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Morra Aarons-Mele's picture

This story originally appeared in Women Online.

I thought I’d be Lean In’s biggest cheerleader. When I watch Sheryl Sandberg on television I fall in love with her. She’s articulate, compelling, beautiful, and she’s right. Things do need to change for women at work. And things need to change for women at home.

But the conversation around Lean In makes me feel sad and confused, in an almost visceral manner. I want to be far removed from the noise the book has created, from the judging and from the implicit sense of expectations Sandberg sets for women. I think I would disappoint her.

The incredibly polarized reaction to Sandberg’s book points to our society’s intense confusion about exactly what women are for (remember Election 2012?), and the intense chaos working families feel about coping in an always on world where parents spend more time with their children than ever before, but also work longer hours than ever before. As my friend Sarah Granger says, “The modern family needs a wide range of solutions in order to survive and thrive in our high-speed, fragmented society. The majority of mothers work part-time. Why isn’t the conversation becoming more collaborative about how we make the shift and why our culture needs to adapt to improve options for everyone – women and men?”

Young men and women are in the middle of a huge shift in gender roles. Mine is not the first generation in which women work and make meaningful contributions in the workplace. But I do believe today’s twenty- and thirtysomethings are the first in which a woman staying home is an aberration, not viewed as a normal option.

But our society is still so conflicted about this new normal, and I think we are, too, personally and in our relationships. I know my husband is. I know part of him wishes I stayed home and he could have a hot dinner at 7 p.m. every night. As I’ve said before, sometimes I do, too! We are the “shift” generation — men and women are in the middle of a major shift in roles and expectations. It’s very confusing. Sandberg asks women to lean in, but social and cultural institutions haven’t caught up with her, so we feel confused and perhaps disappointed.

Thanks largely to Sheryl Sandberg, Anne Marie Slaughter, and Marissa Mayer, everyone’s talking about women in the workplace right now. What I hope is that Sandberg’s clarion call pulls us up, and forces us to think clearly about gender, sex, power and work. I hope her clear position and leadership forces every working woman in America to assess what her values and options really are. I hope that women who have male partners use the opportunity to have a conversation about family values, roles, and responsibilities. Let’s not squander the opportunity Lean In gives us to have an important conversation about gender today by acting out. Let’s figure out what it means to be a woman or a man in American society today. The answer is different for everyone, but the most important thing is that we have equality of choice.

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