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3.31.2014

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg


My initial problem with Lean In, which read like a self-help book for women aspiring to climb the corporate ladder, is the very same problem that I have in looking up to Marissa Mayer; Sheryl Sandberg has cultivated one of my most-loathed platforms for social media.  I hate FaceBook (why?---omg, all the TMI sharing of information, the freakishness of exposing our private lives on the internet), and use it only the interest of actually having some friends, since (for a certain type of person anyway) it has become a basic form of communication.  (My current mentality towards the platform is that if you're getting raped, just lay back and enjoy it--since it also can be fun.)


Sandberg's premise of book is that "the goal of true equality [of the sexes] still eludes us [and] will only be achieved when more women rise to the top of every government and every industry." (pg 159)
Clearly, then, she's defining equality economically--and the corner office as the seat of supreme power.  In a book almost entirely committed to commentary on the sexes she never acknowledges that there are any fundamental gender differences; and implies in fact that gender ought to be largely ignored.  "Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go thorugh life without being labeled by my gender," and "I know an engineer....who removes her earrings before going to work so coworkers won't be reminded that she is....not a man."  An image of an angrogonous woman with a butch haircut who dresses in baggy flannel plaids starts to emerge.


Sandberg rejects this image, however, both implicitly and explicitly.  In the current (April 2014) issue of Vanity Fair she's dressed in a sexy well-fitted red dress, and looks *good* for her 44 years--quite frankly, I'd like to read a book about her workout routine and who she's consulting for personal training.  And throughout the book she recoils against any labeling of herself as a bra-burning feminist.


Vanity Fair, April 2014
The book is remarkably well researched, and includes a 35 page bibliography for articles and quotes she references, plus an index (not even the 9-11 Comission Report can boast of such an accomplishment!), and she really sees all the sides to an issue.
She makes the very interesting point that parenting today (for 'working' and stay at home parents) involves more hours of primary childcare (meaning reading to a child, or fully focused attention on the child) than it did in 1975; arguably making the point that working mothers are still having the same amount of interaction and bonding with their child than a stay at home mom in the 70s.  And she also stresses the need to blur the lines between professional and personal in the workplace; that women and men can feel free to express emotion (and even cry) in the workplace rather than suppress emotion. I started to see a more well-rounded, I'm-sexy-and-I-know-it-plus-I-sell-girl-schout-cookies-with-my-daughter-on-the-weekend kind of a woman.  And she cleverly calls check-mate on any woman critical of her when she quotes Madeline Albright, "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." 


"I hope that you--yes, you--have the ambition to lean in to your career and run the world." Sandberg quotes from her now famous speech at Barnard College.  OMG.  What she fails to point out (or possibly even herself realize) is that a) it's fundamentally impossible for everyone to rise to the ranks she has--this is the self-help book that promises that so long as you believe in yourself, that you can rise from the ashes and direct and star in the next wonder-hit Rocky movie.  And additionally that, for a woman (or a man) to lean in on her career to the extent that Sandberg has fundamentally requires others to lean in as well in quite unspectacular areas of work; house-cleaning, nanny-work, and probably  house management as well.


But the biggest problem I have by far with Lean In is that implicit in her entire book is the belief that all women have the choice to either a spectacular career or a wonderful, fulfilling life as a stay at home mom.  Is she living under a rock?  Here we go back to my point in the previous paragraph; someone has to do the menial work; for every corner office position there's at least a dozen middle managers and scores of underlings~people in fact vying for the underling jobs!  Not to mention, how many women out there in their 20s, 30s and 40s are dying for a husband and have only experienced a depressing deluge of worthless, uninteresting and/or unaccountable men?


And so by the final chapter I came to a more accurate of this woman; at the end of her work day she arrives at her mansion to a Mexican woman cleaning her toilets, a nanny changing her babies' diapers, and sits down in a living room plastered with photograph of herself on the cover of every magazine published in America.  Then she drafts her next speech explain how we, too, can have it all.
And I suppose I'm condemning myself to a special place in hell when I say goddamn her.

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