Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Lean In and the Feminism Wars

I didn't plan to read Lean In. I figured I was well-versed on the issues it would discuss, and not really in need of motivation, so I'd skip it in favor of my plan to finally catch up on William Gibson's books.

Then I started seeing negative "reviews" by people who hadn't read the book, and some very positive reviews by people who had. I decided I would read the book and see what all the fuss was about.

Well, I read the book. But I am still not sure I really understand what all the fuss is about. I am not going to do a comprehensive review- Laura Vanderkam and GMP both have good overviews. On the whole, I liked the book. It is well-researched- Sandberg had research assistance from Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. It is well-written- Sandberg had a professional writing partner named Nell Scovell. Despite this assistance, I am convinced that the opinions and voice are Sandberg's. She does a good job of interleaving the research with personal anecdotes, many of which highlight times when she herself exhibited one of the self-defeating behaviors she discusses or ran afoul of one of the double standards research shows women confront. She also presents some well-thought out ideas for how to handle the double standards in practice. I wish I had read the book before I had my most recent "lost in the labyrinth" moment.

In short, I liked the book and found it useful. I am glad I read it.

But still, the criticisms keep coming, and I find that I'm more interested in discussing those than in discussing the details of the book itself.

There are a lot of criticisms that focus on class- namely that Sandberg is very wealthy and in a senior position in her career, and her ideas are of little value to women in less senior positions. She is accused of neglecting her nanny and writing solely for privileged women like herself. I think that charge is factually true but utterly irrelevant to the book. Sandberg acknowledges her privilege and the limitations of her book. She has not tried to write the feminist book to end all feminist books. Instead, she wrote a business book for women, with a feminist slant. I can't really imagine how she could have written a book that would be relevant to the wide range of women her critics want her to address.

That doesn't mean someone shouldn't write a book about how women in less exalted careers can navigate the murky waters of sexism and classism. It just means that Sandberg would be an odd choice to write such a book. Honestly, I think that if she had tackled such a book, she would have come across as condescending and insulting. She has neither a relevant academic background nor relevant personal experience. She wrote the book she was qualified to write, and I think she did a decent job of acknowledging its limitations.

She does less well at acknowledging the limitations of her book for women of color, though, and I think that she missed an opportunity to extend her argument in an important way by including race. I'll come back to that in at the end of this post, and even if the rest of this post is too long and rambling for you to read, I hope you'll skip down to the end and read that part, because it is very important.

There are also a lot of criticisms about how Sandberg focuses on what individuals can do to succeed in our current environment, rather than on the structural changes that would help to make that environment more fair. She acknowledges this limitation, too, and actually includes a lot of the research about the structural changes that would help. However, the focus of her book is clearly on what she identifies as the internal obstacles women face, saying "these internal obstacles deserve a lot more attention, in part because they are under our own control. We can dismantle the hurdles in ourselves today. We can start this very moment."

I understand the limitations of this approach- and I have run afoul of those myself, most notably in discussions about men, women, and chores. But I think it is still an approach worth exploring, because those of us whose passions lie in business, science, engineering, and other male-dominated fields don't have time to wait for the structural changes. Even if a magical spell overtook all of our politicians today and they started working to dismantle the structural impediments to my success, most of those changes would not be in place in time to really change my career trajectory. The hard truth is that I'm going to have to figure out how to manage my career in the current environment.

I also think that not every woman is cut out to be an activist fighting for structural changes, and that progress is best made by having both activists fighting for change from the outside and "inside agents" working within the system to try to change it from the inside. I personally am a poor candidate for an activist on this issue, but I think I do a decent job bringing changes where I can from my position of moderate influence in my company. I've ensured that the lactation rooms have network access, nudged hiring committees to consider more female candidates, and helped to hire women back into the workforce after extended maternity leaves. I make it possible for everyone on my team to work sane hours and contradict sexist statements when I hear them.  Maybe this isn't as powerful as agitating for better laws, but I don't think it is nothing. It is what I can do while also pursuing my interests in science and technology.

So I'll admit I've been really frustrated by some of the criticisms of Sandberg's book, particularly since quite a few seemed to be coming from people who had not read the book and were instead working from Sandberg's TED talk, and because a lot of the criticisms could equally well be leveled at the business books written by men, and yet I've never seen those books subjected to such critiques.

