Lean in for Health

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 4.13.53 PMThe Women’s Media Center, a great voice for women that challenges issues and celebrates strengths, posted on Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.” They challenge Sandberg suggesting that leaning in for women may post significant health issues. “The female body, just like the female life, has its limitations.”

Woman may be different. However, I suggest that the differences that lead to higher rates of depression, anxiety and chronic fatigue syndrome among women may be as much environmentally driven, as they are physically expressed. (I could also speak to the negative ways women are manipulated in pharmaceutical advertising for antidepressants. That, however, is the topic for another post.) Put another way, toxic work environments may lead to physical manifestations of ill health. I’m just not convinced that women are biologically wired to be more anxious or depressed.

Health issues, like so many of the issues women face, are exactly why it is imperative for women to“lean in.” I don’t think Sandberg is advocating leaning in until you fall over. My read (and I tore through it in a day) is that leaning in, wisely chosen, will serve everyone well. By leaning in, each woman in her own time, all women will eventually prosper (emotionally, financially and physically). When women lean in everyone benefits – women and men alike.

Sandberg is giving voice to a long needed debate by shining a light on many of the unspoken aspects of a problem that is crippling women in societies across the world. Only when we take our places at tables of power, across all institutions and around the world, will there be true equity. Sandberg’s argument that women need to lean in does not blame women, nor does it demonize men. Rather she seeks to parse out new ways to open up an honest dialogue. That dialogue may – though it will, no doubt, take years – allow women to more naturally lean in, while men more naturally lean back.

I teach and conduct research about the lack of women in advertising creative. On average there are a dismal 15% of women creating the advertising images that we see across the globe. And far, far below that number the further south and east you go. This matters greatly. The images girl and boys and women and men see in advertising, and in the mass media generally where the lack of female creatives is equally horrific, influence all of us – for better or worse, and it is too often for the worst. Nothing will not change without an open discussion about what is really going on in the halls of power – from advertising creative departments, to corporate boardrooms, to the pentagon. For the sake of all of our children change must come.

We need to have this dialogue for the sake of the young women and men I teach and for the sake of generations that will follow them. I see in my students, and in the non-college youth I serve as a volunteer, a desire for equitable educational and employment opportunities. I also see in them a passionate willingness to give back. This is a generation that does not question who their friends love, nor do they fear socializing across cultural boundaries. They voice passionate desire for equity at home, at work and in the communities that they so dearly want to contribute to. Yet, when all too many of them enter the world of work, especially women, they suffocate – constrained by narrow thinking and outdated rules.

It’s time to have this discussion out LOUD. Big and bold. It’s time for each of us to speak our individual truths. It’s time for each of us to listen to the individual truths of others. Maybe when we can speak and be heard there will be less anxiety and depression. It’s time to make room for everyone, some leaning in and some leaning out.

Jean

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