I have never had a problem calling myself a feminist. A lot of women do because they don’t want to be perceived of as crazy bra-burning psychos, which is unfortunately how society has sort of pigeon-holed feminists. So, when the buzz started about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, I was a little puzzled that I was not quite as excited as I thought I would be.
“people were pulling from the book what made sense for their lives”
If you’re a female professional these days, Sheryl Sandberg has been thrown into your face for years as the apex of female achievement. I remember when the “news” hit that Sandberg leaves her powerhouse Facebook job at 5:30 every day so she can be with her family. “That’s great for her,” I found myself thinking. It turned out my prejudice was not really about gender, but it was about wealth. Not everyone works for a Facebook-sized company. Not everyone has a husband who is not doing too badly himself. As Sandberg notes in her book, she is “very fortunate.”
As the book reviews came pouring in, I found that people were, as you might expect, pulling from the book what made sense for their lives. Some women became very angry because they perceived that the advice Sandberg was giving was unrealistic for them. Some women were all about it. And men remained fairly quiet about the whole thing.
I decided to read Lean In for myself this month instead of depending upon the reviews I had read for the last year or so, and what I discovered is that the book is far more logical than most reviews would have you believe. Sandberg does infuse the book with her own life’s details, and there are moments in there that are touching for various reasons, but for the most part it is a real life look at what being a woman is like these days. If you stay at home with your kids you are met with criticism because people feel you are not “ambitious” enough. If you are succeeding in your career it’s obvious you aren’t “nurturing” enough. As Sandberg demonstrates over and over, women are caught in a real catch-22, and much of it is because of how women judge other women.
a great read for women, but also for men
A lot of phrases from Sandberg’s book have become catch phrases now. “Lean in” itself has become a widely repeated call. “Sit at the table” has also been repeated quite often. But the real core of Lean In is that women need to grasp what they want for themselves. Leaning in doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to go haywire on your career or your family. Leaning in means manipulating life so that you can live the way you want. This does not just pertain to women either. Men, too, need to learn how to lean in because, it turns out, some men care about their families as much as they care about their work. Sandberg asks those men to be given a break, too.
I think Lean In is a great read for women, but to be honest, I would love to see men gravitating towards it more. Women know the troubles women face to some extent very probably. Men may not even realize that they are also cut by the two-edged sword of sexism. In that way, Lean In could make a big difference for men and women, which is really the way societal change needs to happen. Read it with an open mind though. Drop all of the baggage from past reviews, all of the news coverage, and more. Start with a blank slate as much as possible.
It’s worth your time.