Ditching The Feminine Filter

September 5, 2013

"Our conclusion really was that this is why women aren’t in positions of power – they’re trying to be the ideal woman, and they’re not thinking about what they really want." - Jodi Detjen, co-author, The Orange Line

Ah, the ideal woman: she does everything perfectly at work and at home, she's a wonderful mother, she looks great, and (naturally) she's very nice. And Jodi Detjen says she's largely the reason women aren't further ahead in their careers. Detjen is co-author, along with Michelle Waters and Kelly Watson, of The Orange Line: A Woman's Guide to Integrating Career, Family and Life. I interviewed her recently for the latest episode of The Broad Experience, which will be out on Monday. The authors contend that women unwittingly hold oursevles back from achieving more at work because we're wedded (pun intended) to age-old assumptions of what we should be as women - assumptions the authors say underlie many of our waking thoughts. They call this set of assumptions The Feminine Filter, a filter through which women tend to view the world, falling back on thoughts like, 'It's my job to take primary care of the house and children' and 'I'm never good enough.'

Some readers will object to Detjen and her fellow authors' advice because, like Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, their book concentrates on what women themselves are doing to hold themselves back (and how to change that), not on what companies are and are not doing to implement more of an even playing field. I don't mind, though, because I've made a lot of work-related mistakes due to beliefs I've held that are exactly the ones the authors outline in the book. The female assumption Detjen mentioned that resonates most with me? 'If we follow the rules, good things will happen.' I thought that for years, and millions of women, and probably quite a few men, still do. But it's nonsense. Following the rules may help you receive a few positive reviews, a metaphorical pat on the head, but it won't help you get what you really want at work. For that, you need to take risks and get out of your comfort zone. But most women aren't told this early on, and it doesn't occur to them, because rule-following has always served them well at school. Yet work is an entirely different animal.

This book is nuanced, much more so than Lean In, and unlike Lean In, which focuses solely on how women can excel at work (but not in the rest of life), The Orange Line's authors all have experience of having either put work before life, and suffered, or the rest of life before work, with similar results. Detjen and co. want women to be able to flourish both at work and at home, whether that home has a spouse and/or children in it or not. 

You can read Broad Experience guest Stacy-Marie Ishmael's review of The Orange Line on Medium - she introduced me to Jodi Detjen in the first place. The new show will be posted here early on Monday afternoon.