“I did what Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's COO, encourages women to do in her book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. In a self-proclaimed feminist movement to address current gender disparities in leadership, Sandberg aims to galvanize women with a call to action to lean in and step up in the workplace. I did step up. I leaned in at staff team meetings, sat at the table and contributed to the dialogue. I explored and pursued research opportunities. I asked for mentorship. I scheduled meetings with key players, and asked for their support and guidance in moving my research career forward. But leaning in has its limitations for women in the workplace, and especially for Latinas. When Latinas lean in at work, they are often examined through a lens blurred with ethnic prejudices, and socially prescribed roles and expectations. God forbid she has a Spanish accent... More than once, a lost patient or hospital staff wandering down the hall came to my office door to ask for direction. "Are you the secretary?" they would ask. "No, I'm Dr. Perez, how can I help you?" I'd reply. My title was often met by a subtle facial expression of surprise. My bachelor's degree from Columbia University and Ph.D. has raised questions on the role that affirmative action must have played in my academic achievements. In her memoir, Justice Sonia Sotomayor describes a moment when her academic merits were credited to affirmative action, despite graduating summa cum laude from Princeton University. This perpetual attribution of Latinas' achievements to tokenism is real in the workplace, and underestimates what accomplished Latinas bring to the table. An assertive Latina at work risks being seen as "difficult" or "opinionated." A confident voice level makes her "confrontational" or "loud." We are expected to be nice and supportive, and less so leaders. These social perceptions and ethnic biases form an important part of the organizational barriers that women, and especially ethnic/racial women, face in the workplace. This, of course, is in addition to the organizational culture and policies that are blatantly gender biased when it comes to promoting women leadership.”—Angélica Pérez-Litwin, “Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ Message Not Enough for Women, Especially Professional Latinas,” Huffington Post 3/18/13
i thought i disdained sheryl sandberg's ideas but actually "lean in" is really inspiring
I had no interest in reading Lean In, because I had seen Sheryl Sandberg’s TedTalk and figured I got her point. I just didn’t like it.
And that point was: women shouldn’t scale back their ambition because they might have kids someday. Instead, we should lean in to our careers, because we don’t know if/when we’ll have kids. Also, the world needs more female leaders, and it’s up to us.
It all seemed annoyingly preachy, like Michael Phelps telling us to train harder for the 400 i.m. without asking, “Hey, do you even want to swim?”
“The reason I don’t have a plan is because if I have a plan I’m limited to today’s options.”—Sheryl Sandberg profiled in The New Yorker
“The initial, heedless reactions to Ms. Sandberg’s book spoke to a larger problem, namely the pressures that the twenty-four/seven hamster-wheel pace of the contemporary media puts on writers: to speed up rather than to slow down, to shoot first and ask questions later, to create drama, and, sometimes, to operate from a place of bad faith and fixed biases. ”—Anna Holmes weighs in on the backlash to Sheryl Sandberg and her book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”: http://nyr.kr/12p6dcR
“From the 'Lean In' pushers who demand I read the book to understand how great it is or to decide that I am justified in not reading it, I am told that Sandberg deals artfully with the limits of her advice. I am told that she is clear that she has privilege and I am told that knocking down a successful woman for writing the kind of business books men write all the time is some sort of violation. I do not accept that it is my responsibility to authenticate my disinterest. I also think Sandberg will manage without the support of one low-status black woman. Sandberg doesn’t have to attend to things I care about like race, class, inequality and capitalism. But when she does not then you must understand why I mostly tune out all those imploring me to lean in. An “anti racist” scholar in Canada took me to task of my criticism of Slaughter’s Having It All thesis awhile back in an online forum. She said that I can no more expect Slaughter to speak to my feminist concerns than I can be expected to speak of Slaughter’s. That gave me pause. I think I have determined how I would respond to that criticism as it relates both to Slaughter and Sandberg. Basically, so what? Privilege is about never having to critically engage the realities of others. So what if the threshold for clearing my litmus test for relevance adds an additional burden for those in privileged positions? If the burden is so great, I am always willing to trade my privilege for Sandberg’s. It is not fair but I do not think I am arguing for fairness. Fair ignores the reality of structural inequality. Fair supposes that Sandberg and I are peers. And while I thank you for the back-handed compliment, you and I both know that is blowing smoke up my arse. We are not peers. We are not equals. Expecting some arbitrary 'fairness' index in our engagement of ideas effectively reproduces our respective unequal power relations. Sandberg should have to work harder to earn bona fides in my feminism because she needs my kind of feminism the least. Wealth and privilege inoculate her from the job insecurity, poverty, and isolation that other women work to provide through feminist ideals and labor. They have less time, fewer resources, less attention to be divided across concerns with concrete implications to their actual livelihoods, if not their very lives. Running a multi-billion dollar company is, without a doubt, stressful and time-consuming. But when Sandberg drops a ball her children likely will not go hungry. That difference requires, from me, a different litmus test for relevancy. I am arguing for relevant cultural work that contributes to a feminism that is not all about privileged women.”—
Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd)
This is an excerpt from her essay Lean In Litmus Test: Is This For Women Who Can Cry At Work?. It is truly exquiste and perfectly encapsulates my feelings, thoughts and perspectives regarding Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, and this particular brand of feminism that some have referred to as 1% Feminism (no pun intended, I think…)
This book is NOT for me. Sandberg was not thinking about anyone even remotely like me when she wrote it. What is NOT okay is the presumption that this is some sort of feminist pathway for all women. To me, it is a work-life advice book for a particular sliver of women in the way that Seth Godin writes modern marketing and business advice. It won’t replace any bell hooks on my shelf, is my point. It’s not for me.
As Tressie points out in other parts of the essay, it may be for women who can cry at work, as she writes: “Crying at work is a euphemism for the myriad ways in which black women are sanctioned for demonstrating behavior from which white women benefit.”
Again, this book is not for me. And that is okay. I hope people will stop demanding that I worship this book sometime soon.