I was so inspired by this book that the night I finished it, I actually dreamed I had written a review for it, a brilliant one as I vaguely remember, well-organized as well, since it was composed of three distinct parts, with each one a title. But I woke up, and it was just a dream, and the two thoughts that popped up were ‘Man that was an excellently written review!’ followed by ‘Could I be any more of a nerd…?’.
Honestly, I had my reservations when starting this book. My sister likes to remind me that I have this tendency to go ‘for the underdogs’, which can also be interpreted that I’m usually suspicious about things/people everybody else is crazy about. The author being highly acclaimed as one with a successful business career in first, Google, and then, Facebook, I also assumed that this ‘self-help’ book would not be much of a help to me, since I don’t want to have to do anything related to business, career-wise. And although I can be ambitious at times, I’ve recently realized I may not be as ambitious as I always thought I was. Sure, being a ‘leader’ would be nice, but I could settle being a ‘decent follower’… I think. So in no way would I be able to relate to Sandberg. Boy was I wrong.
First things first.
1. This book is not your typical or average ‘self-help’ book. The author makes it clear at the beginning. She doesn’t list the things you have to do and accomplish in order to be ‘successful and happy’. More than anything, she doesn’t make you feel like a ‘loser’ for not knowing these apparently basic, simple rules that somehow, would naturally lead to universal success. She doesn’t pressure you to abide by her rules. She also acknowledges that she has been luckier than many people in many aspects and understands that you may not have the same opportunities as she has had. She also reveals some of her own mistakes, which apparently, are not anywhere being completely over. In simpler words, she doesn’t pretend to be perfect, nor does she expect the readers to be so, which is the main reasons why I don’t like self-help books in the first place.
2. This books doesn’t teach you how to be a successful business woman. In fact, it has nothing to do with how Sandberg ‘worked’ in renown companies like Google and Facebook. It’s about working as a woman, yes, but it’s mostly about being and living as a woman. Whether you are a woman yourself, or a man who has high hopes for his daughter or sister, who wants to support his wife, who has been influenced by a strong mother, or who is simply a decent human being who wants equality of opportunities for both genders; this book is for all of you who believe in allowing and respecting differences, but mostly, harmony of those differences.
3. So this book is not just a book for women. It’s about creating an equal society, no matter how ideal and perhaps, naive, that may sound. We may never actually reach that stage in the near future, actually, there may never be such a thing as ‘equal society’ in terms of gender. But just because it’s hard and seemingly unattainable, that doesn’t mean we should all together be satisfied with the status quo. Like Sandberg quotes, “It is always worth the battle to change the dynamics“. This book is for women, yes, because some of us do not realize we carry these ‘inner barriers’ that secretly prevent us from engaging ourselves more when we could. We are always so busy at pointing our blaming fingers at the ‘system’ and the ‘institution’ that more often than not, we are blind to the prejudices and stereotypes we create for ourselves and use to protect ourselves from further risk, but also from further advancement of any kind. But this book is also for men, because creating an ‘equal society’ is not the sole task of women. If it were, we would have achieved much more than what we have so far. Men are also part of that society and their willingness and motivation to change the dynamics are crucial. Gone are the times when the best position a woman could get was that of a secretary and being part of the changes will only benefit both men and women, not harm them. So boys, kiss your irrational fear and aversion of your misguided notion of feminism goodbye and take a leap of faith.
We live in a society full of prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions, it’s a known fact. Unfortunately, a lesser known fact is that we often let ourselves be led by these not-so-right ideas, and most of the times, we are not even aware of it. No, this is not a conspiracy theory claiming that everything women aren’t able to achieve can be found in the actions of men, or that women are constantly being undermined for their noticeable work. Studies, surveys and statistics do show that people, both men and women, consider a ‘successful woman’ less appealing than a ‘successful man’. Somehow, if the man is successful, then he is a competent and talented leader. But if it is the woman that sits on top of the ladder, surely, she is a friendless and cruel bitch. Unfortunately, as these stereotypes perpetuate themselves, women reach a point where they actually see themselves as such and thus refuse to give everything they have and reach the maximum of their potential because they are afraid of how they will be perceived.