I also think it is worth asking: if Sandberg had written a book that focused on the structural issues, would it be getting the same wide readership? Would it be read by as many techie women? I don't know- but I do know that it is a very good thing if some more techie women learn about the research her book does summarize. As the response to the Donglegate affair indicates, there are a lot of techie women who are woefully unaware of some of the double standards that even women have about women who speak out.

I've seen criticisms that Sandberg's book reads like "Women's Studies 101." That may also be factually accurate. I do not know, because I never took Women's Studies 101. I don't know if my college even offered it. I was too busy taking chemistry, biology, physics, and math courses. I had very little time to take other courses, outside of the distribution requirements of my college (which, since I went to the University of Chicago, were pretty extensive). I suspect a lot of female scientists and techies are in a similar situation. A book that summarizes Women Studies 101 in an engaging and readable way is a useful thing for us.

Now that I've had some time to reflect on the criticisms I've read and the book itself, I find myself considering the possibility that the reactions to it- including my own!- have gotten as fraught and tangled up in emotions as the reactions to discussions about stay at home mothers versus mothers in the workforce. I wonder if we are no longer responding to each others' arguments so much as our own insecurities and past injuries.

I am not yet at the point where I fully understand the insecurities and past injuries on the other side of this divide. I suspect that the feeling that women like me are arguing that anyone can succeed, regardless of the structural difficulties, plays a role. I do not ever intend to argue that, but I can see how it might sometime seem that I think that. Beyond that, I do not know- if you do, please feel free to enlighten me in the comments.

This is my blog, though, so I will put the past hurts I feel out there: that there are some in the feminist community who simultaneously demand I pay fealty to them and their priorities while also demonizing women who have achieved some success in the corporate world. They criticize Marissa Mayer for saying she is not a feminist, but then declare that Sandberg can't be a feminist leader because she is a COO. Now, there may be plenty of reasons to disagree with Sandberg and her type of feminism, but saying she is precluded from being a good feminist leader because of what she does? Well, fine. But then does this feminism exclude me, too? At what rank in the corporate structure do I need to hand in my feminist card? Or is it tied to the amount of money I have?  I get the argument for more inclusiveness of women with less power, and I want that, too, but when you start kicking women out for succeeding, then I start to suspect that I'm not welcome, either.

And when you hold only women up to this higher standard for leadership, I see yet another criteria by which I am judged but my male colleagues are not- and believe me, there are already a lot of other criteria that apply to me but not my husband. I want to be clear: I am not saying that people should not criticize Sandberg or Mayer. But when they criticize the female leaders and not Zuckerberg, Brin, and Jobs, then I cannot stop myself from extrapolating to all the criticisms I get that my husband does not. I think about how the question of how much money the workers at our day care center make is laid at my feet, but not his. I think about how people assume that the women who clean our house must be exploited, but do not seem concerned about the men who wash our car. I think about the fact that what I wear to work needs to be carefully calibrated but my husband literally went to work in flip-flops once when he forgot to change into his work shoes.

It may be that my personal reactions are preventing me from engaging with the true arguments in these pieces. Actually, I'm 99% certain that is true. I am so personally hurt and frustrated by watching these feminists hold powerful women to a different standard than they hold powerful men that even though I can understand on an intellectual level why that might be, on an emotional level I need to stop listening. It is getting in the way of me doing what I need to do: pursue my career, reach for success, try to do the "right" thing on my own microscale at work, parent my kids, and just be happy with the life I have.

One of the things I love about social media is the way that I can open myself up to a wide range of viewpoints, almost passively. Just by following people on Twitter and via blogs, I can learn about how people with different backgrounds and priorities approach issues, and I can grow from that. But I have decided I have to stop listening to the feminists who seem to disapprove of me, at least until I have more confidence in whatever power I have in the corporate world and how I use it. I have enough other sources of anti-support in my world, telling me I'm parenting wrong, or working wrong, or not spending enough time with my husband, or ignoring my friendships, or wearing the wrong clothes, or feeding my kids the wrong food, or whatever else I am doing wrong these days. All of these things, incidentally, that no one seems to tell my husband to worry about. I don't need to be told I'm being a feminist wrong, too.

