It's been a quiet spring break around these parts, with the nasty weather conspiring to keep me mostly indoors watching Marx Brothers movies and plowing through three solid months' worth of magazines. (Side note: when did magazines become so impossible to keep up with? oh, right: around the time I started wasting my life on the internet). But in the midst of that feverish whirl of activity, I also found time to read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In.
In brief, it's awesome. I actually and literally don't understand most of the criticism it's attracted, almost all of which seems to have been written by people who haven't read the book: she's blaming women for not getting ahead! She denies there's any need for structural reform! She's denigrating women who stay home or who just aren't that ambitious! She's another privileged white lady who doesn't realize that most women have other problems!
In fact, Sandberg addresses all of those objections pretty thoroughly. Now, I'm also a (relatively) privileged white lady, and I don't have kids, so maybe I just missed the part where Sandberg told women who've stepped out of the rat race that they totally suck and deserve what they get. But frankly, I think those invested in the "mommy wars" (I can't believe I actually typed that noxious phrase) just made assumptions about what Sandberg was probably saying or where her blind spots must necessarily be.
The core of her argument is that structural reform is urgently needed, but in order to achieve it we also need more women in positions of power. Moreover, when Sandberg was in college and grad school, she heard a lot about the external obstacles to women's advancement, but nothing about the internal ones: the ways that women unintentionally slow-track themselves. So that's what she's focusing on.
Sandberg isn't the least bit dismissive about the attractions of staying at home and raising kids; in fact, she spends a lot of time talking about the importance of having a satisfying domestic and personal life and is supportive of whatever choices a woman ultimately makes. But she wants women to have real choices, and while some of those choices are dependent on structural matters outside of their control (like whether their employer even offers a paid maternity leave--as mine, for example, does not), others aren't: whether you have a partner who is willing to fully pull his or her weight at home; whether you're willing to ask your partner to step up; whether you asked for what you needed to be happy at your job, or just assumed it wouldn't be available. I found especially compelling Sandberg's argument that people who are really excited about and challenged by their jobs are less likely to leave.
And maybe most importantly, all women, whatever their economic status or their work-life decisions, benefit when more women are in positions of power. So while no woman should feel obligated to keep working or to aspire to leadership just for the good of the sisterhood, we should all care about making sure those who want to rise can do so. And the more women there are in positions of power, the harder it is to dismiss any one as a "bitch," or "ball-breaker," or whatever: it's the rarity of women in power that attracts the vitriol and the who-does-she-think-she-is?
But to talk about Sanberg's "argument" in some ways misrepresents the book, which, although it's making a serious point, is also warm and generous and extremely funny, with lots of practical advice for negotiating around, neutralizing, and drawing attention to sexism in the workplace and the home. It's also chock full of fascinating research. It's an easy read but an inspiring one, a work of big-tent, unapologetic feminism.
Have any of my readers read it? What did you think?