I had the pleasure of catching up with one of my best friends on Easter Sunday right before I began my current job. We hadn’t seen each other in some time so it was great to hear about how she was balancing things with her career, her marriage, and being a Mommy to two beautiful little girls. Meanwhile, I was filling her in on all my single-gal escapades and my travel plans for 2013.
Nine years ago when we first met, I would have bet good money that we would have been in opposite positions. I thought I would be deep in the throes of marriage and motherhood by now and I just knew she would be the cool, fly-by auntie to shower my kids with international presents. But it turns out that just as she was seriously considering taking a job abroad, she met the love of her life and everything changed. And somehow I got bit by the I-need-to-travel-the-world-and-do-whatever-the-heck-I-want bug, and marriage and mommyhood are the farthest things from my mind (at least at the moment). As I left my friend’s home that day, I thought about how fortunate we both were to be young, beautiful, African American women in our 30s who are able to make the choice to take on whatever version on woman that we so desired.
So I’m all kinds of late to catching up on the Sheryl Sandberg “Lean In” and the Anne-Marie Slaughter “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” debate. (We optimists usually wait until the realists, pessimists, and opportunists finish duking it out before we add our rays of sunshine). I was particularly struck by how definitively both of these women asserted their views that women need to do MORE to effectively balance their careers and motherhood. They both noted that one of the big keys to doing this was relying on your spouse for support. While their visions of grandeur were delightful to read, I was gobsmacked that they had the nerve to offer their modern-day, Feminist Manifestos from their Ivory Towers at Google and the State Department, respectively. (I’m ALL up in my feelings about that, but whatever…). I believe they both women have good points, however, neither one is rooted in reality…at least not MY reality as a Gen-Y, single, 30-something, African American woman coming of age in this era.
I would venture to say that many African American women RARELY have the luxury to look at our lives from the vantage point of CHOICE. Many of us go to work earlier, become mothers earlier, or we simply don’t have the same opportunities as our white counterparts. Unfortunately, even as a hard-core optimist, I’m admitting that many Black women simply may not make it to the altar and get that life-long mate that we’ve been waiting for. Far too many of us don’t have spouses or committed partners that we can consistently lean on for day-to-day responsibilities let alone as strong support beams to help us get up the corporate ladder.
For those of us who have made it to our 30s and 40s as child-free, single women eagerly trying to break the glass ceiling, we simply don’t have enough IMMEDIATE role models to give us a concrete blueprint for how to shape our lives NOW. And, quiet as its kept, many of these modern-day, faux feminists who are waiving the “Lean In” flags are the main culprits who are stepping on the necks of women of color who are trying to get their lean on. So what’s a colored girl to do?
I think the clarion call for Black women isn’t leaning in; but LEANING ON EACH OTHER for support. Our greatest strength isn’t in our individual wins, but our COLLECTIVE triumphs. If you see that sister at your job who can’t quite draw the line between business casual and her Friday night club gear, take her aside and help her tone her wardrobe down. If you know a young lady with great potential and promise, treat her to lunch and find out what she wants to do with her future. If you have a friend who is a single mom and she desires to go back to school, offer to babysit for her a few nights a week (Note: If you don’t like kids, maybe you can pay for her books that semester instead.) If you see a BAD, high-powered, corporate sister who is always dressed to the nines in Jimmy Choos shoes and Louis Vutton bags, don’t grit on her material trinkets. Take her out to happy hour and find out the REAL story behind her spiritual, emotional, and educational journey to get to the top.
We have to be there for each other as we navigate this rough and rugged terrain of corporate, government, and nonprofit America. We got to help each other stay professional and “keep it cute” when the boss activates our deep-rooted, round-the-way-girl tendencies. We must keep each other accountable for being tech-savvy and promotion ready. We got to pitch in and provide mentorship for Generation Z and eventually Generation AA (that’s what I think we should call these young gals born after 2000).
However you get your lean on, whether as a full-time mom, a working mother, a high-power executive, a rising student, or a sister who is simply trying to get herself right, this journey toward success will be so much sweeter when we get our lean on TOGETHER. Don’t take this road alone; please, PLEASE, lean on me, sister.
(Of course Bill Withers’ classic song, “Lean On Me” has been looping in my head for the last hour, so please enjoy this soul jam on me.)