career

The book I needed thrown at me.

Women have come a long way.

Look at me, writing an article, without using a male pen name, for an online publication that was created by a woman, is managed by mostly women, and is staffed overwhelmingly by women.

In all my jobs thus far, from working in video shops (R.I.P), Boost, bars, schools, as a tutor and as a freelancer, I have been treated equally. My Masters degree consisted of half men and half women, and we were taught by a department that was evenly split. Last night I played in my mixed basketball team where I was able to wear shorts like women before me could not.

Jessie Stephens with her twin sister Clare.

I vote. I don’t cook. I drive a car. I’m on the verge of moving out as a single woman, where I can pay rent or take out a loan, like any man can.

I owe these privileges – big and small – to the women and men before me who fought hard for women’s liberation and I am forever indebted to them.

I recently read ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg and it’s changed my career before it has even begun. Reading her take on ambition, success and assertiveness not being considered particularly attractive feminine qualities was a relief. Her words lifted a weight off my shoulders.

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‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg is the feminist manifesto that identifies so many social inequalities that I found impossible to articulate
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I am only in my early 20s but I have already had the message – about not being too big for my boots or too ambitious – etched into my memory.

I remember being at a party in Year 12 and speaking to a boy who seemed interested in what I had to say.

We talked about school and everything we wanted to do the next year. I wasn’t interested in pursuing anything with him, but I remember him sending me a message afterwards that read:

“Your (sic) so arro (sic) anywy (sic)”.

Um…what?

After asking someone to translate I learned that ‘arro’ was shorthand for ‘arrogant’. It is ridiculous, but true, that seven years later, whenever I am chatting with boys, I hear a voice in my head saying “careful. You don’t want him to think you’re arrogant.”

And it isn’t just men. A girl at school insisted that she didn’t like me because she believed I thought I was better/ smarter than everyone else. Her evidence was that I always did public speaking at assembly.

Now – to be clear – NO high school student really wants to do public speaking at assembly. It’s intimidating and a bit dorky.

But I cared about what I had to say. Most students were really nice about it but there were also girls who thought that by doing it I was getting ‘too big for my boots’ as Nan used to say. The message I received was that there isn’t anything worse than a girl who thought she had something important to say.

The weight of expectation and discrimination works both ways. My twin brothers both work in childcare. They are exceptional, the kids adore them and their stories make my day. Nine times out of 10, people do not get it.

First, it’s considered creepy. Why would young men want to work with children? It certainly isn’t for the pay. Mothers have requested that my brothers do not change their daughter’s nappies which is deeply offensive.

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My twin brothers both work in childcare and they always get asked the same question; “why?”. Image via iStock.

The second reaction is: unambitious. My brothers could not count how many times within 2 minutes of telling someone they work in childcare they have been asked ‘oh so are you thinking of owning your own centre?’

I can’t imagine many 22-year-old women who work in childcare being thrown the same question. What they are really being asked is; why would a man work in childcare if he wasn’t going to be in charge?

As a 24 year-old woman who is only really just beginning her ‘career’, I needed this book thrown at me.

I needed to be reminded me of the systemic inequalities that women still face. Issues like unequal pay, discrimination, and inflexible workplaces. I needed to be reminded of the lack of receptiveness towards women who display leadership qualities. I needed to be reminded that ambition isn’t a bad thing – not even close.

I needed to be reminded not to limit or focus my career decisions because of these things. I needed to be reminded that these issues need to be challenged by all of us, if we want them to change.

I don’t need to underestimate myself and I don’t need to shrink my ambition to fit someone else’s ideals.

At this point in my life, I can’t imagine a better book to have had thrown at me than Lean In.

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