None of the above means that I think Lean In is a perfect book, or that it is above criticism. In fact, as I mentioned above, I was disappointed in how it handled- or really, didn't handle- race. Sandberg barely mentions the way that things are different for white women and women of color. I don't know if she is personally clueless on this, decided she couldn't do the subject justice, or if there is some other reason for the omission. Whatever the reason, it was a huge missed opportunity. Sandberg has her audience all warmed up and ready to think about subtle inequalities and biases of which we are probably unaware. Even if she did not feel that she could adequately handle a discussion of the similar problems with racial biases, she could have given a short summary of some of the research and referred us to other books for more information. But if she does that, I managed to miss it.

Along those lines, Tressiemc has a wonderful piece up about how Lean In is not for her. I urge all of you to go read it, and really think about it.

When I read the book, I saw the problems Tressiemc raises, even though I saw them imperfectly, through my own haze of privilege. I think I have failed to make that clear at times when reacting to the critics of this book. In fact, I may well be one of the "Sandberg pushers" Tressiemc is referencing- although I honestly did not intend to do that. I was looking for someone smart to have read both the Kate Losse's piece in Dissent and Sandberg's book and tell me whether I was missing something or if the Dissent piece did in fact take quotes out of context and distort them away from their intended meaning. I saw Tressiemc and AskMoxie discussing the Dissent piece on Twitter and thought- hey, two smart, articulate women! Maybe they have read both and can tell me what I am missing. So I asked them if they'd read the book. In retrospect, I can see how tiresome my question must have been, particularly for Tressiemc who doesn't have any history with me at all. I was just yet another earnest white women trying to tell her to read this book that was not relevant to her. I am sorry for that- but also not so self-absorbed to think I was the only earnest white woman to pester her about this. And I am glad she wrote her post, so if my social awkwardness on Twitter had any role in that, I guess it is a net positive for the world.

(I never did find someone who could help me see whether or not I am being unfair in my assessment of Losse's piece, and I can't get past the gross distortions I see in her textual analysis to really engage with her argument. But I think I can live with that, and just move on.)

Sandberg may have missed the chance to teach her readers about racial biases, but that does not mean that I have to miss the chance to learn. I think that I could use a similar primer for racism in the workplace. I am confident I would recognize direct racism, but although I am aware subtle racial biases exist, I am not confident that I recognize all of the biases that might be lurking in my subconscious. So I decided to go looking for things to read on the hurdles people of color face in the workplace. This will be an ongoing project. I do not have a Stanford sociologist on staff to do my research, after all.

I started with a Google search, and found a few good things:
And Tressiemc's post references a book that I will read: Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America, by Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden.

I'll no doubt blog about what I learn. If you have other books or articles that I should read, feel free to leave them in the comments.

And now I think I am done talking about issues for women in the workplace for the time being. But before I leave the subject for awhile, I welcome your comments on any of the above.

As always when I discuss a potentially sensitive topic, I ask you to be respectful to other points of view, and remember that I have a day job and that the policy at my work precludes me commenting or moderating much during the day. You always are, so I'm not sure why I still feel the need to put this disclaimer. But I do, so here it is.


  1. Anonymous10:00 PM

    So... does "Winning" talk about race? Or endangered tree frogs?

    As #2 was saying today, "We try to fight the patriarchy, but some of us are IN SO DEEP!"

    A lot of these negative reviews are essentially saying that women who are privileged (by success, for example, or class or skin color etc.) shouldn't be allowed to speak. [We've heard that argument before on pretty much every issue dealing with women.]

    Instead of saying, "No, but," it's a good opportunity instead for feminists to say, "Yes, and also..."

    In that respect, yes, race is also a problem. Race is such a big problem that it can't be tackled in a slim little volume full of personal anecdotes. I was once asked on an interview if I could teach a class on "Race and women in the economy" and I said no, those are two separate classes. They have separate readings, theories, and textbooks. Yes, there's some overlap, just as there is in most of labor economics. Would adding a chapter on race get anybody who has decided the book isn't worth reading to read the book? Probably not. She would probably get attacked for daring to bring up the subject, given that she's a privileged white woman and what can she know. Just like she's attacked for being against choice feminism when she clearly states she is for it. (Textbook rec: Race and the Economy. Video rec on health disparities: Unnatural Causes. Recent famous paper showing racial discrimination against blacks: Bertrand and Mullainathan. I can dig up some more resources tomorrow if I have time in my office, though, like my women stats, they're about 10 years out of date. But the bottom line is that blacks have it worse than white women do in terms of labor and health outcomes, but everybody has it worse than white men.)

