Speaking My Truth

I agree with Hunter Stuart of the Huffington Post. Sheryl Sandberg is the “poster child for the feminist movement.” The fact that Sandberg took “too long” to realize she was a feminist, as Emma Brockes of The Guardian states, is reality. I see the same hesitation to embrace feminism in my students. And it is for exactly the same reason Sandberg took her time – because they think equity already exists. Think there will be few barriers. They think to raise their voices will not be necessary. Unfortunately, they are wrong. We need to give everyone who wishes, men and women – including Sandberg, the time it takes to find their way to feminism.

I do not believe Sandberg is “selling guilt,” as Joanne Bamberger of USA Today has said. Rather, she is giving voice to a long needed debate by shining a light on some of the unspoken aspects of the problems that are 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. This does not mean every woman will seek the top. Nor does it mean, nor does she imply, that it is easy or for everyone. But it does mean more of us should find the courage to do so, because in doing so we help all women.

Contrary to what Brockes and Maureen Dowd, of the New York Times say, I do not think Sandberg’s argument that women need to lean in blames women. Nor does it demonize men. In this way she exemplifies what it means to be a feminist. Nor is Sandberg “tone-deaf,” to quote Dowd. It is true she never has (and doubtfully ever will) experienced what many women, including myself, have had to struggle against. However, that does not negate her wisdom to see truth, including how women sabotage themselves. I see that everyday in my students. In “Lean In” and on the road, Sandburg 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, which explains a lot. And far, far below that number the further south and east you go. Further, my students, as well as those of my colleagues, are in large part women (70-80% depending upon the study). This matters greatly – and not just in advertising creative.

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.

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 is 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. It’s time to make room for everyone.

Jean

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