Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lean In: Why I Thought the Honest Toddler Was a Boy

I finally broke down and bought Lean In, the now infamous book by Sheryl Sandberg about women in the workplace. Truth be told, I was worried I would spend the entire book either a) crying with disgust for my bad choices or b) fuming at Ms. Sandberg's myopic view of the world.

Neither happened.

The book is great, actually, and I think some of the criticism has been misplaced. (I don't agree with everything she says; the chapter on Mentoring is particularly hard to swallow.) Her words and her experience, for the most part, resonated with me, and I encourage everyone to read it and form her own opinion.

One of the many stereotypes and gender inequities she addresses is the term "bossy." Have you ever referred to a man or a little boy as bossy? No. "Bossy" is a pejorative term for a little girl (or a grown woman, for that matter) who speaks her mind too frequently or with too much conviction. Ms. Sandberg writes:
When a girl tries to lead, she is often labeled bossy. Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend. As someone who was called this for much of my childhood, I know that it is not a compliment.

Later she discusses the Heidi/Howard study. Professors at Columbia Business School took a Harvard Business School case about Heidi Roizen, a real-life entrepreneur. The case discussed her "outgoing personality" and "vast personal and professional network" that led to her success in Silicon Valley. The professors changed her name to Howard on half the cases and then polled students about their impressions of Heidi and Howard.

Without fail, while students saw Heidi and Howard as equally capable and competent, they viewed Howard to be a more appealing colleague, whereas Heidi was viewed as selfish. Heidi's success had somehow made her less likeable.

Lean In and The Honest Toddler

For the last year, I thought the hilarious and blunt but anonymous Honest Toddler was a boy. I don't know why I made that assumption, but I never questioned it.

Then one day, I saw a tweet (that I cannot find!) about another toddler party-goer coveting HT's necklace. Hmmmm. Was HT a girl?

"I think the Honest Toddler is a girl," I said to my sister, recounting the story of the necklace.

"Really? I always thought he was a boy!" She was skeptical.

I was, too. Well, boys can wear necklaces, right? I reasoned. I went back to assuming HT was a boy.

Today I received my pre-ordered copy of HT's new book, A Child's Guide to Parenting (written "under the supervision" of her journalist mom, Bunmi Laditan).

The photo on the back clearly shows Ms. Laditan with her two daughters.

The Honest Toddler is a girl.

Why was I so sure HT was a boy? In a stunning display of confirmation bias, I even tossed out the "necklace" evidence because it didn't conform to my assumption.

After reading Lean In, I understand. The Honest Toddler was simultaneously bossy and likeable. How could HT be a girl?

Consider me chastened.