Last month Lean In started a social media campaign asking all women to answer the question Sheryl Sandberg posed in her book, “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
The idea was to recognise what stops women from taking on leadership roles in hope that acknowledging these fears will empower us to fight them. Many have posted to twitter using the #notafraid or submitted photos to Lean In’s Tumblr page displaying their answers. Here are the top responses in terms of what most women are afraid of:
1. CLAIMING THEIR SUCCESS
Many women admitted that if they weren’t afraid they would give themselves more credit for the work they do. One woman states, “I just got nominated for my second Emmy and I still can’t say that I am a writer.” Sheryl Sandberg attributes this to the lack of leadership skills girls develop growing up. She says, “studies show that by the time they graduate from college more men than women see themselves as leaders."
This lack of confidence can make it difficult for women to acknowledge and be proud of their accomplishments. It contributes to their ability to accept compliments which is displayed perfectly in this Amy Schumer sketch where a group of girlfriends run into each other on the street and bombard each other with compliments followed by self-deprecating responses. One woman in particular states, after her friends congratulate her on her recent promotion, “I’m going to get fired in like two seconds, I’m legally retarded.” Girls aren’t taught to boast, they are taught to be encouraging and supportive of each other but constantly question their own abilities, success, and appearance.
The Everyday Sexism Project has more than 50,000 Twitter followers and serves as a catalogue of daily harassment women face across the world. Hollaback is a similar organisation that works to fight street harassment. Together they have played a role in making us stop and question things we never noticed before or at least never felt we had the option to speak out against. It’s sad and alarming that so many women listed sexism as something they would be willing to fight if they weren’t afraid, one in particular stated, “If I weren’t afraid I would tell the guy at the halal cart whistling at me to go screw himself.”
Sandberg says, “starting at very young ages we encourage leadership in boys but not in girls. When a boy leads even if it’s on the kindergarten playground we applaud him, we cheer him on, and we certainly don’t criticise but when little girls lead they're called "bossy.” Many women listed their fears as asking questions, confronting their bosses, and negotiating a higher salary for themselves. While not having cheerleaders on the playground may not seem like a big deal to some being paid less than a male colleague in the same role, definitely is.
4. FOLLOWING THEIR DREAMS
Many people listed their desire to pursue a radically different career path. But is a fear of pursuing your dreams a gendered problem? I’m sure many men out there would feel equally daunted by such a proposition. Though career changes can be riskier for women than men. Whether it’s the desire to enter a male-dominated field, the expectations to fulfill traditional gender roles or the lack of supportive work-family policies, the gendered division of labor and persistence of the glass ceiling can make this fear all the more complicated for women.
5. SPEAKING UP
In Lean In Sanberg says, “I still face situations that I fear are beyond my capabilities. I still have days when I feel like a fraud. And I still sometimes find myself spoken over and discounted while men sitting next to me are not. But now I know how to take a deep breath and keep my hand up. I have learned to sit at the table.” Sage advice for anyone who has been intimidated in to not raising their voice.
Women are constantly reminded that they could always look better than they currently do. The pressure on us to be thin, fit, or have a “bikini-body” is immense and even those of us with robust self-esteem sometimes have a hard time staying immune to these messages.
7. TRAVELLING ALONE
A sad but common fear was the fear of traveling the world, or even your street at night, alone. The freedom of traveling alone is one of life’s greatest joys and adventure is something that all genders should be entitled to. While no one can guarantee your personal safety in every corner for the world women are constantly reminded of the potentially dangerous situations we are putting ourselves in simply by being alone in public.
As one of the youngest girls in the Lean In video states, “I was always told that being sweet was one of my greatest assets and being nice and polite.” Girls are taught to be subdued people-pleasers not aggressive or opinionated. One of the most liberating things about adulthood is knowing that sometimes it’s okay and even necessary to be pissed off and to piss people off.
9. BEING JUDGED
Apart from being judged on our appearance, women fear being harshly judged on our actions and lifestyle choices whether it be our career, our sexual activity, relationships, or our desire or ability to be mothers. Women describe being locked in a constant battle trying to avoid perceived or real judgments from individuals in every aspect of their lives.
Underlying all of these concerns is the fear of failure. Women feel that they are set up to fail, that society is not structured to help them prosper. There's a feeling that they should fear failing more than anything else because failure isn't acceptable, it's shameful. Sandberg argues the opposite, "it’s amazing what you can do when you’ve looked failure in the eye and decided you’re OK with it," she says.