A Lean In addendum, or why partnering with Cosmo is bullshit

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A few weeks ago, I reviewed Sheryl Sandberg’s lady-empowerment book, Lean In. My reaction to the book was cautiously proโ€”I feel Sandberg has some great points about conducting oneself in the workplace and, for females in particular, not getting caught up in the kind of insecurity that might prevent one from securing a promotion or taking on a new project.

My objections, however minimal, were not to Sandberg’s status as a gainfully employed and happily married wealthy person, someone with the resources and support system to truly balance work and family. (For the record, I find this criticismโ€”that Sandberg is only speaking to fellow rich peopleโ€”off-base, and think people who latch onto it are missing the point. Sure, many of the things Sandberg has done personally to achieve a work/life balance are feasible because of her perch atop Facebook, but just as many of her overarching themes apply to women of myriad financial means. To disqualify a successful person from making suggestions to those of lesser means is senselessly limiting, especially as people like Sandberg are in a unique position to effect real change.)

I’ve also found myself ambivalent about the revelation this week that a Sandberg PR person laid into former Facebook employee Katherine Losse for writing a tepid review of Lean In. Yes, using the infamous “special place in hell” quote on someone who was simply less than thrilled with your boss’ book is a dickish move, but if we’re really going to have a conversation about feminism and gender equalityโ€”the conversation that Sandberg, whether you agree with her approach or not, is attempting to initiateโ€”it serves no one for us to get sidetracked by Internet-fueled cat fights.

But I do have a sizable objection to one facet of the Lean In roll-out, which in addition to Sandberg’s book includes a website, Facebook page (natch), media partnerships and about a zillion public appearances. My objection is this: In a society struggling to move past judgments of females based on their appearance or relationship to men, I find it more than a little hypocritical to peddle your feminist message through Cosmopolitan magazine.

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Sheryl Sandberg wants women to grow a pair

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The woman of Sheryl Sandberg’s world is a timid creature. She’s smart but not savvy, ambitious but afraid to appear so, confident and driven but plagued by self-doubt. She’s wary of participating in meetings, wary of asking for promotions, wary of taking on new assignments. And don’t even get me started on motherhoodโ€”this woman has been ruminating on the work/life balance basically since she learned where babies come from.

For this woman, Sandberg has a wealth of advice, which in its entirety boils down to the central conceit of her book: Lean In. This womanโ€”this hyper-sensitive, underutilized and challenge-averse womanโ€”needs to stop sitting in the back row at meetings, stop taking flak from colleagues, and stop turning down opportunities because she’s unsure about her abilities. She needs to build organic and mutually beneficial relationships with coworkers, and worry less about being liked and more about being respected. She needs to speak her mind with colleagues and bosses, and if and when she decides to throw a bun in the oven, not start sacrificing her career the second she realizes she’s pregnant. She could also stand to snag an understanding, supportive and equally driven husband, who won’t hesitate to pitch in on 50% of the child-rearing and housework. In short, Sheryl Sandberg wants this woman to sack up (which, incidentally, would have been a way better book title.)

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