Sunday, March 3, 2013

knee-jerk feminist

I read Joan Baumberger's post yesterday afternoon about Sheryl Sandberg's new book Lean In.   She rails against it, comparing Sandberg to Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer and arguing that she neglects the needs/conditions of less privileged working women and mothers.  I jumped right on the bandwagon, leaving a comment in which I complained "these two women make me a little ill."   I did acknowledge that I hadn't yet read Sandberg's book, but still... 

Later, I read Michelle Goldberg's, The Absurd Backlash Against Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In'" in the Daily Beast.  Goldberg defends Sandberg as a feminist, albeit one who wants to work within the bounds  corporate culture.  Goldberg acknowledges elitism in Sandberg's argument, but adds, "so what? No book speaks to everyone, and leadership tomes by wildly successful male executives aren’t typically pilloried for ignoring the concerns of immigrant day laborers."

I'm left chastising myself for judging so quickly--and blindly.  Perhaps I'll hate Lean In;  I'm not much for corporate anything, but I should at least do Sandberg the service of reading it before I spout off about who makes me "ill" and who doesn't. 

Which leads me to our capacity as mothers and feminists to second guess ourselves and consequently, to judge.  Both Goldberg and Sandberg address this.  Here is Goldberg:

"Women are conditioned to compare themselves with one another. When we’re not wholly at peace with our own choices—and who is?—those comparisons sting." 

And Sandberg:  "There is always an opportunity cost, and I don’t know any woman who feels comfortable with all her decisions." She continues, "As a result, we inadvertently hold that discomfort against those who remind us of the path not taken. Guilt and insecurity make us second-guess ourselves and, in turn, resent one another."

Yes.  I know what they mean.

For my first eight years of motherhood I was an ambitious graduate student and teacher who spent long days on campus and parented on 4 hours of sleep and buckets of coffee a night.  After earning my Ph.D., however, unfair university hiring practices combined with the extenuating needs of my kids to persuade me to leave my job as an adjunct professor and stay home and parent while tutoring dyslexic learners. 

I made the best choices I could, but still, on a bad day, I can look back at 16 years of motherhood and beat myself up for neglecting my kids during the first eight years and neglecting my career during the second.


Our pursuit of that elusive balance can turn us inside out, and turn us against each other in the process.  

Perhaps my knee-jerk reaction to Sandberg's brand of feminism, without even really knowing what it is, has more to do with a momentary regret that I'm not the one who is COO of Facebook writing my own version of a feminist manifesto for everyone to tear down.

None of that is to say I approve of Sandberg's book.  I'm just thinking perhaps I should read it before I decide. 


  1. I really appreciate this post on so many levels. It is true, we can be so quick to judge ourselves and each other.