I was president of an all girls’ school of 265 superwomen. Sacred Heart Academy (SHA), home of the Lady Spartans, transformed young, docile freshmen into brave, assertive, and self-motivated women. We juggled our roles as passionate students taking challenging AP and honors courses, while also managing to find time to become captains of sport teams and major leaders in clubs. And then there was Chaminade, the epitome of the pretentious boys’ prep school. To Chaminade, SHA was like a daycare center—where our teachers held our hands throughout the class and where our student council made childish decisions to have sweatpants day or picnic lunches. To us, we were “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants—Pleated Skirts” edition. We were united and nurtured by our friends and teachers, motivated to help others, and taught never forget our inner SHA girl self after high school. The Chaminade Flyers championed egotism and thrived in rivalry, from academics to athletics. Despite our differences, SHA women and Chaminade men earned the same SAT scores and were accepted into the same schools and. And yet, when the scores and acceptance letters were reduced to unimportance, what I would like to think as this metaphysical battle of the sexes, SHA Spartan versus Chaminade Flyer, erupted. Somehow, while getting into a heated argument with a Chaminade student, I lost my SHA confidence.
Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg relates to this feeling and offers a solution: “lean in.” She defines “leaning in” as addressing external barriers by assuming leadership roles and developing self confidence in order to combat the truth that men still run the world (Lean 9). According to Sandberg, leaning in has the potential to increase a woman’s sense of empowerment, self-worth, and even happiness. Based on a Wharton analysis on the progress of women, women’s happiness has been declining relative to men’s happiness since 1972 (Stevenson and Wolfers 190). Many women have bought into a myth that is at bottom of this assumption, a presumption of inferiority. They constantly tell themselves “I’ll be happy if…I graduate college, if I get an internship, and if I find a job…” and the list goes on. Many women who don’t achieve these pseudo-aspirations by a certain time risk feeling worthless and hopeless. Women need to redefine their lifelong goals by “leaning into” their college experience.
College is the epitome of our intellectual flourishing and a social arena where we can find what’s important in life. Not all women want to be the president or a corporate CEO, but all women need to acknowledge socially constructed tendencies to feel inferior to men. College women need to “lean in” by finding their voices in their own individual paths to successes. Here I am offering my own feminist manifesto, tailored to my needs. I am in the midst of finding my own voice by participating in athletics, setting limits to my work life, and finding a mentor. Your way might be different, but these small pieces of advice might help you find or regain your voice. If all college women acknowledged their voice by following this basic framework, we would see a lot more women who would change the “I’ll be happy ifs,” to “I’m happy now.”
First: Get some daily exercise and start releasing those endorphins. I don’t care if it’s a two-mile walk or a 26.2-mile marathon; physical exercise, especially with a friend or two, boosts self-confidence. I am on Fordham’s Track and Field team and am guilty of an addiction to the euphoric “runner’s high.” As Victoria Jackson, a former elite collegiate runner at UNC Chapel Hill, states, “My daily run is my medication. It’s my way of feeling like myself, gives me confidence in my career, in my relationships, and in my self identity” (Sagal 55). Running with a team transformed my individual fulfillment into my sisterhood. I run with so many other girls who share my situations: academic stress, managing a social life, career aspirations, and sleeping. Once I meet my teammates on the track, I forget about my problems and just run. I sacrifice the many Friday and Saturday nights and hours for homework, but I don’t see myself living any other way. I don’t care if my hair isn’t perfect or if sweat stains appear my outfit as I run alongside the boy’s team because I’m confident in my own body. Whether it is walking around a college campus with a friend, or committing thirty hours a week with a group of running fanatics, exercise promotes confidence in our abilities.
