Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook. That makes her smart, right? She’s also the author of a best seller, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Sandberg travels the country, often with other smart women, telling even more smart women to throw off the shackles of cultural expectation, to stand up and say “I Am Somebody,” and to get out there and shift some paradigms. If only American women could stop beating themselves up and hiding their natural leadership gifts under a bushel, why, we’d all be better off. Lean In: to yourself, to your talents, to the future.
“Our economic growth depends on having women fully engaged in the workforce,” she writes in the Wall Street Journal. “Our companies perform better with women in management. And our homes are happier when men and women share responsibilities more equally.”
She seems especially sensitive to being called “bossy,” which in her lexicon is the other “B” word. Doggone it, Sandberg seems to say, all you have to do is put your hands on your hips, look sidelong at life and declare with Sandra Day O’Connor’s pillow, “I’m not bossy, I just have better ideas.”
That’s the ticket. The only problem with America is faulty self-esteem. The only solution? “Lean In” to a career, give it your all, shuck the old values of playing nice, and you’ll rise to the top. She’s even confirmed all of this by asking her women audiences to raise their hands if they’ve ever been called “bossy.” Who could imagine so many women would have borne this silent putdown so patiently for so long, some even jumping up and down while raising both hands!
I’m sure Sheryl Sandberg is a wonderful human being and that she means well. Her injunctions to the women in her world are decidedly softer than the vein-bursting screeds of feminists of the past. But she reminds me of another smart woman, Susan Patton, whose recent book Marry Smart is profiled in the weekend Wall Street Journal. Whereas Sandberg tells women to lean into a career before thinking about marriage and family, Patton says the better advice is to lean in to finding a husband WHILE women are in college. Your whole life will go better if you find the right man soon enough, she concludes.
I’ll let these two have at one another over their contrary views of what it means to “lean in.” For my money, the way America is going to be saved is for some people to begin to lean out.
Charles Murray, he of the scandalous (to liberals) book The Bell Curve, has said that the elite classes, to which Sandberg belongs, have shirked their historic role of modeling successful social roles to the lower classes. These classes have become self-referential and isolated from the middle and lower classes. The elite classes are predominantly liberal and Democratic, educated, and comprise the majority of the urban and suburban technocrats. They are the very kind of people Sheryl Sandberg is, as are most of the women who make up her audiences.
Rich elites have the time, money and social capital to spend their careers “leaning in” to the opportunities and privileges of companies like Facebook. They are the people for whom a bit of self-esteem is the only thing standing between them and their own self-actualization. As Betty Smartt Carter, who reviewed Sandberg’s book, writes: “I see the attraction of Sandberg world: a place where the old gender/work division are nothing but the lingering scent of fields and woods–part of our agricultural heritage. We can ignore those, right? We can all choose to do what we like no matter who we are and what our parents believed fifty years ago.”
Most of the young women in my world have done about all the leaning in they can possibly do. Many are already more ambitious then their husbands, smarter even, and pretty confident of themselves. But they’re facing some awfully formidable obstacles. “Leaning in may be a good thing,” Carter writes, “unless you’re already pulling the wagon toward a cliff.”
The fact is, it is precisely the world created and sustained by the Sandberg-type classes that has become one of the great obstacles looming before much of the young middle class today. The Leaners-In of the superzips have made their concordat with the Obama administration’s class war; they’ve exempted themselves from that war’s assault on the middle class; they’ve thrown their money into the huge pot labeled “The Poor,” but they themselves wouldn’t know a poor person if it were their own nanny. They obsess over their own “authenticity” but haven’t a clue concerning the laws of necessity that govern the twenty-somethings on the other side of Atherton, Evanston and Belmont.
Reviewer Carter writes: “Sandberg’s book is culture-specific to America’s northern and western centers of power. If she lived in my southern hometown, where the calendar is always stuck on 1985, she might have to write a different book: “Lie Down: Women, Work, and the Desperate Need for Sleep After Doing It All By Yourself.”