If you don't care about your life beyond age 30, you can stop reading right now; you can probably get through until then without the F-word. But if you're looking to build a life you find fulfilling, meaningful and authentic to your true self - and I hope that's what my readers are looking for! - then you absolutely need to start using the F-word. Liberally.
No, I haven't just given you permission to use that F-word. (Although if that floats your boat, go for it. Just not in the office, kay?) The F-word I'm talking about is feminism. Egad - THAT F-word. Before you click away, I give you one challenge: read through to the end of this post before deciding whether to discount the F-word.
And MEN: don't you dare go running away on me now that you've seen the word "feminism." What I'm about to discuss will affect your choices just as much as women's, as you'll see in the final segment of this post. Besides, feminist men are uber-sexy (have you never seen Porn for Women and Porn for New Moms?) AND "couples who share domestic responsibilities have more sex," according to Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg. Reason enough, now isn't it?
Why I'm Bringing This Up Now
A week and a half ago I had the incredible pleasure of wandering around Harvard Square with my husband, a blissful, rare experience I savor all the more now that I have an energetic toddler who typically chains us to home (don't you look forward to this stage of life?). At the Harvard Coop, I found a lone autographed copy of Sandberg's new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
Someone had recently implored me to read it, but I honestly wasn't interested. I mean, I've never been on the corporate track, I don't "get" the business world, and besides, I'm now a stay-at-home mom two days a week who certainly doesn't have a high-powered career, much less has any "leadership" qualifications.
But it was autographed. And 30% off. So I bought it.
Shallow reasons? Indeed. But, wow, what a purchase.
Since I had nothing to read in the hotel room that night, I took a peek. And I've been devouring the book ever since. My. Favorite. Read. In. Years. Hands down. And, shall we say in the understatement of the century, I like to read. So this is no small endorsement.
While the book is categorized under "Business Management," I'd label it as the contemporary mainstream feminist treatise, the likes of which we haven't known since The Feminine Mystique.
Let's Get Clear on the F-Word
If you're like the general American population, only a quarter of you female readers consider yourself a feminist. And presumably even fewer of you males, although I can't even find a figure on that - which is a sad fact in and of itself. (Even sadder? When you type "how many feminists" into Google, you receive countless pages of "How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" with some highly offensive answers to follow.)
Feminism has become the dirty word of twentysomething culture, equated with bra-burning, hostility, and overt male hatred. Even Sheryl Sandberg says throughout Lean In that she never thought of herself as a feminist, and doesn't come clean with the line "now I proudly call myself a feminist" until page 158 of 172.
So let's get this perfectly clear:
A feminist is someone who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. - Lean In
When presented with that definition, 65% of women say they are indeed feminists.
I personally believe that feminism is about even more than this. My senior year in college I was provided with the following definition of feminism (paraphrased and warped by memory):
Feminism focuses on the full and equal inclusion of people from all walks of life into the fabric of our society.
That was a definition I could get behind.
Even still, I've never come out loudly and eagerly as a feminist; my choice of a hyphenated last name is as far as I've gone. At times I've even denied the label, especially around my stay-at-home mom friends. Which, after reading Lean In, strikes me as a true shame and a lack of personal character.
So here I am: feminist and proud of it. And eager to get you to buy in, too. Here's why:
Why The F-Word Matters
As you look to designing your future, you need to embrace the F-word. Regardless of your gender. For two primary reasons:
1. Personal Fulfillment
Obviously I'm a hyper-proponent of finding work that matters to you, that makes you feel engaged and purposeful, and that you'll be able to one day look back upon with a sense of personal integrity and authenticity.
We simply cannot do this work if options are closed off to us. It's like saying: sure humans can fly to Mars, if only the radiation didn't kill us. Uh, that means we can't (currently) go to Mars.
We can only become our truest selves if we have every option genuinely open to us; our inner selves know no bounds. Today, though, our options are indeed limited, for both men and women:
Despite all the gains we have made, neither men nor women have real choice. Until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don't real choice. And until men are fully respected for contributing inside the home, they don't have real choice either. Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives the encouragement that makes seizing those opportunities possible. Only then can both men and women achieve their full potential. - Lean In
Sheryl Sandberg defines "real choice" as occurring once women run half our countries and men run half our homes. Given that only 8% of the independent countries in the world have female leaders, and less than 4% of stay-at-home parents are fathers, let's just say we have a ways to go.
To be clear, this definition of "real choice" is not saying that any given individual will want - or should want - to run a country or run a home. All it's saying is that we should all have the option of doing whatever we want. And right now, that's simply not the case.
2. A More Productive World
Going beyond the personal to the communal, involving people from all backgrounds equally in work settings has been shown to benefit us all:
The laws of economics and many studies of diversity tell us that if we tapped the entire pool of human resources and talent, our collective performance would improve...When more people get in the race, more records will be broken. And the achievements will extend beyond those individuals to benefit us all. - Lean In
I couldn't agree more. For instance, Olympic records would not be at the outer limits of human capacity if not for the breaking of the color barrier, according to the New York Times.
There's more to be said about Lean In and how I see it relating specifically to twentysomethings, but I've lexically assaulted you enough for one day. Next time we'll pick it up with more specifics on why the F-word matters for your future, and how to make real changes that can make a difference for you, your peers, and your off-in-the-hazy-distance children.
So what do you think? Are you a feminist? Did this post begin to change your opinion on this matter in any way, shape or form? If not, what needs to happen to make you feel comfortable calling yourself a "feminist"?
And I happen to wholly disagree with the following post - you only need to believe in #1 to be a feminist. I don't believe in many of the points that follow it:
15 Signs You're Actually a Feminist (PolicyMic)
There's a lot of hoopla over words that start with such a pretty letter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jesse Owens helped to redefine the limits of human potential. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)