“Lean In” Engages and Empowers

“Strong, Smart Women; Cool, Compassionate Men; Pizza; Brownies; What more could you want?” was the advertisement sent out to all students and faculty by Dr. Robinson. Thirty-five people answered the call— fourteen faculty members, twenty-two students (among them one freshman, nine sophomores, four juniors, six seniors, and two postgrads). They attended the first Lean In Circle at Western Reserve Academy. Lean In is an organization founded by Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote a book with the same name after giving a TEDtalk in 2010 about “the ways women are held back—and the way we hold ourselves back”. Lean In seeks to empower women through three ways: Circles, which meet to discuss issues and learn together; public awareness campaigns on topics that are important to women’s advancement; and free education through videos, tips, and discussion guides. The organization is not limited to just women; allies are more than welcome to participate. Dr. Robinson has been interested in starting a Lean In chapter at Reserve for many years but she says, “with the Women’s Marches, ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘Me Too’ I thought, it’s now or never!”

The group started out with the question “What bothers you about sexism?” Answers were immediate and ranging, discussing double standards for world leaders and sports teams, sexual harassment, consent, and gender roles. For instance, one woman recalled seeing coverage of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s legs instead of her speeches. FIFA awards 35 million dollars as World Cup bonus money to the men’s champion team, while the women only get 2 million. The fact that double standards hurt men as well was discussed. “Tomboys” (masculine girls) are generally accepted in society, but feminine boys are shamed.

The group discussed possible courses of action to take. On the list were facilitating conversations with men, taking part in a march, releasing recommended summer reading on the topic, and just the general raising of awareness. “I want our Reserve women to be informed, empowered and inspired to give the world their best–and for the world to accept it,” Dr. Robinson said when asked what the ultimate goals of the WRA Lean In Circle were. “Globally, my first and foremost concern is human rights. Too many women suffer from violence: personal, military, and structural. Centuries of oppression needs to end in THIS century.”

– Ellie Frato-Sweeney ’20

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