In the last year, I prepared myself to apply for a master’s degree in Economics Journalism. In one of my applications, I had to write an essay about a moment of truth in my life. Fortunately, I found that the content of my words would be perfect for a post in the blog, as it follows:
I found myself surrounded by four books. Numero Zero by Umberto Eco, the biography of Alexander Hamilton, a poetry book by Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg were my options. They were all presents from my family and were either written in my first language or translated into it, except for the last one. Since I was studying for my master’s application in the United States, I decided to read Lean In first.
I was surprised to learn that I could not drop the book until I had finished it. Growing up in a high medium class family in Brazil, I have always been privileged. Coming from a country that has huge issues regarding inequality in all levels, I have always hold the thought that I couldn’t complain about my rights considering my comfortable position. But as it turns out, I found that although I was right about that hard unfair reality of many Brazilians, I still had plenty of rights to fight for. I realized that that even in my privileged bubble, equality was far from being reached.
In her book, Sandberg is capable of proving her readers how there is a hidden prejudice in our actions and daily assumptions. She says that although basic women civil rights have been established in so many places, there is a part of society that still makes it challenging for women to even wish to reach the top of their careers. My father quintessentially has presented me with every opportunity to be ambitious and has expected success from me and my two brothers in the same way. But it was through Sandberg’s words that I realized that those are not society’s expectations towards women.
The thing that was most shocking to me was that I had always pride myself in being well informed. But I was lacking the capability of being proud and admiring people close and dear to me. Although I had always told strangers about my Italian immigrant grandfather that was a soldier in World War II, I had never really bragged about my 94 years old grandmother. She was the youngest of an uneducated family of humble means of the Brazilian northeast. Her passion for books and learning lead her to move to the southeast to study and she was the third women of my state to ever become a doctor. She also graduated with all the honors of her university and was granted a golden medal, as she had always been the first student in her all male class. Not that their stories compare in any way; I just realized that I also had plenty of reasons to have great admiration for my grandma.
The aunt who gave me the book managed to reach to the top of her profession and has always been ambitious. She is the COO of a major aviation company. Another aunt of mine is a famous award winning architect in my city. Her daughter is only 25 and is taking big admirable risks as she is investing in her idea and opening an online marketplace. In this way, I have always been surrounded by successful working women. But a lot of my friends haven’t. From Sandberg’s book, I learned that I was an exception and as I took a closer look to the world and popped out of my bubble, I could finally see how inequality was also close to me.
I can now see sexism in situations that I had never given any importance. I can see how unjust it is that close friends of mine think it is fair that a woman makes less money in the job market just because at some point, they believe, she will choose her family over her work. I can now see hypocrisy in those same people that still judge women when they choose not to be mothers or even if they choose to have a family and keep working with great career goals in mind.
I am now proud to have solid arguments to counter their judgments. I explain them the reasons why it is better that women have equal rights, even for the economy. My arguments are based on facts such as when women earn less on the job market, they also are more reliable on social benefits. However, if they were earning the same as men, they could also be paying the same taxes and bolstering commerce with an elevated purchasing power, instead of burdening government budgets. Another way of looking at it is that when a corporations’ board of directors is composed by different kinds of people, and that includes women, they gain different values and perspectives. This makes business come up with better solutions and be more efficient as a result. In Warren Buffett’s own words: “The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be. We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.”
Moreover, I realize now how truth is relative, since we are always in constant transformation as beliefs can be changed when we are open to learn. This book was such a wake up call as it has made me realize that even the causes we have always drawn a distance from can also be the ones close to our hearts. Since the times of the Greek oracle of Delphi, humankind has known how finding out about our own individualities is essential for transcending ourselves into better people. Reading this book has not only taught me more about the feminist cause, but also about myself and what is my place in the fight for equality. And isn’t that what the biggest purpose of life is all about? As a journalist, I have to believe that it is to keep finding out how we can be of better service to society.