I have had so many posts running through my brain but unfortunately due to circumstances my time on the computer is limited and thus I reserved my typing for Smarty Pants. However, I NEED to get this out.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead has been widely critiqued both within popular media and feminist circles. Additionally, when I bring up the text to just about anyone immediately their eye begins to wince and their lip quivers. They follow up their facial twitch with “ew I don’t like that book.” I immediately ask: “have you read the book?” The response 99% of the time is: “no.”
I think it is easy to read op-eds from fancy journalists and take their word. Its also really easy to avoid dealing with a tremendous and daunting problem we have in our country (or world :)). Sheryl Sandberg (as privileged of a beautiful Jew she is) isn’t just taking on getting a parking spot for pregnant ladies, she is taking on patriarchy and as we all know from our time in Women’s Studies courses… patriarchy sucks and is a difficult beast to tackle. I am not shocked that people would rather critique then indulge in the text’s points because if they were to take Sandberg’s points and assign value to them, then that would mean they are part of a movement that can be uncomfortable and difficult.
A breakdown of why your critiques are invalid:
1. Sheryl Sandberg is privileged which makes her points irrelevant.
Congratulations! You have done a magnificent job of pointing out the obvious. It would make little sense for someone who works at a fast food restaurant to write a text about gaining power. Sandberg also acknowledges who her intended audience is, and her role within the corporate sphere in the first few pages. Sure, Sandberg was able to gain power because she attended a well regarded undergraduate an graduate institution but this argument does two things. First, it negates all hard work she put into getting into those two schools (last I checked I am a Jew and I wasn’t automatically accepted to Harvard). Secondly, it is just another form of the same ol’ critique that surrounds women of power. Do people question Obama’s validity? My sources tell me went to a fancy undergrad and grad school and guess what… he is still seen as a relatable human!
This entire conversation makes me think of the hierarchy of power I referenced frequently with my students. We as a country have three classes of people. We have lower class (work jobs that require no thought), middle class (a job that requires a specific skill set) and the wealthy (jobs that require innovation and critical analysis). To gain wealth you need to be able to think. The thinkers are the influencers and their thoughts eventually dictate the work and rolls of the other two classes. I love grassroots efforts (which Sandberg is trying to cultivate with her Lean In circles http://leanin.org/) but I think its also critical we acknowledge that we need women like Sandberg, one of the wealthy folk to be thinking about these systems. At the end of the day… she does have power because of her status. Yes, her power is of less value to society because she is a lady, but she has found her way to the class that makes the big decisions. Her point about women needing to be in more leadership positions gets to this very point. We can march and protest all we want (and these are beautiful ways to get your point out) but we also need people at the top making major changes to be our allies. It never hurt anyone to have a friend at the top.
2. Sheryl Sandberg is exploiting feminism:
Great… exploit! Her entire chapter on her role within the feminist movement was refreshing. My beautiful and lovely feminist allies need to take a step back and calm down. Who cares that she references Gloria Steinem on every page? The fact of the matter is… she is referencing feminism constantly and isn’t that something to be excited about? I can not tell you how many books, articles, and conversations I have been a part of where the central topic is “how do we get people to not be scared of the word feminism?” Well here is one platform that seems to be pretty darn successful. We should be celebrating these efforts. Perhaps the general public isn’t being introduced to feminism through punk or a zine but they are being exposed and isn’t that what we want?
3. Sheryl Sandberg hates moms:
Really? I just can’t.
Lean In and stop critiquing:
We should always be critical of any body of work. But I think our need to analyze…. analyze… analyze…. is hindering our ability to see the real value in this text. If we are going to shift our systems of oppression we need to tackle it from all angles. Further, I don’t care which power class you belong to: being told you are worth power is always relevant. Having a supportive partner is ALWAYS relevant. Asking for what you want while using an authoritative authentic voice is a must, and realizing that YOU ARE OF VALUE is a lesson we all should not only listen to but embody.
Also please note that I could have written about 3 more pages about my obsession with the ideas of this book, but instead of me telling you why its amazing, just go out and READ it (don’t just watch the TedTalks).