A case against leaning in: Zosia Mamet on redefining ‘success’

Zosia Mamet’s recent column for Glamour magazine posed an interesting and wholly valid alternative to the Lean In model of feminism. The Girls star began with questioning our definition of ‘success’. In a world that’s hell-bent on ‘making it’, we set ourselves unattainable goals, and judge others harshly when they pursue happiness instead of success. What remains clear is that an intense pressure exists for women; a voice at the back of our minds telling us we must conquer the world, and be a model citizen and a first-class employee/mother/daughter/girlfriend/woman 100% of the time. But, is that really realistic? And when will we ever be satisfied with our own achievements?

As women we have internalized the idea that every morning we wake up, we have to go for the f–king gold. You can’t just jog; you have to run a triathlon. Having a cup of coffee, reading the paper, and heading to work isn’t enough—that’s settling, that’s giving in, that’s letting them win. You have to wake up, have a cup of coffee, conquer France, bake a perfect cake, take a boxing class, and figure out how you are going to get that corner office or become district supervisor, while also looking damn sexy—but not too sexy, because cleavage is degrading—all before lunchtime. 

We judge ourselves unfavourably against female role models like Hilary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Beyoncé, but while these women are an inspiration to us in the way they lead their lives, we should by no means consider this the ONLY version of success. Yes, it’s great to set ourselves goals, and working hard to achieve those ambitions can be extremely rewarding, but it’s important to remember that feminism is centred upon choice. If your friend chooses to stay home and look after her child, it’s her choice and it doesn’t make her any less successful or any less of a feminist.

I hate that we look at women who choose not to run a country as having given up. I get angry that, when a woman decides to hold off on gunning for a promotion because she wants to have a baby, other women whisper that “she’s throwing away her potential.” That is when we’re not supporting our own. Who are we to put such a limited definition on success? The Merriam-Webster dictionary says success is “the correct or desired result of an attempt.” But you get to decide what you attempt. If you get off running a global hair care empire, more power to you, but if working as a hairdresser somewhere within that empire brings you joy, then that should be just as admirable. You shouldn’t feel like you’re letting down the team.

Rigid definitions of success are the opposite of feminism. We should celebrate the individual achievements of women, not impose judgements or set ourselves unattainable goals.

The solution, I think, is to ask ourselves what we actually want—each of us personally—and stop putting so much pressure on one another. Success isn’t about winning everything; it’s about achieving your dream, be that teaching middle school or flying jets. And no matter what we as individual women want, no matter what our goals, we have to support one another. Because I might actually open a café in Vermont—just a small one, where I make the muffins myself—and I hope you ladies don’t think me any less of a woman for it.

Success isn’t about leaning in, but rather, it’s about being happy, making your own choices, and not judging others for theirs.


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