Leaning In

This post first ran on Inside Higher Education as part of the University of Venus blogs. I’m sharing it here on my blog.

I’m going to offer a few reviews of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and this first one is going to be a sweeping overview of the entire book. There are specific chapters that I want to speak to as well, but first I’ll do a review of the book and the Lean In movement. In order to get access to the Lean In circles, er… movement, you have to join the site via Facebook, which is of no surprise given that Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. I say this in both an honest and tongue in cheek way, as I know that the Facebook metrics are working away analyzing users use of the Facebook platforms and various add ons.

The Lean In site offers anecdotes from different women who are members of Lean In and they each share their stories of times in their life when they leaned in. The members are mostly women and some men from different backgrounds (race, class, and work sector). What they share is an inspiring story about a learning experience or successful moment in their lives—either at work or in their personal lives. The anecdotes are concise. There are also videos that vary in time and some are quite lengthy (40 minutes long). I’ve enjoyed poring through the site and reading and watching the different stories. Some feel like testimonies and are quite personal, whereas others read like a motivational speech.

Getting back to the book, Sandberg is asking that women own their skills and success. Try to sit at the table; overcome the imposter syndrome. But, she also warns that we will have moments when we must work together and help others. This isn’t a book about selfishly helping yourself or being selfless. This book offers her personal story about when she had to lean out and focus on family or other issues in her life, or moments when she leaned in to get to the next stage in her career. She refers to statistics, feminism, and important stories as she shares her truth. She also acknowledges that some women (and men) will stay at home and do the important work of raising children, so she gives a nod to the parents who choose to stay at home and does refer to this opportunity as a privilege. I was glad to see this reference, as it is a privilege to stay home. Of course, some women are indigent and at home, but the opt out conversation is often lacking any discussion of class privilege or mention that women of color have been leaning in for years, if not decades and that their leaning in is complicated by racialized sexism.

On a side note, I’m really tired of the reviews and commentaries that are published by a commentator who has not opened the book. Not cool. And I am not keen with the haterade against the book based on the fact that Sandberg is a wealthy, Jewish woman. The review needs to say more than simply attacking the messenger. The book is not perfect, but Sandberg offers some great points that many of us need to hear again and again. I cannot represent all Latinas and know that I have class and heterosexual privilege, but I will say this: there are many takeaways from this book. It is important to believe in yourself, network, make smart decisions, invest in yourself, and help others. Mentor, coach, sponsor. Get mentored, sponsored, and coached. There is more to this book and so-called movement.

Now, I have heard lots of commentary about how this book does not help all women or is myopic in its view. These comments are interesting to me. No book will speak to everyone. This book and its message, though, might help some women realize that they deserve to be at the damn table. The book and its anecdotes might squelch feelings of impostor syndrome. The videos on the Lean In site might also make some women and men realize that they need to serve as a better mentor or coach to those around them. My suggestion to my current students or students who just graduated–Lean In.

Peer to Peer Mentoring: Leaning In

This is a good post to share for my March Month of Mentoring. I will post another about the book, since I have read it!

Now, I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In yet, but I’m going to weigh in based on the reviews offline, online, her 60 Minutes interview, as well as based on joining Lean In’s site last week. The conversations about the book and the phenomena of Lean In as a movement reminds me of Graduate Women Scholars of Southern California. This was a peer-mentoring women’s group facilitated by one of the Women’s Studies faculty members at San Diego State University. Dr. Susan Cayleff saw that her office hours were busy with women graduate students asking the same questions. In 1991 she decided to try hosting once per month meetings at her house related around a particular topic.

These monthly meetings were workshop-like and typically led by one of the members and the Cayleff. The topics covered varied from how to put together your CV, prepping for a conference presentation, working on your thesis/dissertation, dealing with your committee, and more. These meetings provided a safe place of support for women students. We were Leaning In. We were learning from one another and sharing strategies. It was a bullshit free zone for the most part and we were allowed to admit that we were second guessing our choices or having a hard time finishing projects. The women involved were primarily from the Art (Humanities) and Social Sciences from the local universities in San Diego; however, there were several from Los Angeles and even one or two who were from the Bay Area, but living in San Diego.