Living in Korea, a society that still remains quite traditional and patriarchal despite its advanced technology, this is a real and totally valid point. It is a well-known fact that companies that arrange marriages between single men and women ‘rate’ women according to their education and status, in that the higher the education a woman has, the lower her ‘rate’ is as ‘appropriate and suitable wife’. The opposite goes for the men of course. I myself have also been ‘wisely advised’ once by an older guy that when I go on blind dates (which is quite common in Korea), I shouldn’t tell ‘my partner for the evening’ that I graduated from SNU, (which is ranked first in this country,) because he will immediately be ‘turned off’. Although there are women who are brave enough to laugh at these illogical attitudes and be proud to admit to their achievements and even make sure they are noticed, I think it is fair to say that many more women would rather keep to themselves than to ‘flaunt’ their accomplishments.
I do think, nevertheless, that there is a fine line between being ‘proud’ and just plainly ‘arrogant’, a line that many people fail to distinguish and therefore cross more than they should. So yes, although I do recognize Sandberg’s valid advise to be more confident, I would also add to always be careful not to cross that line. Because nobody likes a ‘know-it-all-and-done-it-all’, be they women or men.
Sandberg’s other wise advise that stands out is that she doesn’t fail to notice some of the qualities women have, but which are not easy to be found in men. Yes, this may be a stereotype too, but once again, numbers show that women are more likely to care and be empathetic, and concerned about whether they are liked or not. They can also be more emotional. Whereas many books on ‘how to be a successful career woman’ would advise not to display these emotions because they can be signs of weakness, Sandberg has another perspective. I myself do not like girls who cry at the slightest complaint or criticism, but there are times when things can get really tough and you feel like shedding a bucket full of tears, however unprofessional that may look, will really make things better. Then do so. Cry, have a breakdown, then brush it off and move on. Being strong and overly confident are still ‘masculine’ ways to succeed I think. Or at least, seen as such so far. That’s why so many successful women are described as ‘manly’ and ‘tough’. And yes, although women still have to abide by the rules of success that have been defined by men for centuries, I believe they can also find their own ways to achieve the same objective and deal with it. We can create our own dynamics and definition of being successful leaders and role-models. Step by step.
Although the content of her book is to encourage women to be empowered in the workplace, in no way does Sandberg diminish the important roles that women have when they choose to stay at home and focus on the education and rearing of the children full-time. I’ve read some reviews of the book where readers were criticizing her for not giving the fair share of respect to these women, but it’s not true. She clearly recognizes that women who would rather quit work and stay at home have a cause just as noble as those who choose to focus just as much on their professional career. After all, rearing your children is no easy matter (so I hear, since I have zero experience in that) and that is also a full-time job, which people, and well, mostly men, forget. But it is true that these choices are not always voluntary, because women are often forced to make such a decision. And women (or men) should not consider or come to view raising their kids full time a ‘sacrifice’. I know, all of them will say that there is nothing as rewarding as giving everything you have to your children, and that they don’t regret anything, but I think it is safe to say, at the stage of making the decision, many women will struggle between the idea of being a good mom and their desire to pursue their professional ambitions. And thus change is needed to allow women more freedom in their decisions to either stay at home or continue with their career.
I thought for a long time, that feminism was all about giving the women the right to work and the freedom to get out of their household. I remember, during my first year of college, we had this quiz going around my 30 or so peers, half of which were girls. The kind of quiz you have with 10-20 questions that are supposed to help you get to know each other better and that usually end with ‘Any last word to end this great quiz?’ followed by ‘I’m so happy to meet y’all, I hope I can be great friends with all of you guys *smiley face smiley face*’, all the while knowing this is bullshit. And you are so preoccupied with giving cool and witty answers of your own you don’t really pay attention to the others’ answers, except maybe the ones from some girl/boy you thought was cute. Anyways, one of the questions was ‘Where do you see yourself in 10 years?’ and most girls answered ‘As a happy wife’ and I was literally outraged. I mean, these girls had supposedly studied their asses off during most part of their lives so far, gotten into the so-called most prestigious university of the country, and they were going to use four years of sweat, effort and studies to get married and raise children. What a waste of time and money, I thought. (And the present me, actually 10 years after my first year of university, thinks ‘Boy were you all wrong if you thought you would have figured your life by now’) All these women had fought, way before their time, to give them the opportunities of education, and these 20th century girls were just going to take a major step back in time.