    These statements of "I refuse to read the book because of [insert privilege here]" are chilling conversation. If she can't talk, then I probably can't talk either, nor can you. But who can talk? Only the least successful and least privileged? If we're going to play the privilege game, then even the folks complaining of Sandberg's privilege should stay quiet-- after all, they live in the US and other developed countries. That privilege argument is just another way that the patriarchy keeps women (and minorities) down.

    Better would be to add on to what Sandberg has to say. No individual can speak for everyone, but we can all raise our voices and listen to what other people have to say. And we don't need to shout each other down to do it. We can say, "Yes, and..."

    Also, I am not allowed to cry at work. I'm not sure that anyone in a male-dominated field is.

    1. I thought Tressiemc's post did a good job of the "yes, and..." Also, she was discussing people essentially demanding she read a book she thinks is not relevant to her, which I can see would get really old, really quick. She specifically does NOT say that the book shouldn't have been written.

      But I have seen a lot of things that skirt really close to that, and like I say in the post, the piece in Dissent seemed so distorting to me that I couldn't bring myself to read it carefully enough to understand its argument.

      I've been thinking about the crying at work thing. I think I am allowed to do it, but it is damaging and best if I make it to the women's room first. What I am NOT allowed to do is get angry. That has been made 100% clear to me recently, and I am finding I have new wells of self-control. Also that it is a good thing I have a heavy bag in my garage.

    2. Anonymous10:24 PM

      I made the mistake of getting angry at work once. It took almost a full year for the damage of that to get smoothed out. It did though.

      I'm pretty sure I'm allowed to cry or get angry if I'm doing it all by myself in the bathroom. Similarly, a lot of women (including professors) seem to do both in my office. But my office seems to be equal-opportunity for emotional outletting in terms of race and ethnicity (again, including professors). I'm not really sure why me... possibly because I always have a bar of dark chocolate in my desk.

      And no, nobody should make someone read a book. What's been irritating me have been the folks volunteering completely unasked, "I would never read this because [privilege]." I think it would be amazing if a black woman wrote a similar book, but there are even fewer black women CEO/COO/CFOs (even as a percent of population share). And when she does, I am sure she will still get lots of "Can't read it [privilege]" comments along with the race-specific attacks that the patriarchy uses to try to keep minorities down.

    3. Anonymous10:28 PM

      Oh, also, We Are Respectable Negroes is a great source on race issues, though sometimes the author is unconsciously sexist (less so recently). (And who isn't unknowingly -ist from time to time?) http://wearerespectablenegroes.blogspot.com/ There were two posts today and the earlier one is a really nice guest-post primer on how inequality can cause health disparities.

    4. Thanks for the blog rec. I'll check it out.

      I get a lot of people crying in my office, too. I also keep an emergency chocolate source. Coincidence?

    5. Anonymous9:52 AM

      p.s. Instead of angry, now I do either "concerned" or "disappointed" depending on how much I want to manipulate the situation. That Catholic upbringing was good for something. My successful aunts and cousin also have a matter-of-fact "this is how it is going to be and if you don't agree you're obviously incompetent" (something they signal only via pursed lips and the occasional raised eyebrow) thing going. Also very tough skins.

    6. the milliner10:00 AM

      Regarding "yes, and...", this is really what stood out for me after reading your post.

      The fact that opinions are so strong about Sandberg (and Mayer and Slaughter for that matter), seems to say that we need MORE! More public voicing (or more attention to what is being already voiced) about the experience/issues/ideas for solutions for the challenges groups that are oppressed (and their different sub-sets) face. Surely there are common factors, but also many differences.

      Interestingly, I heard a piece on the radio yesterday about Hugh Burnett, an African-Canadian civil rights leader. I was fascinated to learn about this part of our history, but aghast that I was never taught it in school (at least that I can remember).

      We need to keep hearing varied personal stories, as well as discussing the larger context they fit within. It's essential to our understanding and advancement.

