Recommended reading: “Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ is a rousing, controversial call to arms”
Every few weeks I participate in that most suburban of female rituals: the book club. I’m lucky my group hasn’t become a wine club with books or a figment of my good intentions. Ninety percent of the time we all show up and most everyone has read the book. And we’ve read some good stuff. The conversations keep me whole – my boys and my overworked husband know that getting me to book club helps maintain household sanity. Our club has weathered job changes and losses, sick kids, moves and divorces, and this year we will welcome a new baby. These women are the sounding board of my life; we work, play, mother, and struggle together. So I suppose it’s not surprising that I’m a bit put off by the suggestion that I’m doing it wrong.
The manufactured buzz surrounding Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In is deafening. The Facebook CEO seems to be everywhere: The New York Times, Slate, NPR, CNN, even the perennial 60 minutes gave her prime time billing this weekend. Sandberg’s voice joins an already crowded arena of women arguing about how to ‘have it all’ and though few outside of the media have had an opportunity to read the just released book (I settled for half a dozen reviews and the 60 Minutes interview), Sandberg is already drawing the ire of working women around the country.
Sheryl Sandberg was voted ‘most likely to succeed’ before she left high school in Miami for Harvard – a title she claims embarrassed her. After an undergrad at Harvard and Harvard business school, Sandberg worked in the Clinton administration. She signed on with Google in its infancy and was recruited by Mark Zukerburg to Facebook in 2008. In her 60 Minutes interview, Sandberg is likeable and easy going. She’s poised but comfortable and quick to laugh at herself. But she is a multi-billionaire dolling out self-help advice from behind the cover of an invisible staff – there is little doubt that she has both a personal and professional army of women helping her make this success look easy.
Sandberg admits she feels guilty, but says that every woman feels guilty. She also claims that we “hold ourselves back” by embodying the negative messages about aggressive women in the work place. Sandberg suggests that women need to claim our half of the world by “leaning in” to our careers. We must demand more from our partners. After all, marriage is the biggest “career decision” we will ever make. She even claims that studies prove that men who do more laundry have more sex. We are our own biggest obstacle to equality in the workplace, she says.
Some are praising Sandberg because unlike other feminist “revolutionaries,” she offers a tangible solution to the problem of workplace inequality. Her Lean In Circles are even compared to “book clubs” and “volunteer committees” on partner Mightybell’s website. They are a formal opportunity to “share and learn together as [we] pursue…personal and professional goals.” Sounds familiar. Except Sandburg’s circles come with some mandates: members can only miss two meetings a year and get just three minutes for personal updates at the start of each meeting. I wonder if they get to drink beer?
There is no doubt that women are hard on each other. We criticize and judge each other too much, but we also already create tight-knit communities that support and cultivate strong leaders. Do we need formalized meetings and higher expectations? Do we need one more obligation added to our ever expanding list of community commitments? Can’t we foster intelligent and engaged conversations without three minute mandates and attendance policies? Aren’t we working hard enough at the ludicrous task of ‘having it all’?
I’m not ready to write Sheryl Sandberg off completely. I’ve already suggested that my group read the new book – despite that fact that I’m allergic to self-help. The work of feminism is not yet finished, but we must be thoughtful as we choose our new gurus. Our instincts are strong and the women we lean on are often an already established, important part or our lives. We must continue to honor those connections.