If you’re a feminist I hope the tirade that follows resonates with you in some way. If you’re not a feminist, familiarize yourself with Caitlin Moran. (Shorter Caitlin Moran: You are a feminist.)
And thus I begin. The identity of women has snaked its way into the center of a maddening public debate. Let me be clear: it doesn’t belong there. Who or what women are should not be up for public debate. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to write this blog post and contribute to the conversation to which I so vehemently object because of a delightful little segment that aired recently on MSNBC.
After seeing this conversation between Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski and author Susan Patton, I penned the following email to my parents.
Subject: This makes me so mad.
*I should correct that–my friends inform me that Match.com is not free, but that OK Cupid is. (You can see how much time I am spending worrying about a future husband. Which I guess makes me just like the young women on Morning Joe who are too focused on their careers. Oops.)
**23 as of today. Happy Birthday to me.
I would also like to add to my email the following: Susan Patton is not at all being fair to men. She makes a boatload of assumptions about male behavior toward women that, while are true of some of the male population, do not represent all. In fact, I would argue her assumptions enable the behavior and attitudes some men hold about women by suggesting women conform to it, rather than fight it.
While my objections to Susan Patton’s ideology about women light a fire in my belly–and prompted this post–her letter to Princeton undergraduates isn’t the only spark out there highlighting the strange obsession with–as Sarah Kendzior put it–shoving women into a glass box and watching them struggle.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has launched her “Ban Bossy” campaign, an effort to change the way women in leadership are perceived. Now, there’s been a ton of backlash from some of my favorite loud-and-proud feminists in the business, including Ann Friedman, who argues that the movement to empower women is at its best when it emphasizes expanding opportunities, not restricting “bad stuff.” (Other writers have argued that the anti-bossy movement is dumb because bossy’s not that bad–I’m not going to spend time on this one because personally, I see it as Sandberg’s euphemism for the real “B” word, which is, in my opinion, the real perception hurdle women in leadership have to overcome.)
About 6 months ago I was asked to submit my own story for the “Ban Bossy” campaign. I was a little embarrassed to say I didn’t have one. I’ve never been called bossy, or the “B” word for that matter (at least not to my face). So instead I wrote a piece of advice for girls who want to be leaders. I wrote that girls should feel okay with being assertive, no matter what they’re called, and that they should lead without making others feel inferior. And what’s funny about what I wrote is that it’s not at all advice for girls: it’s advice for people.
That’s the strange thing about the conversation we’re having about who women are and what women aren’t. We’ve brought this newfangled idea into the 21st century that women can be chicks AND bosses AND they can run for president AND help launch journalism start-ups and it’s all just so confusing because women have so many identities wasn’t this all just easier when they married young, became incubators for babies and were identified as nothing more than Mrs. Joneses?
So here’s where I end up: Susan Patton, women are more than just wives. They’re bosses. They’re soldiers. They’re techies. They’re wives, too. But women can be whoever they want to be. They can be single! And they can be more than one thing! And they can be childless! And they can be lesbians! They shouldn’t have to justify any of those choices–all of which don’t fit into the perfect little box Susan Patton has outlined. It’s time we stop acting like it’s our job as women to tell other women who they are and what they ought to be. Aren’t we frustrated about the men who are doing that? And speaking of men, why are we having a conversation about women in society led solely by women? Where are the men, the 48 percent of our society who we think runs this whole operation anyway?
Our only job as women should be to help those who are struggling to break out of that glass box to get out. And if we ourselves are still in the box, it’s time we all band together to break it.