  2. I think it's weird that Sandberg's book is getting so much flak as I see it being a more meaty, research-based version of "Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office", whose author I saw speak a few years ago. And everyone seemed to think that book was awesome sauce.

    I think race is too big an issue to be tackled in an extra chapter or whatever, and I'm not sure Sandberg could necessarily do it justice if this is a book with personal anecdotes, etc. (But I haven't read it.) Also, I'm not sure all women of color can be lumped together as having the same problems - my guess is that black women have a very different set of perception/bias problems than I do (Indian-American).

    I'm currently reading a book about work/life/whatever that specifically calls out its privilege and says that the book is for a very small subset of the working female population. They spend an entire couple of pages talking about who the book is for and not for. I guess that's what it's come to these days...

    1. Sandberg does spend quite a bit of space caveating who the book is aimed at. So yes, I think that is what it has come to. In some ways, that is helpful, so it is not an entirely bad thing.

      You are right about the different problems for different races, of course. One of the articles I linked to has something about that, but now I can't remember which one. I plan to try to find something specific for each major racial group I am likely to encounter as a manager. There is one group I need to start with, because I have a member of that group reporting to me. But I don't want to say which one, for confidentiality reasons.

      So lots of reading about race in my future! But good timing, because we are just starting to have more substantive conversations with Pumpkin about race. I suspect some of what I read to figure out how to explain things to Pumpkin will inform the work-related reading, and vice versa.

    2. I haven't read the book but the positive reviews have made me curious, even though I'm not aiming for the top and never have. I also never read business books my male CEOs so it's equal opportunity lack of interest. I agree with Anandi though that race is probably too big and a separate issue for Sandberg to tackle. It is different for Asians, Indians, Blacks and Hispanics so all minorities cannot be lumped in together, and I'm glad that Sandberg doesn't try. I think it is her right to write from her personal experience.

      As for privilege, I don't know her background but if she came from a middle or lower class background, I would find that more relate-able than if she already came from upper class privilege (and the same goes for male CEOs). I guess if they started with a financial handicap, I think it's more inspiring even the person ultimately ends up priviledged.

    3. Sandberg comes from what I'd consider the professional middle class. Her father was a doctor. As others have noted, her mother stayed home but also did a lot of volunteer work. Some of the parts of the book that really struck me were when she described how lost she was when she first arrived at Harvard. I remember very similar experiences from my first quarter at the U of C.

  3. Wow, there's a lot of territory in this post, where to begin? Let me just say good for you @Cloud: you've mentioned being a STEM person you've sometimes found some of the feminist academic theory perplexing, and I commend you for having a growth mindset and pushing past your pain as you try to bridge the gap between the theory and your own lived experiences. Even academic peeps who know the jargon still struggle with that, and yes, we all have our -ist moments to overcome. I believe there's honor in these struggles.

    I'm with @nicoleandmaggie - Sandberg would be absolutely pilloried for daring to bring up the subject of race, "given that she's a privileged white woman and what can she know?"-esque criticisms she'd be subjected to, and of course given the huge "we're all colorblind" myth and taboos in the US against whites talking about racial issues.

    A good first reference for laypeople re: how to have conversations about race is "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum. For whites who begin to learn about systemic racism by finally identifying it in their own lived experiences, Dr. Tatum discusses how, because of the conflict with their self-image as a good, fair person, they often try to turn away from the responsibility of racial advantage. Some become frustrated and antagonistic in their retreat from shame. Some try "to escape Whiteness via people of color" by having friends explain to them or vouch for them--which problematically places the burden of fighting racism back onto people of color.

    On that note, one individual cannot be asked to speak for and represent an entire race of people, obviously. Sometimes well-meaning whites who do not wish to offend become overly deferential towards the voices of people of color in a way that is at once condescending and reveals their own discomfort with talking about race - as if they're afraid to really consider and engage with the arguments the person of color is making: if I disagree with what this smart person of color is saying, then am I a racist? This is part and parcel of the taboo against Whites talking about race and trying desperately not to offend - it silences the whole conversation and the learning. Dr. Tatum suggests that "the resource which [a White person at that stage] needs most at this point are not people of color, but other Whites who are further along in the process and can help show him [or her] the way."

