulate the men when it comes to being successful.
I don’t disagree with the notion of women feeling more confident in their own abilities and being advocates for themselves. I think that in order to make progress towards gender equality, women do need to advocate for themselves. But, why do we assume that women are under-performing when it comes to being confident in our abilities?
There are a couple of examples from Lean In that Allworth mentions in his article. There’s one example of a group of medical students, where the female students gave themselves lower performance scores than the men on performing surgeries. There’s another mention of how employers tend to promote men based on potential, but they promote women based on past accomplishments. The point of these examples is to show women, to push women, to be more confident, more assertive. To be as aggressive as men for asking for promotions. For having the same level of confidence as men–after all, we are more qualified than them.
But, has anyone stopped to consider that maybe the right example to follow isn’t the men’s, but the women’s? Sure, female medical students rated themselves lower than the male students…but maybe the male students shouldn’t have given themselves the higher scores. Why did the female medical students give themselves lower scores? Maybe because they took more into consideration than their male peers; maybe because they had higher standards than their male peers. Doesn’t it make more sense for men to follow the example set by women? To be more critical and discerning of their own work and their own abilities? To hold themselves to higher standards? To try to give themselves a truly fair score rather than being biased towards their own abilities?
I’ve always felt that the feminist movement tended to get one-sided at times. Feminism often veers into the territory of showing women how they can better play the game, rather than changing the game and the rules altogether. After all, the game and the rules were established by men. Maybe we should rewrite the game so that the rules are established by both men and women. Instead of copying the men and copying how they’ve attained their leadership positions, we need to advocate for men to emulate the way women navigate their careers and their lives. Maybe men shouldn’t be such workaholics; maybe women should advocate that the path to a fuller life isn’t by slaving away at the office but by having a better balance between work and family life. Maybe women shouldn’t try to adopt the over-confidence of men; maybe men shouldn’t be overconfident and instead be more discerning over what they truly can do. Maybe us women aren’t under-performing. Maybe we’re the ones who are doing it right, and the men just haven’t caught on yet. Maybe we’re the example that men need to follow, and not vice versa. Maybe, like I’ve said before, it’s not us that should always be keeping up with the men and playing by their rules. Maybe it’s time that men started keeping up with us. Maybe it’s time that men started playing by our rules.