Thanks to this peer-mentoring group I was better prepared for grad school. Sure, I occasionally felt like I was faking it or didn’t belong, but overall the mentoring sessions reminded me that I had to make academe my own (or attempt to do so). I think that Lean In is on to something and that peer to peer mentoring is important. If Sandberg’s book and the site get more women to connect–great! I have benefited from strong mentors throughout my academic career and to this day have some great peer mentors and coaches. I have blogged before about how mentoring is my mandate. It is. Part of my mentoring is getting my students or peers to Lean In.

I need to read Sandberg’s book. And, yes, I know that she’s Harvard educated and part of the elite. I know that she’s wealthy–Google, then moved to Facebook as their Chief Operating Officer. But, from perusing different bios and videos, I can see that there is lots to gain from Lean In. And, I also know that we can be are worst enemies in our work lives, as well as our personal lives. Self-doubt, not negotiating, and making poor decisions hurts us all, but women more so at work. I am not an acolyte with rose-colored glasses. I think my main point is that I know how to Lean In and the Breathe Now is yet another example—a conference that I co-planned. Many of us have been networking, strategizing, and organizing. We know this work well. But, I’ll speak more to Sandberg’s book and movement after I read the book and pore through more of the blog.

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Mentoring: Job Searches and Month of Mentoring

Mentoring Matters. Mentoring comes up as one of the larger words in my blog’s word cloud. There is a good reason for this. I write (and think) about mentoring, coaching, and sponsoring lots. I am trying to make my March posts all about mentoring.

I was happy to have a great conversation recently with a former student from more than ten years ago about her last job search. She was lucky enough to find out about a local mentoring program at the local Jewish Community Center. Now, it is important for me to note a few things. My former student is not Jewish and the program was free! She knew that she needed a local mentor to help her with her job search, so she researched different possibilities and found this program.

She was assigned a seasoned mentor who was not quite twice her age. They met every other week to chat about work and her job prospects. Some might think of this relationship as a job coach, but it is billed as mentoring program. I’m glad that she was pro-active to seek a mentor during her job search. I was also proud of her for her initiative to take charge of her own success.

Not everyone has a good old boys or even a good old girls network. You need to establish your own networks and this might mean getting out of your comfort zones and going to meetings in your community or different communities. It is going to take work. There are days that feel like I have the same conversations over; however, I sit back and realize that for my mentee this is relatively new for them.

I am also reminded that those of us in the position to do so need to mentor, coach, and sponsor to help others network. We are only as good as our networks and we need to be willing to share our networks and lift others up so that they can have success, too. I remember a friend from a mentoring group calling me Spiderwoman thanks to the network webs that I weave. I like that. Spiderwoman!

Book Review: “I Hate Feminists!” December 6, 1989, and Its Aftermath

The book’s title caught my eye. I remember where I was when the news broke that a male student killed fourteen women students on a college campus in Canada. Melissa Blais weighs in on the terrible events that took place on December 6, 1989 in this short, and powerful book. Blais does not makes sense of the tragedy, as that is not the book’s intent. Each chapter examines what took place and the consequences. The chapters are divided accordingly: Introduction, Feminist Participation, Marginalization to Disparagement, Commemorations, Negotiating the Representation of the Massacre, and the Conclusion.

Some have called the events the Montreal Massacre and others have refer to the Polytechnique violence. Regardless of the shorthand this tragedy caused many to take a serious look at targeted violence against women. Of course, violence existed prior to this event, and the fact that the women were college co-eds caused more attention by some. Blais teases apart the ways in which the newspapers covered the events and the consequences of the murder to the feminist and anti-feminist movements in Montreal and surrounding areas.