    I think the real feminist questions we must ask w/r/t the chilly reception of "Lean In" are, How the hell did high corporate achievement become defined as exclusively anti-feminist behavior? What is it about the wider culture that reinforces the notion that becoming a COO is an exclusively patriarchal domain? An oppositional feminist identity discouraging female corporate achievement is not inevitable even in a racist and sexist society, so what gives?

    One more thing - why do you feel the charge that Sandberg is "accused of neglecting her nanny" "is factually true"? What actual proof of this vaunted "neglect" can you offer?

    As you yourself have said so eloquently on my blog before: "I've come to think that this 'you're exploiting the people you pay to help you' theme is just the liberal version of 'a woman's place is in the home.' Two sides of the patriarchy."

    1. Hush, I don't think Cloud means "neglecting" as in "treating poorly," but as in "this book is not written for someone in the same socioeconomic (I hope that's the right term) class."

    2. Yes, Amanda has it right- I meant that Sandberg neglects to discuss her nanny's career. She does- her book is pretty much exclusively about women in professional careers. But I don't see a problem with that.

      I don't know how Sandberg actually treats her nanny- none of us do. I do not see it is problematic that Sandberg and her husband HAVE a nanny, as long as said nanny is treated fairly.

      Thanks for the book recommendation and good pointers.

    3. Got it. Yes, and of course, none of those non-reader critics include the possibility the nanny does not wish to have their name and/or career anecdotes publicly discussed in Sandberg's book. Or that there might be any number of valid personal and security reasons for not naming her children and household staff members in the book. But, alas, no benefit of the doubt for Sandberg. Yet again.

      I've read the book and I completely disagree with the claims that there is supposedly nothing in Sandberg's book for women who work outside the professional and high SES classes, even though they are not her stated audience of "women who want to gain entry to the C-suite". The advice in the chapter on negotiating at home is by no means limited to folks in the ivory tower, and I thought Sandberg also bent over backwards to be inclusive of SAHMs (she genuinely respects her own mom who chose to SAHM).

      I keep noticing there are few criticisms of this book to share from 1) people who have actually read it and 2) people who believe true feminists can lead in corporate America and 3) someone who is NOT an ex-FB employee with an axe to grind.

    4. Anonymous9:23 AM

      "What is it about the wider culture that reinforces the notion that becoming a COO is an exclusively patriarchal domain?"

      There are types of feminism where this is absolutely true, that want to throw out these structures completely, but it isn't true for liberal feminism, which is a more mainstream type of feminism. nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/on-definitions

      So I dunno, this shutting out is analogous to whether or not it's ok for Marxists to completely shut down discussion with liberals, democrats, moderate republicans, compassionate conservatives etc. (who want to level the playing field rather than building a new field) because their goals aren't "pure" enough. And if, when they shut down discussion, if it's ok for folks from other parties to ignore them.

      And another worry is: given the many types of feminism, who represents the face of feminism to the public? If it's the kind that shuts down conversation rather than encourages it, then that may be a problem for women and society as a whole.

    5. I think there is a certain strain within some academic and think tank/essayist circles that has a strong distrust of all things corporate. Maybe because they have no direct personal experience with working for a for profit company? Maybe some of that spills into these discussions about Sandberg.

      And that's not even considering the people who come right out and say they think capitalism is morally bankrupt- and by extension, so are companies, and anyone who has power in a company.

      I obviously don't agree with those positions, but I sometimes find myself reading things by people with those positions either because I agree with or am intrigued by other ideas they have or because I do try to read things I outright disagree with from time to time, as a way of challenging my own opinions.

  4. It's on my list; at first I was frustrated by it, and then I realized that not only had I not read the book, but neither had the bloggers and columnists who I was reading.

    I don't think you can effectively comment on something based on what you think it might say--so I stopped reading them. But I do want to read Sandberg's book and see what she has to say.

    My continued hesitation is based on this: I don't want to lean in. I don't want to be CEO. But that doesn't mean I won't find her book interesting.

    1. I think you'll probably still find the book useful, at least as long as you have some career aspirations. She doesn't really say what "leaning in" is beyond pursuing the career you want.