Second: Cultivate a mentor or two. Even though our society is built upon relationships and connections, many women find it difficult or socially unacceptable to seek out a mentor–as if it undermines their superhero expectations. According to a recent survey on LinkedIn, men are more likely to ask for, to have, and to be asked to be a mentor. Out of 1,000 females, 82% said they realized a mentor could be important for their careers, but only 20% said that they have had a mentor in the workplace” (“Why”). A report in Harvard Business Review revealed that women somehow feel they can independently manage to balance their many roles through hard work (Zenger and Folkman). This attitude seems self-defeating. Barnard’s President Debora Spar supports mentorships by pairing successful alumnae with students “because there’s nothing like getting the real story from someone who’s been where you want to go” (Spar). Every college woman should connect with a mentor in her life. In addition to finding a personal mentor, women should also find inspiration from a successful woman in society. Read Condoleezza Rice’s biography or watch a documentary on Olympian Sonya Richards Ross. Paradoxically, they represent the perfect imperfect role models. Their life stories are even more inspiring because they prove that success does not equal perfection. The lessons and advice from both mentors can mold our life-long goals.
Realize: Women need to realize when enough is enough. The myth of having it all terrorizes college women because we somehow feel we are constantly judged by men. We ask ourselves, “Are we supposed to be pretty or smart? Strong or sexy? Sassy or submissive?” (Spar). Economics tells us we will never be able to have it all. There are just not enough hours in the day to run eight miles, study for classes, go to club activities, socialize with friends, and relax. Yet there’s something that also tells women that trade offs don’t exist. By comparing ourselves to others, our confidence level dramatically falls. We become so fearful of losing what we have—our looks, our grades, and our leadership roles–that we begin to question our abilities. Sandberg states, “sleeping four or five hours a night induces mental impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level above the legal driving limit”(82). Given how little sleep I have gotten in college, they should revoke my license. It’s not surprising that most women like myself have the same problem: sleep doesn’t exist. At college we come to a point in our life when we need to realize what to keep and what to let go of.
My generation is realizing that the American dream’s ladder of success is getting harder and harder to climb, with no help from an economy plagued by never-ending loopholes and corruption. A current professor and former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson’s School of International Affairs, Anne-Marie Slaughter comments on the unrealistic 21st century approach to success: “The American definition of a successful professional is someone who can climb the ladder the furthest in the shortest time.” But the widening distance between the rungs forces college students to decide between studying subjects they might enjoy and studying subjects they think will help them find employment. Today the ladder is supported by shaky foundations that are at bottom, a never-ending earthquake. Self-tip: climb, and climb fast, before the whole ladder is reduced to splinters. Women need to realize, as Sandberg points out, that life is not a ladder, but a jungle gym for us to learn from our failures. We will look back at our college years not as a straight line of achievement, but as a zigzag “connect the dots” of failures and successes (45-55). Sandberg states, “if another path makes you happier and offers a chance for you to learn new skills, this means you’re actually moving forward” (45). When women can focus on their priorities and set attainable goals, we create a holistic focus of self-fulfillment and happiness.
20th century Barbie turned Superwoman on us. She may be 54 years old, but she’s still a bikini model, corporate mogul, orthopedic surgeon, and 127 other jobs—while still having time for her kids. She doesn’t come with wrinkles, dark circles, or the occasional anxiety attacks. It’s time to realize that Superwoman Barbie will never exist. If anything, Superwoman Barbie has created a stereotype that has broken the hearts of 20th and 21st century women. I want to redefine Superwoman Barbie into a realistic role model for women. Surprisingly, in February 2004, after 43 years of marriage, Barbie made headlines by divorcing Ken. Fox News stated Barbie was just too stressed in balancing her careers and had to put up with Ken’s never-ending intimidation by her success. It looks like Barbie might finally be leaning in (“Barbie”).
“Barbie and Ken: It’s Over.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 13 Feb. 2004. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.
Stevenson, Betsey, and Justin Wolfers. “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 1.2 (2009): 190-225. National Bureau of Economic Research. May 2009. Web. 7 Apr. 2013.
Sagal, Peter. “In Her Shoes.” Runner’s World May 2013: 54-55. Print.
Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Print.
Slaughter, Anne-Marie. “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic, 13 June 2012. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.
Spar, Debora. “Why Our Brightest Female Graduates Are Still at a Disadvantage.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company, 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.
“Why Do So Few Women Have Mentors.” Narr. Michel Martin. Tell Me More. NPR. Natl. Public Radio. 14 Dec. 2011. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.
Zenger, Jack, and Joseph Folkman. “New Research Shows Success Doesn’t Make Women Less Likable.” Harvard Business Review. N.p., 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.