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This Girls Star Says Feminism Isn’t About Leaning In

3 minute read

Zosia Mamet, best known for playing Shoshanna on Girls, says feminism doesn’t always have to be about becoming the next Sheryl Sandberg. The star penned an essay for Glamour about the pressure she feels as a feminist to meet others’ lofty expectations, possibly at the expense of her own happiness:

“I’ve worked my ass off and had the support and encouragement of those around me to keep climbing. But what if tomorrow I decided I was content with the place I’d reached in acting and planned to open a small coffee shop in Vermont? That job wouldn’t necessarily be any easier, but I believe I would be considered less successful. My friends, some of them, would ask me if it was what I really wanted (code for “You’re making a mistake”). My agent would think I was insane, and my family would definitely be confused.”

Mamet goes on to argue that the “lean in” movement and others like it have pressured women to try to have it all, and then some. The standards are set so high that we can never be satisfied with just being happy. Worshipping feminist icons like Hillary Clinton and Oprah and Beyoncé has implied that total domination of a field is the only goal women should pursue. But that’s not necessarily what everyone wants:

“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 kept the old male ideas of success: power and money. We need new ones!”

So forget Sheryl Sandberg. We—we being women—ought to define success on our own terms.

She has a point. Feminists want equality socially, politically and economically between the sexes. But often we define that equality as achieving what men have considered success over the centuries. Women ought to have the option of seeking out different versions of success—whether that be owning a media empire like Oprah, running for political office like Hillary, opening a coffee shop or focusing on motherhood. Feminists should not feel like they’re failing the cause when they seek out happiness, whatever that might be. Real feminism might just be the right to lean out if that’s what you want.


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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com