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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

When the “A-ha” is Not Enough: The Problems With “Leaning In”
March 20, 2013 - 8:22pm

I was working on my laptop (as usual) while my children played around me. They were dressed up in play costumes, started marching and kept referring to each other as Susan and Elizabeth. When they started chanting “Women should vote,” I realized, of course, they were playing 1st  wave feminist movement (don’t you love the nerdy games of professors’ children?). I’ve been reading Sheryl Sanderberg’s new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and watching the COO of Facebook on television call it a “sort-of -feminist manifesto” to inspire a new women’s revolution. I began thinking how the children of the future might re-enact her movement.

Sandberg’s book is full of lots of “A-ha” moments, where I (and I’m sure lots of other readers) recognize what she is talking about. I, too, have cried in front of important people at work and been thought of badly for it. Sanderberg thinks this should have been an opportunity for men to show compassion and everyone to build deeper relationships. She acknowledges the work-life balance challenge although she doesn’t like the label because she is concerned that it makes the two areas “diametrically opposed,” arguing that of course, people will choose life over work (although I can’t help but think how I often feel pressure to choose the latter). Sandberg thinks women needs to stop making limiting career choices in anticipation of having a family because that will ultimately hurt them in the workplace. Her ideas here are backed alternatively by engaging anecdotes and academic study.

Ultimately, nothing she says is really new to me, but I’m glad she’s saying them because I agree it should be no big deal that a father is in charge of making kids’ lunches. I’ve always said that a measure of an involved dad is not that he can change a diaper, but that he’s changing enough of them to always know without being asked to buy more (and what size). In the criticisms of her book, most have focused on what they see as her blaming of women (the victims). I have less a problem with this, as I do not think she is trying to fault women but empower them. If you see the book as belonging in the self-help/memoir area, then it’s all good. My problem is the labeling of this as a manifesto or, even worse, a next Feminist Movement. Revolutions cannot happen by women being told that they need to “lean in” more. The women my daughters were pretending to be recognized that real change happens by dealing with the inherent laws and structures in society that are the basis of inequality. It is not enough to acknowledge that society should have better child-care arrangements. This disturbing map from the New York Times illustrates how behind the U.S. is on these issues. Sandberg may be trying here to tackle gender inequality, but I’m just not convinced you can be “revolutionary-ish.” Generalized anecdotes may lead women, and some men, to say “A-ha,” but what we really need society to say is “no more.”


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