Zosia Mamet Says "Leaning In" Isn't Feminism For EveryoneKit Steinkellner

Make no mistake: Zosia Mamet, the staggeringly talented actress known for her breakout role Shoshana Shapiro on HBO’s Girls, is a feminist. But when it comes to the idea of uniformly “leaning in,” she has some strong opinions. In an essay published in Glamour (Mamet has an every-other-month column in the mag), the A+ actress has some A+ thoughts on expanding the definition of “success” for women. As she puts it:

“We are so obsessed with “making it” these days we’ve lost sight of what it means to be successful on our own terms. As women we have internalized the idea that every morning we wake up, we have to go for the f–king gold. You can’t just jog; you have to run a triathlon. 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. Who in her right mind would want to do that? And who would even be able to?”

She goes on to praise the ideals of the feminism (“Feminism was meant to empower us as women, to build us up for fighting on male-dominated battlefields”) and is also clear-eyed regarding some of the unintended consequences of the movement (“It gave us female role models like Hillary and Oprah and Beyoncé and in the process implied that mogul-hood should be every woman’s goal. We kept the old male ideas of success: power and money. We need new ones!”)

This is such a fresh perspective and a much needed take on our culture’s limited perspective (or as Mamet awesomely puts it “old male ideas”) on success. We, as a society, do place a premium on fame and fortune. We celebrate external success over personal happiness. We cheer on those who sacrifice their personal lives for their career. We judge those whose accomplishments we do not deem “big” enough. So what is big? Making x number of dollars? Having x number of people know your name? Mamet’s right, this is such a small-minded way to quantify the value of a woman’s work, her time, her life. We need to encourage each other to define “success” and “happiness” for ourselves rather than accepting prescribed definitions. “Success” isn’t a “one size fits all” idea. We need to embrace all the many, many, many sizes success comes in.

Mamet sums up her sentiments and closes her argument beautifully. Take us home, Zosia:

“Success isn’t about winning everything; it’s about achieving your dream, be that teaching middle school or flying jets. And no matter what we as individual women want, no matter what our goals, we have to support one another.”


(Photo via HBO)


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  1. […] This Girl. Who is this? Zosia Mamet. Suddenly I’ve seen her face all over the internet. I’ve never seen the show she’s in…but she has some beautiful things to say about success. In this article she eloquently states some of the abstract feelings I’ve had about moving back to the states. Success is a big deal to Americans, and it’s very clearly defined. It’s even a big deal for Christians, who may have a slightly different definition of success. Out here, isolated in South America, I’ve been learning about my own definition of success; and it doesn’t involve money, clothing, being known, nice hair, productivity, or a good job. It has a lot more to do with expression, contentment, minimalism, presence and experience. I’m learning that it’s very different to every person, and it pains me when our society judges the masses based on their own beliefs about success. I want to be free to feel successful on the days I stay home and rest. I want the people around me to be free to pursue and do the things that inspire and invigorate them. I wish our ideas wouldn’t be polluted by marketing and ways to take it “to the next level.” If I love making bagels for my husband, I want to allow myself to be completely fulfilled in that alone, without thoughts of how to make money off of this creeping in. Enjoy and keep your hobbies as something that brings you life. Gardening, painting, singing, climbing trees or mountains. Well meaning people will try to give you good advice on how to turn what you love into a way to make a living. It doesn’t have to happen that way. If it does, good for you – I hope you still love it after it becomes something you have to do, instead of something you want to do. I’m sure you’re thinking you don’t have time for things you want to do because you are a slave to your job, your commitments, your children, your church…whatever. That is a lie you are believing, and that is a whole other subject. We have the power to dictate how we spend our time, or day. If you are allowing your life to be run by a need for money, there are deeper things to address here. Lifestyle habits, for one. Anyhow, I think men and women are attacked on this front in very different forms. Zosia speaks on success and how feminism has turned to bite women in the behind. // Zosia Mament speaks truth // […]

  2. I strongly disagree. Evidently we still live in a patriarchal society where the main goals are, sadly: power and money but by segregating the set of goals women and men should pursue, we are still creating a division amongst ourselves. For this society to change, for us to have gender equality, we need unity; not a men-have-superficial-goals-and-us-awesome-women-not.

    “Success isn’t about winning everything; it’s about achieving your dream, be that teaching middle school or flying jets. And no matter what we as individual (men and women) want, no matter what our goals, we have to support one another.”

    Gender equality will arrive when we show men our world and they understand it, respect it, when WE understand their world (the pressure it means to pursue the consumerism power-and-money system) and we come together to fight the system that has created lines to divide us.

  3. That last paragraph is amazing. Spot on, Zosia.

  4. Brilliant!

  5. Great subject! I’m part of a group at work that is going to be reading “Lean In” and I’m interested to see what I think of the book.

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