I read the English translation (thank you Phyllis Aronoff) and doubt that anything was lost in translation. The book is not an easy read, as you will want to put it down and think about some of the points that Blais makes. I read the book and thought about what has changed since this tragedy. I also thought about the Highway of Tears in British Columbia and the missing and murdered women in Juárez. I have mixed feelings. I know that many things have improved, but I think that some have stayed the same.

I have had the honor of sitting on the Dec 6th planning committee at work and this is the sort of work that requires a sincerity of the larger project–stopping violence against girls and women. I recall hearing some engineering students lamenting that they had to be reminded about the event and how burdensome it was to have to do this. I think it is more burdensome to not remember the 14 women from Montreal, and the women before and after them. The commemorations have become about stopping violence and it is crucial to remember this.

One of the things that came out of my reading this book was that I found out that my colleague, Maureen Bradley wrote some thoughtful work about the events. And, Bradley’s work is cited in this book. I encourage you to look at Bradley’s website about her other work since. Overall, I Hate Feminists is a book is worth reading and then thinking about the different ways that you support anti-violence efforts in your community. The book lingers–as it should.

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Blais, Melissa. 2014. “I Hate Feminists!” December 6 1980, And Its Aftermath. Translated Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott. Toronto, Canada, Fernwood.

50 Shades of Meh: Women in Pop Culture

I can recall reading about women’s fan fiction with great interest. The cultural studies work about shipping and the Kirk/Spock love triangle was fascinating to me in the early 1990s. When fan sites began to devour (pun intended) the Twilight series, I did not think this was anything particularly new or exciting. Then, the fan sites frenzy gave birth to E. L. James and her 50 Shades of Grey series. I read the first book carefully and pretty much yawned through it. The writing was similar to the Twilight  series, which was no surprise given that this book came from one of the fan sites. The book was painfully difficult to read as it was obvious that the author was not familiar with the norms in this SadoMasochism (SM) or Bondage and Discipline (BD) community. BDSM as the abbreviation.>

Right about now, most readers will think one of two things: huh and wait, how do you know about this? Well, my MA thesis was about Women and Consent. This does not make me an expert, but it certainly makes me interested in the series, the movie, and conversations related to consent in pop culture. I have been mulling over a few things about the book(s) and now the movie, which apparently has made some real money. This series has popularized grey ties and re-ignited conversations about BDSM, and the popular culture depictions of a BDSM relationship. Now, if you want to read well-written books in this area you can see the Erotica Booklists or see what Susie Bright suggests–many know her by her alter ego, Susie Sexpert.

The BDSM issue is an extremely divisive issue for feminists. In the 1980s, the sex debates/sex panics/sex wars * culminated with the emergence of “anti-sex” and “pro-sex feminists.” The lack of cohesion and agreement among feminists and others centered around the definition and understanding of women’s sexuality. One of the problems was that feminist epistemology has never been unified in terms of defining what constitutes women’s sexuality. The various sides of the debates acquired their own definitions of women’s sexuality and furthermore, what constituted a feminist sexuality. -there is one feminist sexuality? No. And, if you have followed sex positive discussions, this is still not ironed out.  For ease of discussion, though, I will refer to the two major sides of the sex debates.>

There were different, heated opinions regarding women’s exercise of power and consent. Can women consent? The anti-sex side viewed women’s sexuality as something that male-identified society defined, controlled, and used against women. By contrast the pro-sex camp acknowledged women’s power to pursue pleasure and exercise sexual consent with others in SM sex or non-SM sex. Subsequently, women’s bodies were interpreted as either a site of domination or power among the two loudest or most prominent factions. And, this might shed light on how sex positive debates are at times fraught with controversy, when perhaps they should not be.

Feminists need to take consciousness raising to the level of self-education of women’s various sexualities. It is self-effacing for feminists not to make coalitions among one another and acknowledge the diversity of the movement and identity. We must understand the history and struggles behind women’s sexuality and how this aspect informs women’s identity in society. Clearly this does not require a monolithic feminism with feminists united in one belief. Feminists must work toward developing an inclusive theory of sexuality that includes pleasure, desire, and autonomous consent to sex thinking of women as having sexual agency.

