LeanI’m a little weary of women attacking other women.  I’m tired of hearing about the “mommy wars*” of the various types, so many that it bores me to reiterate them here.  I would really love to get to a place in our society where women can be whatever kind of women (or mothers, or not-mothers) that we wish to be without feeling the need to circle the wagons every time we make a decision.  For instance, I have a friend who exclusively breast feeds who feels that she doesn’t get enough support.  I bottle fed and feel that I was pressured to breast feed.  We live in the same world, how is this possible?  Because everyone is feeling judged.  And that’s because we are all judging each other, women especially.  And mothers MOST especially.

That is why I picked up Lean In.  Not because I thought Ms. Sandberg was attacking women (although this has been alleged).  I didn’t read any of the negative press about her before I read the book, only heard about it vaguely I passing.  But I have since.  And I’m here to tell you that there are exactly three things this book is NOT about:

  1. Women are to blame for the current lack of female leadership in the workplace
  2. In order to address this gap, women need to act more like men
  3. All women need to work outside the home

Don’t believe me?  Here some direct quotes:

“There are many powerful reasons to exit the workforce.  Being a stay-at-home parent is a wonderful, and often necessary, choice for many people. Not every parent needs, wants, or should be expected to work outside the home. . .No one should pass judgment on these highly personal decisions.” [my italics]

Still on the fence?  How about this?

“Until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don’t have real choice.  And until men are fully respected for contributing inside the home, they don’t have real choice either.  Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives the encouragement that makes seizing those opportunities possible.  Only then can both men and women achieve their full potential.”

The fact is, though she addresses issues specific to women, she’s not talking to just women.  She’s talking to us all.  Whatever we do, whatever our gender, whatever choices we make about work, or family she thinks everyone should give it their all (to lean in).  She expects a lot of us, like a tough as nails boss (she probably is one) or that ouchy friend who tells you what you don’t want to hear (but what you really should hear).

So what is it we don’t want to hear?  I think one of the main reasons that Ms. Sandberg is getting negativity from her book is that she identifies where women can make a difference in their own behavior.  In their own reactions.  People see this as blaming the victim. But in reality, what control do we have in this world, except over our own behavior?  The answer is none.  Change will happen one person at a time.  To quote Mr. Michael Jackson** “If You Wanna Make The World. A Better Place.  Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change.”  We need to control what we can, our own behavior, before we can change anything else.

Society, and men, are not off the hook.  In many parts of the book, Ms. Sandberg clearly identifies bias against women, citing studies that those of us who are students of Organizational Behavior or Psychology know well.   This bias is in men and women and it creates a vast web of obstacles to women in business (and frankly, society).  This is a fact and she doesn’t deny it.  And this set of circumstances informs how women act and react.  It’s the chicken or the egg.  Do women hold themselves back because there are external pressures? Yes.  Are there more external pressures because more women hold themselves back?  More than likely.   The fact is we don’t yet know because we don’t have enough women in power to see an what impact that might have.  But Ms. Sandberg is willing to bet that more women in power would equal more positive change for women.

This is a GOOD thing.  It’s a solid bet.  That doesn’t mean women have to leap into executive career paths if they would rather be at home.  It doesn’t mean that women who work must all become CEOs.  What it means is that we have to clear the path, curling style, for those who WANT to do it.  So they have the means and opportunity to do so.  So that they believe that they have the right to want it, to reach for it and to get it.  So that they don’t feel that just because of an accident of biology that they somehow have to opt out.  That they aren’t good enough.  Or that it’s too hard.  Or not worth it.   Making a path for everyone to reach their full potential is good – for everyone.  It makes happier employees.  It makes happier spouses.  It makes happier kids.

What she is really really saying is that NONE of us should take ourselves out of the running, for any reason, but particularly not because of gender.  We shouldn’t hold ourselves back because of real or imaginary obstacles.  And we certainly shouldn’t do that to others.  She’s saying that we are all valuable as people, as individuals.

Who can argue with that?  I certainly can’t.


*There should be no such thing as a “mommy war.”  There are as many different kinds of mothers as there are individual women.  Of course we all have our opinions and preferences.  But we shouldn’t TAKE A STAND for or against anything.  If it works for you, it works for YOU.  End of story.  As my therapist recently told me “[Parenthood] is a shitshow no matter what you do, so you might as well do what you want.”  Indeed.

**Oh yes, I did.