Do you “Lean In?”

April 25, 2013

Book cover courtesy of Amazon.com

Book cover courtesy of Amazon.com

This week I finished the rather polarizing book by Sheryl Sandburg called “Lean In.”  Having read both the book and criticisms, I feel that this work is in many ways a truthful depiction of the problems that face many women (and men) today.  It tends to be a sort of “call to arms” to recognize that men and women are still not equal, in neither the workplace nor at home.  Sandberg’s main thesis is that by “leaning in” rather than opting out of leadership roles, women who are willing, able, and interested can make the changes that allow better working conditions for all; that “…female leaders are key to the solution.” She states that we should not be forced to have both a work persona and a persona off the clock, but should be professional and even kind, acting as truthful and authentic in all our transactions.   Most importantly, men and women should be permitted to be equal in all realms of life.  If men are not seen as equal partners in the home and celebrated for it, it is harder for women to step up and lean in more at work. Lack of equality limits choices for all.

Sandberg has encountered both support and backlash. Some criticism is justified (for example,  Kathleen Geier from the Washington Monthly review makes an excellent point that Sandberg is writing from a “bubble of privilege”, not taking into account the difficult economic times in the past 5 years that have curtailed some of those choices). Some criticism, notable from the Washington Post and USA Today seems overly harsh, and rather disconnected from an actual reading and the spirit of the book itself. 

Chelsea Welch of the Guardian speaks to finding your own path, and understanding that that path will change over time, while acknowledging that our liberation has a long way to go.  Michelle Goldberg writes here about the Absurd Backlash Against Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.  She perhaps gets closest to the heart of this backlash here:

Instead, I think the reaction to Sandberg stems from something that she herself identifies. Women are conditioned to compare themselves with one another. When we’re not wholly at peace with our own choices—and who is?—those comparisons sting. “There is always an opportunity cost, and I don’t know any woman who feels comfortable with all her decisions,” Sandberg writes. “As a result, we inadvertently hold that discomfort against those who remind us of the path not taken. Guilt and insecurity make us second-guess ourselves and, in turn, resent one another.”

Bottom line: Partners need to willingly step up more at home and support a wife’s ambition so that more women are comfortable to pursue their dreams without guilt.  Women need to be brave and step up when they are able without being constrained by gender roles or worry of attack by other women for their choices.  Women also need to surrender the “doing it all” superwoman persona and allow their partners to help bear the responsibility and surrender the discomfort and guilt.

I can easily see that I fall into the trap of trying to do it all: having a very clean house, working part-time so that I can be home for my son, making dinner every night, having a very routine life so that I can feel that I have “done it all” and am not a bad mom/wife.  I actually love working part-time, as it enables me to have time to myself that was more scarce when I worked full-time.  I have a supportive husband, but the reality is that I undertake the vast majority of cleaning, the shopping, cooking, financials, and childcare.  If I wanted to “lean in” as Sandberg suggests, I would have to make some serious adjustments to my marriage!  Perhaps one day this will be necessary, but right now, I lean in as far as I can while still maintaining my ability to have the life I want.  I am working on letting go of the guilt…

Sandberg’s final note of wisdom is that success equals making the best choices we can, and accepting them.  Every choice is different and has different consequences for each person. Women (and men) working for ALL to have the ability to make these equal choices is what we should strive to achieve.  It would equal happier workplaces, happier families, and happier people.

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