But with time and I guess wisdom (?) I have learned that feminism is not about setting what is ‘right’ for women. It is about giving them ‘rights’. It is about respecting their choices, and allowing them to have choices in the first place. And to keep on hanging to the opportunities they had when they entered college and began work, they need valuable life partners to understand and support their choices. And this is the interesting part men should pay attention to. 🙂 Women have to make more progress on their own, fighting off the inner, century-old shyness and lack of confidence to step up. But men also have to make more progress in creating an environment where women can struggle less with family and work and where they can share the burden of finding the balance between both with men.
(Also, on a side note, just because a woman decides to stay at home and take care of the children all day long, that shouldn’t mean the husband can come home from work and refuse to lift a finger for any housework because he’s just come back from ‘real work’.)
Women are not superwomen, nor should they aspire to be. The myth of doing it all and having it all is the adversary of the women’s movement. It sets standards that cannot be reached, and then pushes women into pitfalls of guilt because they feel like they’ve failed at both being the stay-at-home mother who can make delicious cookies for their children in time when they come back to school and at being the successful career woman her parents worked so hard for and which she aspired for most of her life. We don’t have to aim for perfection, but for a sustainable and fulfilling future, which has a different definition for each woman. To quote Sandberg, “Success is making the best choices we can, and accepting them“.
There are many laws and regulations that work to protect women from discrimination, but Sandberg wonders whether the plethora of these legal and institutional tools (due to everyone’s fear of being sued, one might venture to guess) is not hindering ‘real talk and conversation’ about the elephant in the room. Gender has become such a sensitive subject; in fact, the more progress we have had, the more careful we have also become at actually talking about it, both men and women. Men become more cautious because they don’t want to offend anyone and they don’t want their words to be followed by a lawsuit. Women, on the other hand, are careful not to be deemed as the ‘scary feminist bitch who turns everything into gender issues’. More talk is necessary, rather than less. Let’s not try to pretend that there is no bias against gender, because we all know there is. The solution is not to hide from it because we want to avoid uncomfortable issues, but to discuss it and find improvement. This engagement will benefit both men and women.
“Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives the encouragement that makes seizing these opportunities possible“.
In a quick reading book with strong data, wit, humor and personal experience, Sandberg shares her experience as an ambitious career woman, a caring mother, a helpful wife, and a grateful daughter. And by doing so, she not only points out to the improvements that can be made, but also offers us a glimpse at a future where both men and women can enjoy equal opportunities. Which, frankly, left me teary-eyed.
I have always been a firm believer that I could not have it all as a woman. So I made up my mind long before, that I would -gladly- sacrifice having a family in order to pursue whatever high dreams I had for myself. I think Sandberg has restored a bit of faith of in the whole ‘a sane balance between work and family is possible’ (what I thought to be) illusion. I think I am now more willing to focus on making both things happen, rather than stubbornly believe that sacrifices have to be made. But then… when I really think about it, to borrow the words of the (awesome) movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel“, my current situation can be summed up by “I’m single by choice… just not my choice“. So, really, deep inside, maybe I was never really really against getting married and having a family; and now I’m just relieved that Sandberg has reassured me that yes, my choice as single is one imposed by others’ choices and that I can safely fall head over heels with the next decent guy/prince charming that comes into my life.
(Sandberg covers other points, such as how it is important to be honest at work, or how women need to form solidarity among themselves, but if I had to write down everything she said, I would basically be creating a copy of her book, so I hope that you will discover her wise words by yourself 🙂 )