Having it all…

Sheryl SandburgRecommended 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.






4 thoughts on “Having it all…

  1. I keep finding myself agreeing with Sheryl Sandberg more than I am taking offense. I actually don’t think what she’s saying is all that controversial. When I was working for a big corporation in Utah I was disappointed to see women automatically take on the aura of a secretary than a would-be CEO. And the men didn’t seem to suffer from that complex. I think women should assume their voices matter, rather than nervously wonder if they do. I’ve never really suffered from lack of boldness though…. But with that said, in most of the smaller companies for whom I’ve worked I see strong, hard working, capable women who are leading the charge. So I don’t actually know which scenario is more common throughout America. I only know what I have seen.

    The community grouping thing is an interesting concept. I like my slightly frivolous book club because I love women and I love talking with women. But it might be nice for working women to band together and encourage each other in their pursuits. We get so focused on our own marriages and children it’s hard to focus on the movement. I’m not opposed to it.

    I don’t know, I’m interested to know what other people think. This is a great post and brings up a lot of dormant feminist stirrings in me….

  2. I just bought this book this week. I think it’s important to keep talking about what “having it all” really means, and Sandberg offers another voice for women. I’ll have to start reading it and then let you know what I think.

  3. As someone who is a generation older than Shryl Sandberg, I have tremendously mixed feelings about what I have learned about her work. (I will say I have not read her book, and so I am responding to Sarah’s post as much as to Sandberg) I am reminded of the some of the arguments about feminism in the 1970’s, where poor women of all races of spoke of the revolution sparked by Betty Friedan’s book
    “The Feminine Mystique” as a movement of upper middle class white women who didn’t understand what it was like to be poor and struggling. I always believed that the women’s movement was not about making women more like men… It was not about, or not completely, about obtaining that corner office. For me, the women’s movement was/is about not just individual women attaining power, but also about recognition that the whole corporate structure is one that mitigates against families, against parenthood and against, really, compassion.

    That someone like Sandberg can obtain the position she has is not, actually, a reflection of feminism, but it is a reflection of priviledge. The women most in need of “community grouping” are not the Harvard educated, White House working women, but the women who work at Wal-Mart and still need to get Food Stamps. These women don’t have time for “community grouping” because they are just surviving.

    We will have actually attained something when men see that child care, sexual abuse and poverty are not just “women’s issues.

    I also would like to say that “Having it all” seems to be focusing on the wrong things. No one “has it all”. Successful men often have sacrificed home, family and in many cases, joy , while women who have not attained that “corner office” have sacrificed “success.” What we need is not more women CEO’s necessarily, but rather we need a corporate and societal structure that recognizes both sides of “success” and works to allow more flexibility for both men and women.

    “Having it all” shouldn’t mean leaving your children in care of nannies.. or in mediocre day care so that you can work. “Having it all” should mean that both parents participate in child care and creating a home, and both parents share the financial responsibility for those things.

    It is telling that the United States has less parental leave time and has the worst pay discrepancies between men and women. Women like Sandberg are not affected by those statisitcs, but the vast majority of the women in this country are.

    It’s too easy for a rich, priviledged white woman to talk about “having it all.” especially when she seems oblivious to the millions of her sisters on whom her success is built.

  4. I would like to add a little to the paragraph that begins “it is telling”.. that sentence should read “It is telling that the United States has less parental leave and had the worst pay discrepancy between men and women of all the the industrialized countries.

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