“Lean In To It”

This woman has popped up all over my Google Reader this week.

Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and these days, the subject of a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Sandberg wrote a book called Lean In, which seems to have coined various terms such as corporate feminism, boardroom feminism and, my personal favourite, Davos feminism.

In other words, she’s apparently out of touch with all of us regular womenfolk.

She’s been derided by Jodi Kantor (“places too much of the onus on women who are already struggling to fulfill impossible demands, and too little on government and employers to provide better child care, more flexible jobs and other concrete gains”), Maureen Dowd (although who cares), the Washington Post, Judith Shulevitz and others. Nerve lists the top five problems with Sandberg’s feminism, with the most egregious one being that she’s “a little too perfect and a little too lucky.”

But she has her supporters, and some prominent ones, too.  Arianna Huffington lauds Sandberg’s focus on internal barriers women have, and hopes the book will reignite the conversation about work-life balance. Rebecca Traister praises her willingness to taken on the feminist mantle because Sandberg could, and no doubt will be, “labeled a whiner, a troublemaker or simply a woman. It is to her credit that Sandberg has chosen to announce herself, smartly and vociferously, not only as a woman but as a feminist.”  Katha Pollitt’s review, entitled ‘Who’s Afraid of Sheryl Sandberg’ notes that even though the book does not directly address the circumstances most women face, “you don’t have to be climbing the corporate ladder—or, as Sandberg would call it, the jungle gym—to find her message useful.”  And as Matthew Yglesias notes, even though Sandberg represents a rather elite few, the fact that women don’t have access to top jobs such as President of the United States,  Treasury Secretary, or  being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company means that there’s work to be done at the top, too, and that’s not something that should be ignored.

Jessica Valenti states that the biggest problem with feminism is that

We hold leaders to impossible standards, placing perfection over progress. And a movement that does more complaining than creating is bound to fail.

Irin Carmon writes that women should see Sandberg as “less as a natural enemy and more as a potential convert.”

I’m on the fence here.  While I’d certainly like to see less fighting among women about ‘who’s the better feminist,’ at the same time, I’m not on the side of Taylor Swift who thinks women should never be critical of other women.

I suppose it all depends on how we criticize other women.  If Sandberg was flaunting her privilege and blaming women for their lot in life, I’d be heading up the criticism myself.  But Sandberg seems to be trying to help in her own way, and for that she should be applauded.

Feminism, to me, is about two things: recognizing that women deserve the same human dignity that men do, and that women should be able to do whatever it is they choose to do.  Yes, Sandberg had a much easier time making it to the top because she had access to resources that allowed her to choose whatever path she wanted.  But like the rest of us, she knows that women still aren’t seen as men’s equals.  We need to realize that we’re all fighting the same war.  Sandberg is fighting a different battle than most of us, but it’s a battle all the same.

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