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Fearlessly Leaning In

The “What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?” Tumblr is the latest project from Lean In, the global community born out of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s book of the same title. The blog is inspired by studies showing that although women are graduating college with higher GPAs than their male peers, they are avoiding leadership roles and report being afraid to speak up. In response, the Lean In team asked women in and around New York City to tell them what they would do if they weren’t afraid.

So far, many of the answers are about work. Women report that they would “use their voices more in the workplace” and “ask for more money.” They would also quit their jobs and pursue more creative lives. They’d use the word “artist” and “writer” to describe themselves. Another trend are women who say that if they were not afraid they would live alone, travel alone and even leave the house alone at night. Others would call themselves feminists and speak undeterred about their political beliefs.

If you haven’t already, it’s worth taking a stroll through the blog; it is troubling and illuminating, and says a lot about the priorities of a capitalist society. A job, for example, should look a particular way: 9 to 5, at the very least; in an office; with a certain dress code; in a corporate culture (even for non profits), and with a salary at a certain level. It’s hard to take the leap that comes with living outside of this paradigm — it often means being without steady income and health insurance, as well as pushing back against assumptions about productivity and legitimacy.

The fact that women are afraid to do things alone doesn’t surprise me so much as it makes me feel deeply frustrated and sad. There are a lot of reasons to be afraid of living and traveling alone, one of them being that the reality of rape culture is apparently still up for debate.

The thing about fear is that it’s unpredictable. It can make you hide from the world — or push harder into it. It can trap us, hinder our memory and our reason, and convince us that it’s okay to treat each other badly. Naming it, saying it out loud, like in the Lean In Tumblr, is a good step. Maybe it’s a great step. But I suspect every woman who reads this Tumblr knows all about fears — those we speak about and those we don’t. I need more. I need a road map out of it.

So in case you were wondering, here are a few things I would do if I wasn’t afraid:

1.) Talk more openly and confidently about how the space I’m in now, as a secular Jew, is the most right I’ve ever felt and the most honest I’ve ever been with myself.
2.) Commit an act of civil disobedience that could result in getting arrested.
3.) Move to Israel for a few months, unintimidated by my exceedingly terrible Hebrew.
4.) Yell back at men who harass me and other women on the street.


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