Editorial note: this is the third and final installment of an email exchange about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, ‘Lean In.’ The discussion started off here, and the middle part is here. Thank you to all who chimed in by using the comments function (below each post), or by joining various discussions on Facebook.
From: Kate Gace Walton
Date: Tues, Mar 19, 2013 at 7:17 AM
Subject: “Lean In”
To: Lindsay Moran
Those are constructive questions, and I’m glad you asked them. In large part because I’m not the sort to lead a revolution (43 years old and not a single uprising!), I’m inclined to give those who do stick their necks out the benefit of the doubt, at least at the outset. But you’re right: walking the walk matters, and going forward it will be interesting to hear more about the specific workplace policies Sheryl supports as part of effecting meaningful change. It’ll also be interesting to see whether her message gets beyond a relatively narrow audience to reach, and motivate, a larger base.
Before I sign off, one last thing: thank you for having this chat with me. Not everyone would. It’s very easy to be labeled a “hater” just for raising questions. I appreciate that you barreled forward nonetheless. I, too, despise “The Mommy Wars,” so much so that last year I was moved to write this mini-rant. In that piece, I argued that these so-called “wars” aren’t even real: “A few limelight-seekers aside, stay-at-home moms and moms who work outside the home are not in fact at war with one another.” I still think this is basically true, and that the media manufactures way more conflict, or at least a cruder version of the conflict, than real people routinely experience. But I also get that these issues are very sensitive, and that substantive tensions do exist. So, again, it was good of you to enter the fray.
Bye for now,
From: Lindsay Moran
Date: Tues, Mar 19, 2013 at 12:05 PM
Subject: “Lean In”
To: Kate Gace Walton
Our conversation forced me to a) finish reading Sheryl’s book and b) consider it through a lens I might not have otherwise—that of women in the corporate world, be it large companies or small. So, please; I thank YOU!
Your comment about not having led a revolution made me think, “Neither have I, dammit.” Well, there’s one for the bucket list. Announcing one’s intention to lead a revolution is brave indeed, and I admire Sheryl for that, and for the attempt to enact meaningful and positive change for women in the corporate world.
More than anything, I enjoyed your “mini-rant” on the mythical Mommy Wars. (Anyone who drives a mini-van—no idea if you do?—is entitled to mini-rants like that on a daily basis.) But seriously, I think you’re right. Interesting how the media has played up the Anne-Marie Slaughter-versus-Sheryl Sandberg antagonism, which is probably non-existent? No idea, but my guess is that the two women likely have mutual respect for one another and their (albeit differing) POVs.
BTW, I did a sort of random poll of women in my community about Lean In—the book and the movement. I would describe those queried (maybe a dozen-or-so over the past two weeks, some individually and some as a group) as largely upper middle class; all college-educated; some stay-at-home moms; and a variety of working moms—that is, some full-time, some part-time, some work from home, etc. None was that familiar with Sheryl Sandberg—which surprised me of course; one woman had just seen her on the cover of Time, and another said, “Wasn’t she on 60 Minutes?” but the rest had never heard of her or of Lean In.
Obviously none had read the book, but I asked them about their willingness to and interest in participating in Lean In circles. There was sort of a communal groan…and a lot of, “Um, yeah, I don’t have time for that.” When I suggested that such discussion circles might offer valuable negotiating advice for women, as is contained in the book, there was some more groaning; a few eye-rolls; and one woman said, “I don’t feel like I need that.”
May or may not be true; probably we all could benefit from negotiating advice—especially from the likes of someone as successful as Sheryl. But I offer my (very unscientific) research just as something that was anecdotally telling. They certainly scoffed at me when I said I was engaged in an online discussion with one of my college friends about the book, the movement, and the controversy surrounding it. “Um, what controversy?” and “WHO has time for THAT?” (I strongly suspect that they might consider me an Ivy League tool, who has nothing better to do than invent non-existent controversies that are of zero interest to the bulk of American women.) There is some controversy, right? Or is that just the way the media is playing it?
Anyway, as I said at the onset of this discussion, I’m not a “joiner,” and also not sure I really feel this is my battle to fight, but I will watch with curiosity and interest to see how the movement grows and evolves. I’ve always considered myself a quiet feminist—that is, I don’t talk a lot about women’s rights, but I expect and demand equal treatment in all facets of my own life.
I remember when I was in 5th grade, we took a family trip to Europe, mostly because my dad was headed there on business. During this trip, we got to take a hovercraft ride across the English Channel because my father was involved in the design of that particular craft. About halfway across, my father asked my brother if he would like to view the rest of the ride from the cockpit. I was terribly hurt, cried to myself, and later let my mother know how upset I was not to be included in the visit to the cockpit with my brother.
Years later, my mother told me she had never ever seen my father so upset as when he found out my reaction to being excluded, from something he had mistakenly thought I’d have no interest in. He (and my mother) had gone to great lengths to raise us in a “gender-neutral” environment, and he had always taught me to believe there was nothing I couldn’t do. Like Sheryl, I was tremendously lucky to have been born into a household where my voice was equally as heard as my brother’s, and hopes and aspirations for me were just as high. I think many of us who went to school together enjoyed the benefits of such supportive upbringings.
I guess this is my way of admitting that even though Sheryl’s book was not particularly inspiring to me personally, perhaps it will be for many other women. And that would be a very good thing.