    2. I think this is the key that is often forgotten and I'm still playing around with what it means for a career I the arts. To "lean in" means to devote yourself to seeing something succeed. Incidentally, I read quite a few stay at home mom blogs that saytne exact same thing- lean in to your role as mother. Put down your phone and watch your daughter twirl. Meal plan and do laundry and greet your husband when he comes home because this is the life you've chosen and it is worth working towards. The message isn't so different, just the packaging. If you want to win in the boardroom or win at domesticity, they both require a tremendous amount of work and passion. Unfortunately, it seems that women have a difficult time seeing other women win, no matter their chosen field.
      I'm still working my way through the book, and much of it doesn't apply to mylife or aspirations, but there is something for everyone to consider, no matter where we want to focus our energies.

    3. @Calee - I'd love any pointers to those blogs you're reading about SAHMs (esp non-religious ones) as I'm making that transition now and it's a bit rough :) Wanted, but rough.

  5. This is a very thoughtful post and you have convinced me that I should read Lean In for myself.

    I highly recommend the following books:

    The second shift follows the lives of white women of privilege in tech and all the lower paid women they rely upon.

    Global Woman follows the lives of women who travel the world to "shift" women's work to lower paid workers.

    Unbending Gender takes a critical look at the structural problems facing working women--mostly in the legal profession--but much of it is generalizable.

    1. Your comment got caught in the spam filter- probably because of the links. Sorry it took me so long to fish it out.

      Thanks for the book recommendations. I will check them out.

  6. Thanks for the thoughtful discussion, everyone! I still wish Sandberg had included a paragraph or two acknowledging that the research shows different effects for women of color, but you make valid points about how fraught it would be for her to venture into that territory. Of course, she's getting pilloried anyway....

  7. Anonymous8:14 PM

    Lean In has given me lots of food for thought - or perhaps self reflection. As in, what kind of mistakes have I made in the past? Do I still make those mistakes? Am I making different mistakes now? Why, exactly, did I lean back?

    After some reflection, I think that Tressie is unknowingly advancing one of the planks in Sandberg's book: We need more women in power. While Sandberg didn't explicitly say "We need more black women in power", it's certainly in line with the book's theme. The theory that "more women in power will create women friendly working environments" can be argued as "more black women in power will create black (*) friendly working environments"

    (*) - I don't think this is the right choice of words, but it's late and my brain isn't firing on all cylinders.

    I'm scratching my head over where one would find a work environment where it's OK to cry. Do such places exist outside the bathroom stall or the parking lot?

    1. I think Tressiemc's point is that it is less damaging for white women than it is for her. I obviously have no way to evaluate that, so I will take her at her word that this is her experience in her work environments.

      I've never worked professionally in an environment that is anything but male-dominated. Maybe in more female-dominated work environments, crying by white women is not such a big deal?

      I think that in strongly male-dominated environments crying is always fairly damaging for women of any color. I do not know if it is more damaging for women of color than for white women. Also, upon reflection, getting angry has been more damaging for me. But it is complicated. Both things totally freak out my male coworkers, but getting angry unsettles them more and seems to cause more lasting damage.

    2. It's also entirely possible that the kind of damage that ensues is different for white women and women of color - that is, that white women who cry in the workplace are treated sympathetically and helped, but the dark side to it is that no one respects them or takes them seriously; they are treated like large children. I don't know. I've also never worked in an environment where it was okay for me to cry or be angry.

  8. I feel some sympathy with the feminists about getting angry about whose voices get heard, whose books get published, and whose problems we talk about. I also think that for some feminists there's a hyper consciousness about class and race that results from an awareness that feminism has historically been pretty bad about taking this into account and making room for other people's voices. Instead, white feminists often ignore or silence women of color and poor women. Feminists talk a lot about why are all the well known feminist bloggers white cis college educated women? It's frustrating. So I think Sandberg got some overspill from that. I also think interestingly that many of the criticisms could have been Yes, and posts easily. I remember one linked by Cloud, I think, in response to the Mayer controversy, about Mayer's nanny? (Was that you, Cloud?) I loved the post, and thought it was a great "yes and" post. You don't have to attack Sandberg to address what she doesn't write about, though it may be possible in order to generate a buzz filled internet conversation, you have to put yourself in opposition to someone else. plus there's the folks you guys have mentioned who just don't think feminists should be engaged in the kyriarchy at all, especially capitalism.

