Women, get to work

How the “blaming the patriarchy” mentality can keep you from doing great work

I’m a feminist. I’ve always been a feminist.

I’ve studied the theory and (like every other woman on the planet) experienced the inequality that comes with not having a penis. I’ve had the pervy bosses, received unfairly low salaries and come up against glass ceilings. I’ve been called a whore for having a sex life, had relationships falter because of my “ambition” and struggled to blaze my own path outside of the traditional ‘marriage & babies’ route. I’ve campaigned for women’s rights, at home and abroad. I’ve sat at kitchen tables, in conference rooms and in bars with friends discussing these issues.

This advocacy and campaigning is important and necessary. But dwelling on how hard it is to be a successful as a woman and pondering the historical roots of the patriarchy will only get you so far. You need to take responsibility for driving your own success.

There’s no denying that the world is unfairly patriarchal. For a host of cultural, economic and structural reasons, it is harder to succeed as a woman than it is as a man. This is not about denying that fact, but rising above it.

The “blaming the patriarchy” mentality can be such a cop out. We use it as an excuse for mediocrity or to exclude ourselves from participating at all. (“I want to be a writer, but it’s impossible to get the stories I care about funded”, “I want to be a lawyer, but I’ll have to quit when I have kids anyway, so why bother?”)

Bemoaning our unfair society can be another limitation we place over ourselves. Feminists (both women and men) can take micro-actions towards change. We can mentor young women, vote for women, spend money supporting women entrepreneurs and donate to women-focused causes. But I’ve come to realize that the greatest thing we can do to advance the women’s movement is to do our own individual work. By working hard and excelling in your niche, you support other women. You provide an example for others, and challenge society’s expectations of women.

While “leaning in”, supporting each other, educating our children and discussing the unique challenges that women face, we also need to get busy doing our work. What the world needs is more feminists (women & men) in every sector - corporates, non-profits, public sector, private sector, creative industries, entrepreneurship and unpaid roles in families and communities.

Don’t let “the patriarchy” be another limitation you place on yourself. It’s easy to be disillusioned. Women have been fighting for equality for centuries and we still have a long way to go. Get busy doing good work. That has the potential to change to world.

P.S. For perspective, bear in mind that you are comparatively privileged. You’re most likely reading this in the first world. You have access to the internet, to technology and to the electricity that powers it. You probably have a safe space to sleep tonight and food in the fridge. Keeping your inequalities in perspective is a great motivator. You are privileged.

P.P.S. Yep, the above picture comes to you from the "Lean In Collection", Sheryl Sandberg's initiative to provide non-insulting stock photos of women. More here.