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Facebook exec's new book urges women to 'lean in'

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 7, 2013 at 12:51 pm •  Published: March 7, 2013
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"A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. I believe that this would be a better world," she writes. "The laws of economics and many studies of diversity tell us that if we tapped the entire pool of human resources and talent, our collective performance would improve."

At less than 200 pages, plus a good chunk of footnotes, "Lean In" does not purport to be the end-all solution to inequality. It deals with issues Sandberg sees as in women's control.

"Don't leave before you leave" is one of her catchphrases, aimed at successful women who gradually drop out of the workforce in anticipation of children they may someday bear. "Make your partner a real partner" is another. She says everyone should encourage men to "lean in" at home by being equal partners in parenting and housework.

"Lean In" is, by and large, for women who are looking to climb the corporate ladder (which Sandberg calls a jungle gym), and ideally their male supporters. She hopes it's the start of a conversation. To that end, Sandberg plans to donate all of the proceeds to her newly minted nonprofit, LeanIn.org.

Sandberg's book shares personal details that reveal a fair share of stumbles and lesser-known tidbits. Did you know she was an aerobics instructor in the 1980s —big hair, silver leotard and all? The book paints a picture of an exceptionally successful woman who admits to lacking confidence at various points in her career.

Sandberg writes about the "ambition gap" between men and women in the workplace — that while men are expected to be driven, ambition in women can be seen as negative. She writes about parents' gender-based approaches to child rearing that teach girls to be "pretty like mommy" and boys "smart like daddy," as she's seen on baby onesies sold at Gymboree.

And she writes about "feeling like a fraud" — that insidious notion, felt largely by women but men as well, that success is due not to one's own merit but to some sort of gross oversight or accident.

Sandberg's book comes half a century after Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique," which identified "the problem that has no name" among largely white, suburban housewives who felt unhappy and unfulfilled in their roles at home. Friedan, too, was criticized for focusing on a privileged swath of womankind.

In a recent critical piece on Sandberg's movement, Michael Kazin wrote in the New Republic that, like Friedan, Sandberg, "also seems primarily concerned with the economics of gender. But there's a key difference: Friedan didn't share a view from the corporate boardroom."

Kazin's barbs echo most of the book's pre-release criticism. But some writers have gone further. In a Washington Post op-ed, Melissa Gira Grant dismissed Sandberg's "Lean In" movement as "simply the elite leading the slightly-less-elite, for the sake of Sandberg's bottom line." Dowd wrote that she believes "Sandberg has co-opted the vocabulary and romance of a social movement not to sell a cause, but herself."

In the end, "Lean In" is a call to action to make it easier for women to become leaders. It's a call for women to take space at the table, raise their hands, speak up and step up. It's a personal account of a woman who, through a mix of talent, luck and ambition, but also with plenty of internal and external obstacles along the way, managed to do that.

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem, whom Sandberg thanks in the acknowledgements and cites as inspiration, praises "Lean In" on her Facebook page, saying that it "addresses internalized oppression, opposes external barriers that create it and urges women to support each other to fight both."

She adds that even the book's critics "are making a deep if inadvertent point: Only in women is success viewed as a barrier to giving advice."

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Follow Barbara Ortutay on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BarbaraOrtutay

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Online:

Lean In the nonprofit: www.LeanIn.Org and facebook.com/leaninorg

Video of Sheryl Sandberg's 2010 TED talk that is the basis of her book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18uDutylDa4