Sheryl Sandberg's runaway best-selling book Lean In has managed to offend both the Left and the Right. Sandberg touts female hard-headedness, yet also calls for an elaborate government- and employer-supplied support system for women.
Yesterday evening, the Independent Women's Forum (the anti-NOW for conservative and libertarian females) hosted a panel discussion in downtown Washington on the topic of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg's runaway best-selling and highly controversial book Lean In. All four panelists were women, strung along a spectrum of political ideologies. The panel's moderator was also a woman, and the overflow audience of about 230 people was nearly all women.
Lean In, an extension of a TED talk that Sandberg gave in 2010, is a book that has managed to offend both the Left and Right, so its author "must be doing something right," quipped panel centrist Christine Rosen, a fellow at the New America Foundation, senior editor for The New Atlantis, and author of several acclaimed books.
Feminists hate Lean In because, as Republican Party activist Ann Stone commented from the audience, Sandberg "stuck a knife in the breast of [female] victimhood big-time." Sandberg tells women on the job to stop whining about "work-life balance," quit waiting for "mentors" to take them under their wings, and forge their way boldly to the top of their professions on their own the way men do. "Negotiate your salary" and "don't leave before you leave" are two of her catchphrases. Conservatives have their objections, too: Sandberg doesn't think much of stay-at-home and part-time working mothers (they're the ones who "leave before they leave").
Furthermore, although Sandberg touts female hard-headedness, she also, contradictorily, calls for an elaborate government- and employer-supplied support system for women, including paid maternity leave, flexible working hours, and husbands somehow persuaded or propagandized to take over the lion's share of the housework and childcare. As Sabrina Schaeffer, president of the IWF and a prolific writer on women's issues, explained: "There's Sheryl Sandberg 1.0, the Sheryl Sandberg of her TED talk, which is all about self-help, and a lot of women didn't like that self-help message. And there's Sheryl Sandberg 2.0, which is very collectivist."
All four panelists agreed that very few women want to make the enormous sacrifices of time and family life that climbing to the very top of a career ladder a la Sheryl Sandberg inevitably entails.
These propositions made for an entertaining hour and a half, as the four panelists debated whether Sandberg should be taken seriously and how much of her advice to follow. "Women don't like it when men do the housework," noted Sally Quinn, longtime writer for the Washington Post's Style section. Quinn sported a shirt in a lipsticked-lips print: "I wanted to wear something girly," she said. Liberal, but witty about it. Yet a little later, Quinn seemed to be indulging in her own self-contradiction: "I think women are going to rule the world. It's inevitable. We're just more capable than men."
Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, was the only panel member who responded to the question "Who here calls herself a feminist?" by raising her hand. Rosin related her efforts to put Sandberg's maxim "Negotiate your salary" into practice. A neighbor had offered Rosin's 12-year-old daughter $20 to monitor his mail while he was out of town, and Rosin told the girl to go back and ask for more, just to get into the habit. Then Rosin revealed that "the neighbor is Ezekiel Emanuel," Doctor Death Panel! The audience laughed.
Are men and women simply "different," as Quinn asserted? (Quinn quit a full-time job at the Washington Post in order to care for a son with severe learning disabilities, a dying mother, and a husband, now 92, with signs of Alzheimer's.) Or are they "different, but a lot less different than we once thought they were," as Rosin maintained? Can a woman "have it all"? "Oprah has it all," suggested moderator and Fox Business Network journalist Elizabeth MacDonald. "No, she doesn't!" shouted back the panelists. (Oprah Winfrey has never married and has no children.)
Mostly, though, all four panelists agreed that very few women, for whatever reason, really want to make the enormous sacrifices of time and family life that climbing to the very top of a career ladder a la Sheryl Sandberg inevitably entails. "I want to argue that she's out of touch, that she thinks all women want to be like Sheryl Sandberg,” said Schaeffer.
Sally Quinn might have summed the consensus most succinctly: "You should do what works best for you and your husband and your family. No one should tell you how to live your life.”
Charlotte Allen writes about culture and society for a number of publications.