In the future an inclusive sexual theory that embraces various sexualities and sanctions sexual consent as part of women’s sexuality is auspicious. Continued research into theories of sexual politics and consent is justified and needed in the hope of someday securing equality and not playing with the same tired tropes about male dominance of women, as witnessed with the 50 Shades series. This is one of the many reasons why I think: 50 Shades of Meh. I read the book, and do not have to see the stylized version of the book from Hollywood. My safe word here: no.

*Yes, I linked to Wikipedia. It is a good synopsis and written for the lay audience. <Do not be cheeky.>

Childbirth Reflections

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which birth experiences influences the ways in which you feel about your health care provider and yourself. I heard a great MA Thesis defense this year and during the latter part of the defense there was some discussion about personal birth experiences. This made me think about my two birth experiences with my daughters. Both births required some intervention. And, here I am thinking about them some ten years later.

I did not opt to find out the gender of either of my girls. And, I had a birth plan in mind. I did not follow the birth plans, but I did end up with two baby girls. My eldest was encouraged to join us via the breaking of my waters and I labored for some 11 hours with her. I was quite thankful that for the epidural and will never forget the excruciating back labor. It really was like someone was trying to grate the skin off my back and hurt like nothing I had ever felt before. The next wonderful thing that I experienced were the shakes post-childbirth thanks to the epidural–with my teeth chattering. The rails of the hospital bed were cushioned so that I would not hurt myself, during my seizure like shakes.

The easiest part of my birth experience was breastfeeding. I had no issues with breastfeeding post-child birth. I also have warm memories of that first diaper change with the meconium being released by each daughter. Oh, good times.

My second (and last) child birth experience was more traumatic. I started off laboring standing and was feeling pretty good; however, in the matter of 10 minutes I went from laboring standing to the nurses realizing that something was wrong. I was summarily prepped for surgery and had an emergency c-section. I will never forget the moment on the hospital bed with my arms strapped down and feeling the doctor tug and open me up. I did not feel any of the surgery, but I could feel movement, and then my daughter was taken out of me. My doctor explained that the umbilical cord was wrapped around my daughter’s neck twice and this explained the fetal distress. I shed tears of joy and relief. I felt guilty that every contraction strangled my poor girl. This daughter is more of a fighter and she comes by it naturally. Listening to other women’s child birth stories I am struck with the joy, honesty, and in some cases regret.

I did not feel guilty about the interventions that I had with my birth experiences, then, I do not now. And no one else is going to change my mind. Smiles.

How Do You Answer?

I have read Lean In and have blogged about it previously. At BlogHer13 I heard Sheryl Sandberg speak and got to meet her and take a quick photo. I also have read the updated book for college grads. And, I’m a lapsed member of the Lean In movement and circles (Education). At this year’s BlogHer14 in San Jose, California, I attended the Lean In circle workshop.

I am looking at the great cards that Dr. Carole Robin did with Lean In. I saw the question, smiled and immediately pictured a few things: my loveys and coffee. I was chagrined that I saw his face, and my two daughters’ faces, then pictured coffee. The question is not as simple as it looks. What brings out the best in you?

My immediate answer was personal. My family and my home brings out my best. When I think of extending that circle some, I can answer that question with my family of origin, my good friends, colleagues, the warm sun on my skin, my students, a great meal, and a strong Dark and Stormy. There are different nuances to the question and answer that you might give.

When I am teaching, a great class can bring out my best. I try to give my A game to my students, but a strong group of students who like the material can make a big difference with the class. Likewise, when I sit on a committee and other are committed to the agenda and the execution of the final product, the committee work moves more smoothly.

My Loveys bring out my best. My friends bring out my best. My work brings out my best.

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