I have been thinking about writing lately and about sharing that writing, but each time I am about to do it, I think of the words of Helene Berr in her journal. For those not familiar, Helene Berr was a Jewish woman who grew up in France and studied at the Sorbonne. She started keeping a journal a little bit before the Nazis occupied France, when she was 21, and she kept writing until she was arrested. It is an absolutely incredible book that everyone should read. Unfortunately, I don’t have my copy at hand, so I can’t quote her exactly. As I recall, she said she thought it was disgusting that anyone would write something with the intention of having others read it and enjoy it. She must have specifically been talking about authors of literature because otherwise she would find most journalists disgusting. But, then again, maybe she was talking about them, too.
Reading that sentence in her journal was actually quite shocking because it reminded me that I was reading someone’s journal. Helene Berr never meant for me to read her words. The thought of this level of intimacy with someone I will never meet chokes me. The idea that she never intended me to read her journal makes me feel ashamed, but also makes the intimacy that much more intense and her words more precious. Because Berr writes so poetically and with such perspective and clarity, I forgot that this was technically not a published author. This was the journal of a 20-something graduate student. And, oh hey, I’m one of those, too.
Make no mistake: I am not comparing my writing to that of Helene Berr. I am trying to explain why her opinion has meant so much to me and why I have been so afraid to disappoint her by writing with the intention of having other people read it. I haven’t found a way to justify the writing of a blog for other people without making myself feel guilty. Vanity, self-love, narcissism? Yep, it’s probably all of those.
…But, what if those things aren’t that bad? I think they might actually be a little bit good. I personally enjoy reading other people’s blogs immensely. I love watching reality shows (there, I said it). And I love radio shows like This American Life. All of these things take me into other people’s lives. There are no lessons to be learned, no moral judgments to make – I just want to know about other people! And if no one ever thought their story was worth sharing, if no one ever thought that they had anything of interest to say, these blogs and shows wouldn’t exist! If vanity, self-love, and narcissism are needed to facilitate this kind of human communion, then they might be O.K. with me.
Well, now that I have established that, 1) I love myself, and 2) it is O.K. for me to express that love for myself by writing for others on the internet, I will share a somewhat related article I read over the summer. In this small piece, a female law firm partner says that women are not generally good leaders in law firms because they are too much like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. (Don’t worry – you can keep your sparkly red shoes and your weird-looking friends.) The problem is that women are too much like Dorothy in that neither ask for credit where credit is due. Dorothy asked for nothing from the Wizard after all of her hard work, and women in law firms ask for no credit or recognition from colleagues for their hard work. If women don’t do this, she says, they will not be seen as leaders because no one will know what they have done.
On the one hand, I think this is ridiculous. Just logistically speaking, how can your colleagues not know what you have done? Won’t some other partner or underling see the documents you prepared that were so great with YOUR name on it? If not on the documentation itself, isn’t there a schedule you keep with what you were doing recorded on it that someone else will see? Won’t someone wonder where you were all morning and won’t you answer, “Oh, I was at court and I [insert great thing here]?”
Also, there is a seriously fine line between being a bitch and being a leader. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest everyday-feminist problems. If a woman speaks up for herself, she runs a high risk of being called a bitch. If a guy speaks up for himself, he is more likely to be revered for his “manliness” in doing so. In fact, if a guy doesn’t stand up for himself, what is he called? Most likely a euphemism for a female body part. If you disagree with these distinctions, you must at least admit that there is no word used towards a man that is equivalent in meaning and nuance to “bitch” as it is used towards a woman.
On the other hand, why should women let this fear stop them from making their accomplishments known? The reasons for this fear are socialized. Sure, women now can (most of the time) get the same jobs as men, get paid as much as men, and attend VMI, but in the details – in everyday decisions and interactions, socially-constructed gender roles resurface. Women feel as though they need to be submissive in order to attract men. Women feel that if they are assertive in taking the credit for the good things they have done, they will not be submissive, and therefore be unattractive to males. Perhaps this is because of the idea that it is “manly” to be assertive. If being assertive is manly, and Sally is assertive, then Sally is manly, thus making her unattractive to her potential heterosexual male mates.
Maybe I’m being silly. Maybe competitive law firms really are places where people are so busy that they have no idea what you do. Or, maybe if the law firm is big enough, there are so many lawyers working on one project, that no one will notice that you did something out-of-the-ordinary unless you make it known. Although, if this is the situation in the law firm generally, I don’t see why a gender-specific call to action was necessary.