    But even all that said, it makes me tired and frustrated to be told my experiences don't matter because they are not everyone's experiences, and that you have to address every single possible alternative in order to have a conversation. And the whole "let's never offer practical advice to women living in THIS world" is a little maddening to me.

    And I also believe that the *whole* conversation shouldn't be about me, and we should be listening to Tressiemc and all women about the variety of experience and the incredible structural barriers to equality, and we need to make spaces for those voices.

  9. Thanks for linking to my review. Sandberg has written a career/business book, a category which is completely dominated by men. None of these books by men are held up to some standard that requires addressing all historical discrimination and the like. Trust me, Winning (Jack Welch's book) does not say "of course, it was easy for me to become the head of GE because I am a white, well-educated man and someone else was cleaning my toilets." In truth, it isn't easy to reach the top of any field. Of course some folks -- by virtue of race, gender, accident of birth, whatever -- will have fewer odds against them, but the odds are slim for anyone, and people who reach the top have interesting things to say about what it took to get there, and what other people might be able to glean from that. If anything, I would look at Sandberg's book from the perspective that it is addressing women who do have many privileges, and asking what is your problem? Lean in.

  10. Anonymous4:00 PM

    I come from a social science background, so I'm very familiar with the issues being discussed from an academic perspective. I still find the Internet social justice blogosphere a maddening and confusing space. It seems very crabs-in-a-barrel to me... women focusing on tearing down other women rather than finding points of commonality to work on as allies. I feel like these spaces are safer for women to make critical comments, but the end result is that I see John Scalzi receive a lot less heat for his writing about women's issues than I see Jill Filopovic receiving.

    I also think some of the issue with the critiques is that Sandberg's critics engaged with Sandberg's book as though it were in the genre of academic feminist writing rather than in the genre of business book. I think that was a miscategorization. One of the comments I saw about it suggested that Sandberg could have done a better job if she edited an anthology of various women's voices discussing career issues from a variety of ethnic and class perspectives. While yes, that would be quite intersectional and a way to spotlight different voices, that also would be a book Sandberg is in no way qualified to curate or promote. (Nor am I certain anyone would be interested in it if Sandberg produced it... maybe now as a sequel, but people are interested in Sandberg from a "how did you do it" perspective more than a "what do you think about this" perspective).

    I, personally, would like to move to a model where we all start from the point that no woman's voice is overrepresented because that's the truth. I've no interest in listening to anyone's critique if it's main point is "there are too many white, elite women speaking. We need different voices." Yes, we need diverse voices present, but we also need SOME voices present. If space must be treated as a zero sum game, then the people who need to speak less are white, elite men. Those are the one whose voices are, in a sense, a dime a dozen.

    1. Anonymous4:23 PM

      What this anonymous said!

    2. Anonymous7:05 PM

      Aack, forgot to sign with my name. It's Miriam. I'm just too lazy to set up an OpenID. But I don't like actually being anonymous.

    3. Anonymous7:23 PM

      Miriam-- you should totes become a regular commenter at Grumpy Rumblings (our little feminist social-science blog)! We'd love to have you stop by and share your brilliance. :)

  11. Very interesting post. I really appreciate your thoughts on the criticism that is swirling around this book which has seemed out of proportion to me. Having not read it yet myself I appreciate your perspective.

  12. First, let me preface this with the fact I have no trouble with Sandburg's book as business advice, and rather loved her TED talk, actually. But a leader in the workplace isn't automatically a leader in feminism.

    In addition, a given self-proclaimed feminist may or may not fit in with a social-justice proponent's idea of a leader.

    I came to liberal feminism early in life. With a working Mom and a SAHD, some of it was probably inevitable.

    However, I also came to a more encompassing, more Marxist, more radical, and more authentic feminism, as a young adult. (authentic here being "fitting me better" not "more real as a feminist than thou").
    Which of course happened AFTER beginning to identify with anti-racist and anti-classist oppression dismantlement movements.

    In other words, increasing the number of women in the corporate 1% is really not my fondest feminist ambition. Is it a worthy aim? Yes. So is treating kids with polio. Just don't expect me to put it above actually vaccinating kids to eradicate the disease.

  13. (also note I formally apologize for getting the wrong spelling of Sandburg in there. I blame Chrome's spellchecker, which doesn't like Sandberg, despite preferring Weinberg to Weinburg. I really have no clue why it works this way.)


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