Book Review: Redefining Girly and Lean In
Two books, now available in public libraries, provide a stark commentary on how expectations are set by media and the work-culture for women of all ages on how to live their life.
Redefining Girly, by Melissa Atkins Wardy, examines how girls and their parents are being coerced into defining “girly” in a certain way (and what to do about it). Lean In, by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, provides a view into how women sabotage themselves by trying to live up to phantom expectations- on their own. Each book was written independently and talks about how society constantly tries to direct the everyday decisions of the female gender; and what can be done by you as a parent or partner, or as a woman yourself, to correct the course.
Wardy provides scores of examples where as parents, we are exposed to gender biases, but which we accept without question: A pediatrician asking a preschooler if she had a boyfriend (construed as “being friendly”), “Boys Stink” signs at a Nordstrom’s children department in the girls section, McDonald’s offering a “girl” toy and a “boy” toy. She asserts that girls are especially being sexualized, illustrating this with such facts as 16 inch Huffy first-bikes being sold with “Major Flirt” labels, dolls wearing hot pants, JC Penney T-shirts with “I’m too pretty, so my brother does my homework,” G-strings being sold next to training bras.
The book then provides Do-It-Yourself tactics to stay alert and combat this coercion. Wardy urges parents to write to retailers directly and discourage relatives from giving age-inappropriate gifts (such as high heels and make-up for five-year-olds). The point is not that girls should not be girls, but that they should be not limited to the perceived notion of being a girl: “Princesses, when left to the imagination of girls, can be brave and wise and lead great adventures. But that is generally not how they are marketed.”
In Lean In, Sandberg examines everyday women’s instincts- things that women do naturally without even realizing why they do it, such as her own decision to not share that she had won a coveted scholarship in business school: “If a woman is competent, she does not seem nice enough. If a woman seems really nice, she is considered more nice than competent.” She connects the dots from this to behaviors at the workplace- “By and large, men negotiate more than women. There is little downside when men negotiate for themselves.” But since women are expected to be nurturing, “when they advocate for themselves, both men and women react unfavorably.”
Lean In calls out female stereotyping through examples from Sandberg’s life: In high school, she worked in the office of a congressman and was eagerly waiting to be introduced as a team-member to Tip O’Neill, the then Speaker of the House who was visiting. After the introduction, O’Neill patted her head and remarked, “She’s pretty.” And then asked her, “Are you a pom-pom girl?” Sandberg shares, “I was crushed. I wanted to be recognized for the work I had done.” Sandberg points out male stereotyping too, about how stay-at-home fathers are shunned by mothers and navy wives are mean to female navy personnel. “I don’t wake up thinking, What am I going to do today as Facebook’s female COO?, but that’s how I’m referred to by others.”