Highlights from TEDWomen Session 2: Feministing.com, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, and A Call To Men

There were three really amazing talks in the second session of TEDWomen this evening. (Highlights from session 1 are here.) Here's a quick summary:

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Courtney E. Martin, the 30-year old co-editor of Feministing.com, gave an engaging and deeply moving talk at Session 2 of TEDWomen today about how her generation is re-imagining feminism. She explained it as three paradoxes:

1. Reclaiming the past and promptly forgetting it.
Martin, the daughter of liberals, grew up denying that she was a feminist until she saw Manifesta co-author Jennifer Baumgardner in fishnet stockings. Part of the challenge of feminism, she says, is to acknowledge that aesthetics, beauty, and fun do matter. "My feminism is very indebted to my mom's, but it's very different. [She] says patriarchy, I say intersectionality... she says protest march, I say online organizing... Feminist blogging is the 21st century version of consciousness raising." Feminism is no longer about man-hating and Birkenstocks.

2. Sobering up about our smallness and maintaining faith in our greatness.
Shortly after graduating from Barnard College in 2002, Martin became disillusioned by the lack of impact she felt she was having even though she worked at a non-profit and took part in volunteer protests. When she sat down to tell her family about it, her mom said to her: I won't stand for your desperation. Even if what you're doing feels small, you still have to have faith in the grandeur of it all.

3. Aiming to succeed wildly and being fulfilled by failing really well.
Martin quoted Parker Palmer, who said:

We are whiplashed between an arrogant overestimation of ourselves and a servile underestimation of ourselves.
After she picked herself up from her disillusion, Martin realized that life is not about glory or security; instead, you have to embrace the paradoxes, act in the face of overwhelm, and learn to love really well.

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My favorite talk of the day was by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. We're lucky we live in a world where career choices for women are fairly unlimited, but the numbers at the top are still bleak. Of the 190 heads of state in the world, only 9 are women; only 13% of worldwide Parliamentarians are women; and corporations only have about 15% women at C-level jobs. Even non-profits only show a 20% female leadership.

We as women face much harder choices between professional success and personal fulfillment. So how do we keep women in the workforce? What kind of messages do we want to give to ourselves and our daughters? Sandberg admits even she doesn't have the answer, but provides three insights that really resonated with me:

1. Sit at the table.
When it comes to self-promotion and taking credit for good work, women often back off way earlier than men do. 57% of men after college negotiate for salaries; only 7% of women do. Men often attribute success to themselves ("Ask men and they'll say: I'm awesome") whereas women will usually say: someone helped me, I got lucky, I worked really hard. Quote:

Nobody gets to the corner office by sitting at the side of the table. No one gets a promotion if they don't understand or own their success. I wish I could tell that to my daughter, but it's not that simple.
Sandberg also points out that success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. So when a woman is successful, people tend not to like her. This was proven in an experiment done with students, where the exact same example of a successful leader was given twice, one named Herbert and one named Heidi. Everyone loved Herbert; not that many people liked Heidi.

2. Make your partner a real partner.
When a male and female partner both work full time, the woman on average does twice the amount of housework and three times the childcare. So if one parent has to drop out of the workforce, it usually ends up being the woman. Households with equal responsibility have half the divorce rate and better intimacy; it's better all around if this was more the rule than the exception.

3. Don't leave before you leave.
A lot of women marginalize their work life if they think they're going to have kids in the near future, because they assume they will leave.

We're all busy. Everyone's busy. A woman is busy. She starts thinking about having a child... about making room for the child, and literally from that moment she doesn't raise her hand anymore. She doesn't take on promotions or look for new projects.

What happens when you start quietly leaning back? Once you have a child at home, your job better be really good to go back. It needs to be challenging and rewarding, and if two years ago you didn't take a promotion — if three years ago you didn't start looking for opportunities — you're going to be bored.

Stay in. Keep your foot on the gas pedal until the very day you need to leave to take a break for your child. Don't make decisions too far in advance.

Sandberg ended by saying that she hopes that things will change for future generations, and that one day, her daughter will not only succeed, but be liked while doing so. I strongly recommend that you watch this talk when it goes live on the TED web site.

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One of the few men to speak today was Tony Porter, who runs an organized for men to end violence against women called A Call To Men. Porter was raised in Harlem and the Bronx, where men were raised to have no fear, no emotions except anger, to be dominant, in charge, superior, and strong. Women, on the other hand, are inferior, have less value, and are objectified. He calls this the collective socialization of men, or the "man box."

Porter makes a call to redefine manhood. Why can't boys cry if they're scared or sad? Why does a man have to apologize for crying at his own child's funeral? It if destroys a boy to be called a girl, then what are we teaching him about girls?

He ends by saying: "My liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman."

Porter was amazing, but a few of us did find it odd that he and the one other man to go on stage during this session — a Maasai father who came full circle to accept his daughter back into his home after she ran away to escape female genital mutilation — were the only ones who got a standing ovation. Why do the few men on stage get applauded more loudly than the multitudes of women who have done amazing things?

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