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Of Letters and of Sciences

Welcome! This is a blog about literature and books that are critical to any social discourse: literary, cultural, racial, gender-based. A blog for humanists, scholars, the curious, and thinkers and thinkeresses.



Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead - Sheryl Sandberg

Okay, so don't think that I got sucked into the hype about this because it was all popular and Sheryl Sandberg was one of the CEOs of Facebook----oh, okay, I heard all the hullabaloo about this book (in short, it didn't sound groundbreaking to me--women have been writing books on this for decades, if not centuries), but after I read quite a few reviews taking different stances on Sandberg's conclusions and even accusing her of elitism in some cases, I knew I had to act.


Time waits for no discoverer. :)


So, I plucked this book off a shelf and read through it.


And my review is simple: "meh."


I don't say this because I am disillusioned by a Facebook CEO imparting a workbook-style tome to women in order for them to "get ahead".


Mostly, I feel a mixture of things as I think about this book and my message, as I perceive it.


Firstly, it is laudable that Sheryl Sandberg wants to write a book about women's empowerment in the workplace.


That said, here we go.


I wanted to like this book. I basically want to like any book that has a subject along these lines, buuuuut:


The first premise that I really dislike about Sandberg's book is its title. "Lean In". It's a command; it's almost a chastisement. In her introduction, Sandberg actually anticipates almost all of the criticisms that faced her book when it was received.


Firstly, there has long been a disconnect and a rift in feminist politics between "well-to-do" women who list steps to "breaking the glass ceiling" and women who are middle-or working class, or who don't have the cultural or racial privilege that others do in the ways in which they are able to approach power.


Sandberg recognizes this; this is both to her credit, and, ultimately, to my annoyance.


In her introduction, she writes that she this book is assuming a reader with "standard" (read: middle-class or above) financial resources. She says this.


On one hand, at least she is cognizant of this. She's the 21st century Betty Friedan. Friedan, whose Feminine Mystique silently addressed only middle-class women, did not baldly say that this was her intent.


Sandberg does; and she deserves credit for having a perspective on her own work.


But this is the twenty-first century. We have gone through at least four waves of feminism. We have had Audre Lorde declare that "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" (see link). In short, we've had this discussion in the post-Friedan days that, if we speak only to a certain section of women and act as though we are speaking for all women, we are using the same tools of power and privilege that have been used against women and other oppressed groups in society.


There will be no successful feminism, Lorde and others have said, if we continue to exclude and divide.


So, to any women who are not middle-class, and who do not have ready access to childcare while they work, and who, by the way, may not have jobs that can even remotely lead to advancement in the corporate world, the message of this book seems to be, "this book is not for you".


Yet again, this is another message to a slice of women, billed as a rounded treatise for all women. But it's not.


Other reviews have expanded on this; even Anne-Marie Slaughter's mostly favourable review in The New York Times (she calls the book a "gem") notes this nuance.


Secondly, not to get personal, but as another reviewer notes, not all women are as privileged as Sheryl Sandberg to have live-in nannies and to have the same financial advisors as Oprah.


Sandberg would have been better served to make suggestions available to all women, not only ones who work in a corporate setting. And with some tweaking, it can be done.


But, personally, as someone who plans to enter a non-corporate workforce, I look at the book and say, "So this is not for me?"


There is an assumption that the corporate status of women is the most important. It may be an important indicator, but it is not the only one.


This seems to be a "trickle-down" socionomics to Sandberg's message: "Let's write about corporate women, and maybe the women working low-income jobs will have some benefits too as a result. Or whatever."


I have a problem with this.


Quite a bit.


To be continued...