I recently shared my article from Working Mother magazine in a Facebook group of other working moms. As I expected, there were a number of comments from readers saying they appreciated the message and totally related to it. Then of course there was one member who was pissed that I have the guts to even live on the same planet as her.
She threw out statistics about women leaving the workforce upon having children and argued (incessantly) that women like me have the responsibility to reach positions of influence and improve the work environment for women. She was arguing against my feelings and telling me I was doing a disservice to women for honestly expressing my personal experience and perspective.
When I pointed out that she was ironically reinforcing my main point – that her mindset and that of mainstream Corporate America make me feel obligated to “Lean In” on behalf of others, even though I have no desire to – that just made her more angry. She apparently found my LinkedIn profile since she cited my degrees and professional experience while arguing that, with my background, I should be applying myself more. She attempted to slight me for “grabbing publicity”, questioned whether I even work in Corporate America, then finished with “Enjoy your privilege.” I gave her a thumbs up and we haven’t spoken since.
But this “privilege” card continues to gnaw at me.
I know I’m extremely fortunate. In fact, I have regular anxiety attacks as I fear something terrible will happen to me or my family, because it’s so unlikely that someone can be this fortunate their whole life.
And right on cue, any haters or trolls reading this will shoot back “Oh poor little privileged white girl! You’re having anxiety attacks? Aw how sad for you!” Okay fine. I know millions of people in the world have much bigger problems than mine. But that doesn’t change the fact that I have anxiety attacks… This is what I don’t understand about the “privilege” argument. It’s thrown in our face like any negative experience or feeling we have doesn’t matter, that we shouldn’t be allowed to have them because we’re “privileged”. Is this what you’re telling me when you call me this?
Yes, I’m privileged. So does that mean I’m not allowed to feel pressured, obligated, or anxious? Does that mean I’m supposed to just sit down and do my part to save the rest of the world (in this case, women trying to climb the ladder)? Is “Shut up – you’re privileged” the final word in any argument, asserting definitively that I can’t have a perspective different from yours?
Again, the irony is that this woman attacking me from behind her keyboard was proving my very point. To repeat an argument I made in the article, in a 2011 commencement address Sheryl Sandberg told the following to a graduating class of women at Barnard College: “I hope that you—yes, you—each and every one of you have the ambition to run the world, because this world needs you to run it. Women all around the world are counting on you.”
My point is, what if I don’t have ‘ambition to run the world’? What if I just want to stay in middle-management and have a regular, balanced life where I can work a decent job but go home to my family at a reasonable hour?
What I hear you telling me, Sheryl and chick behind the keyboard, is “Too bad. You have no choice. Shut up and climb the ladder because women all around the world are counting on you.”
Maybe I’m just more selfish than the average working woman. Even though I could climb the ladder and reach a position of influence where I could make changes to improve the experience for other women, since in today’s world that would mean working 60 hours a week and putting my job before all else, I choose not to pursue that position. I will not sacrifice time with my family, my health, my sanity to gain a position of power that I don’t actually want, even if “women all around the world are counting on me”.
If you want to climb the ladder then go for it. There are plenty of messages out there like “Lean In” that encourage and support you.
I’m here to represent all the other women who secretly don’t relate to those mainstream messages. We’ve been keeping these feelings secret because we know if we speak up, you’ll through that “P” word in our faces and shut us down for expressing anything less than pure professional ambition.
Call me privileged. Call me selfish. If that’s how you see me, then so be it. But you’re in for a rude awakening, girl behind the keyboard. There are millions of women out there just like me who are tired of climbing the career ladder simply out of obligation and are tired of keeping our true feelings bottled up. Some will keep climbing as you continue barking “Lean In!” at them, but more and more are going to turn around, stop climbing, and bark back.