The Missing Piece
I have not read the book, but this is not about the book. It is about the reactions—and, in Part 2, the missing piece that no one is talking about.
This morning, I saw @Soledad_OBrien interview Sheryl Sandberg on Starting Point (@StartingPtCNN) and the two women mentioned this missing piece—but only indirectly. No one seems to be addressing it head on. Well, okay, I’ll do that—but in two sections. First, I’ll talk about the reactions.
As Ms. Sandberg and Ms. O’Brien mentioned this morning, most of the commentary about the books has been written by women. The men, whether they are editors, reviewers, CEOs, or academics, have been silent. That shows good thinking on their part, as there is little to gain for a man to jump into this discussion and quite a bit to lose.
But why are women so eager to regroup and fight yet another battle in the mutually destructive Mommy Wars? Why are we so eager to declare someone else as a bossy woman? Many years ago, I read an excellent book called Hardball for Women by Pat Heim, Ph.D., that explains this dynamic clearly and effectively.
Power Structure for Girls
Another factor has to do with the power structure in groups of girls. “Girls also grow up in flat organizations rather than hierarchies.They learn to cooperate within this structure. Rather than having a coach or a top banana tell them what to do, girls cooperate in a web of relationships for the sake of preserving the friendship. It doesn’t take long for a little girl to discover that if she wants to be the leader and she starts pushing her playmates around, relationships will suffer; friends will call her bossy and avoid her. As a result, she tries to keep the power dead even.”
Ms. Sandberg, like many professional women before her, broke this code. When a woman writes a book like this, it doesn’t make any difference how well-educated, rich or successful she might be. In fact, the richer and more successful she is, the worse the reaction because those things make her stand out from the rest of the “group.” In this case, the group is the bulk of working women in the country, who have enough problems and challenges without some ‘bossy rich girl’ telling them what they should be doing.
Who Does She Think She is?
I saw this dynamic play out first-hand at a barbecue many years ago. It was in the yard of a friend’s house and I was talking to several other women when a very tall thin woman approached our group. She strode up to us and began speaking with the unstated confidence that we would cease our conversation and start listening to her. My reaction was to think, “Who is this woman and who does she think she is?” Many of us took a reactive step back. The newcomer was oblivious to our body language and continued to dominate the group dynamic. Put off by her ‘pushiness,” I left the group as soon as I could do so politely and I think many of the other women did so as well. Later, I asked my hostess who the tall woman was. My friend laughed and said, ‘Oh, you know her.” I replied that I certainly did not and would have remembered her if we had met before. “We all worked together at XYZ Corporation,” she said. “But her name was (blank) and she was a man, then.”
Aha! There was the explanation. The newcomer had not been socialized as a woman and did not know the unwritten, unspoken rules by which women play. Thinking men’s rules to be the only rules there are, she behaved as she would have done in her previous gender and thus stuck out as bossy.
Ms. Sandberg, mentored and sponsored by powerful men, working among and directly for powerful men, has come across as a woman playing by men’s unwritten and unspoken rules. Working women are taking a reactive step back.This is unfortunate because Ms. Sandberg, like many of her predecessors, is simply trying to help make things better.
What we need to do now is stop bickering about “who she thinks she is” and whether the average working woman can live up to her message and start asking about the missing piece in this discussion. I’ll talk about that in detail in tomorrow’s post.
BTW: If you are a working woman, I highly recommend Hardball for Women. You will learn a lot of very helpful information.