I have not read “Lean In.” I do not plan to read “Lean In.” When I read books, I tend to lean toward (get it?) science fiction. Whatever.
This is not about the worth of “Lean In” as a book or as an anthem or as a rallying cry.
This also is not about “Sheryl Sandberg is just a really nice lady, and we should stop being mean.”
I don’t know Sheryl Sandberg. I do suspect we might not be friends if we met. That’s also besides the point.
The point is, what’s the point of hating Sheryl Sandberg?
I agree with many points made in a couple of recent essays critical of the “Lean In” movement.
I completely got the humor in Rosa Brook’s Foreign Policy essay, “Recline! Why Leaning In is Killing Us” – humor which seems to have eluded many readers. Brooks doesn’t really hate Sheryl Sandberg. And I’m pretty sure she hasn’t crafted anything from recycled tires (just a hunch). Her main point was really that parenting needs to be shared equally by both parents – or maybe even the dad should be the one to stay home.
It’s an issue that Sandberg agrees with Brooks on, in fact, as she talks about the importance of a supportive and helpful partner in Lean In. Brooks’ entire essay was about how American society has come to value overwork to the detriment of both the work and the worker, but that kind of got lost in the tongue-in-cheek jabs at Sandberg early on. Oh, I laughed. I could relate, in that snarky East Coast educated sort of way that others say makes snarky East Coasters kind of jerks. But by the end of the essay, Brooks’ rallying cry was strong and on point and I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR, but quietly because the kids are sleeping.
Today, I saw Rebecca Traister’s New Republic essay, “The Uselessness of Hating Sheryl Sandberg,” and was struck by how she missed the point of Brooks’ essay even in calling Brooks out for missing the point of Lean In. “I’m saying that the direction in which we are regularly urged to express our anger is at other women.”
And … Traister’s kind of doing that by repeatedly pointing out how Brooks is wrong.
Oh, but wait. Am I doing that now? Maybe, but I don’t know how else to explain what I’m trying to say.
Some of it is expressed well in Bryce Covert’s essay in The Nation, “Men of the World, Lean Out!”
Both Brooks and Traister had amazing points in their essays. I agreed with them far more than I don’t. And I suspect I agree with Lean In far more than I don’t. I don’t hate any of these people or feel anger toward any of them, mostly because I save my anger for things that matter.
What matters is that women are still expected to bear the brunt of childcare. I am an exception to that rule, and have an amazingly supportive husband who’s a stay-at-home dad – a job I would not and, more importantly, could not, do. Seriously. I would be a horrible stay-at-home mom. But you know what? What matters is that people act as if there’s something wrong with him for staying at home. Especially when those people are women. Seriously, I mean, REALLY?
What matters is that there’s no standard paternity leave in the United States, so if a dad even wants to spend a couple months at home helping out, he can’t without losing his salary or maybe his job.
What matters is that when women do lean in and ask for raises or more vacation, they’re more likely to be turned down than their male counterparts. (Speaking from experience.)
What matters is that we just back the hell up already, stop sniping at each other (as Traister sagely points out) and agree to disagree on certain points while keeping our eyes on the prize. The prize being actual equality – equality to be able to screw up as badly as a guy, equality to be able to work 80 hours a week for a promotion like a guy, equality for a guy to stay at home and take care of the kids if that’s what makes the most sense.
And whether you like Sandberg or not – you have to hand it to her for making this conversation a nearly every day affair. People are actually talking about inequalities in the workplace. People are actually talking about how women are treated in other nations.
As I said once before, I don’t care if you lean in or lean out - just DO something.
Photo by Steve A. Johnson via Flickr Creative Commons.