Anyone who understands the definition of feminism knows that it’s all about fighting for an equal status for both genders. Unfortunately, there are many people who feel feminism is a ‘victim card’ that women play to their advantage.
But what a lot of people fail to realize is that since time immemorial, women have been oppressed in a way that we’ve come to accept it as normal. Every society has certain rules for how a woman should behave. We have people telling us not to laugh too loudly or dress too provocatively. Women are encouraged not to go out alone at night. We are judged for our driving skills and there’s always someone or the other commenting on our weight.
Come to think of it, a woman’s life is filled with so many ‘Nos’ and yet, she’s expected to be the epitome of perfection. Women are conditioned to be so conscious of their surroundings that we end up accepting it as perfectly okay, without any question.
But is that normal?
This short story about Sheryl Sandberg is an eye-opening lesson for all women.
Sheryl Sandberg is Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. She earns around $26 million a year. One day, she was giving a talk about what women need to do to get to the top of their profession. She said they needed to learn from men.
Not that men are smarter, they’re not. That’s the problem.
She said it wasn’t the men who were holding women back. It was women who were holding women back. Women were smarter than men and that was the problem.
Women would listen more carefully to what was said. Women would respond more thoughtfully. Women would pay more attention, answer the question, solve the problem.
Men wouldn’t do any of that. Men weren’t listening to anyone else. Men were just concentrating on what they wanted. And it worked. Because it meant they weren’t as restricted as women.
She said she had a first-hand experience of this. She’d been giving a speech to a couple of hundred men and women. After the talk, she was chatting to one of the women. She asked her what she thought of the speech. The woman said, ‘I learned I’m going to start putting my hand up even when I don’t think it’s right.’
Sheryl Sandberg asked her what she meant. She said, ‘See, you probably didn’t even notice. At the end of your talk you said you’d take questions. So everyone, men and woman, raised their hands. After about 20 minutes, you said you’d take only two more questions. So, after you’d taken two questions, the women all stopped raising their hands. But the men kept putting their hands up and you kept on answering their questions. The women obeyed the rules and didn’t get their questions answered. The men broke the rules and got their questions answered. So that’s what I learned. I have to raise my hand even when I think it’s wrong.’
And Sheryl Sandberg was gobsmacked. Because she hadn’t even noticed what she’d done. She hadn’t noticed what all the women present had done. And she is a woman, and a champion of women’s rights. If she hadn’t noticed, what chance did other women have?
No wonder men had more power. They had more power because they didn’t ask anyone else’s permission. They just went ahead and did what they wanted. And they weren’t as scared of being wrong as women were. For them, getting the result was more important than being right. And that’s why Sheryl Sandberg meant by the biggest problem for women being women.
The only thing stopping them is themselves. They are too smart. They listen out for all the rules. They very carefully pay attention to every detail. They worry about being correct. And that, Sheryl Sandberg said, is the problem. Something everyone can learn from.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to raise your voice, ladies!