Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

I don't want to think like a man, Sheryl

It's always helpful to be reminded how weird men are.

This week, just a day after my husband's surprise after-dinner lemon cake suggested a telepathic post gender-war empathy with his wife's needs, it only took an innocuous shopping trip around House of Fraser to knock any ideas about a blurring of the sexes out of the park.

He announced that he needed a scarf on Saturday morning, and we set off together in a happy, entwined revelry. I was thinking a browse, a breezy investigation of the new season's lines, maybe a coffee, some casual chat.

But I had forgotten about the average straight male's targeted missile approach to consumerism. When he said he was looking for a scarf, he really meant it. All other accessories and indeed clothes of any kind which were not woollen and neck-based, were blindsided in a mission more focussed than the CIA's operation to shake out Osama bin Laden.

There was to be no chat. When I drew attention to a Ben Sherman shirt that fitted every aspect of his preferred shirt style, he looked at me baffled: "But I'm here for a scarf." Ten minutes later, the mission was aborted. There were only two knitted scarves in the store, and neither fitted his specifications. There was nothing for it but to return directly to the car.

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, may well applaud this firm, masculine attitude to getting what you want. I'd guess she doesn't browse shopping arcades and gossip over coffee too often. Currently at the centre of an international brouhaha after the release of her controversial book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, the high-flying, glass-ceiling smashing mother-of-two is baffled as to why the boardrooms of Europe and America aren't coming down with new mums. Sheryl also has some illuminating advice for women she hopes will see more of them experiencing the multi-million dollar lifestyle she, along with a disproportionate number of men, presently enjoys.

Sandberg has various suggestions for getting higher up the ladder faster, but the gist is that women have to think and behave more like men. They have to ask for more sooner, stop worrying about upsetting rival colleagues, and generally be more self-serving and single-minded than an Apprentice candidate on a fish-oil drip. They should also probably, like her, be back on office e-mail about, oooh – a day after giving birth. The problem is, Sandberg equates success entirely with demonstrable power and wealth. But for many women, that just doesn't tally. In fact, it's a definition of "success" which comes straight from the patriarchal capitalist world she claims to want to revolutionise.

Some of us are uncomfortable with behaving like egomaniacal assholes because it stops us liking ourselves. We recognise the value of camaraderie and the misery of loneliness at the top. Yes, lots of us "take our foot off the gas" when we have children, but not because we give up; we find a kind of happiness which makes chasing a high profile, impressing other people and wielding power feel less crucial. For many women, including me, this often means turning to work which is more flexible, more creative and more fulfilling than shouting at people who hate you. I also chose to go freelance because I was tired of kow-towing to a boss I regarded as a dim-witted knucklehead.

I'm sure it's more rewarding answering to Mark Zuckerberg but still, knowing I'll never head-up a boardroom meeting doesn't make me ashamed. It makes me want to sing.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk