Sheryl Sandberg is causing quite a commotion! And it has brought some fire to the dreary month of March that I am appreciating. Are you talking with all your people about Lean In and all the articles and conversations that have sprung from it? I am. Just yesterday I had lunch with a pal and we talked about Lean-In stuff the entire time. Last night before bed, my husband and I pillow talked about it, and I believe it was the third night in a row that has happened — so I am going to weigh-in on this Leaning-In conversation here on the old blog for a minute. Now, A LOT has been said on this subject by the likes of brilliant women such as Katie Roiphe, Stephanie Coontz, Anna Holmes, Jodi Kantor and Maureen Dowd — I am a small fish here. And, I am NOT hating anyone. I think everyone’s ideas and opinions are awesome and I am so grateful for them. AND I haven’t read Sandberg’s book yet, so — with those things being said, here I go.
(NOTE: There was once a study at Harvard that said in the classrooms, women tended to preface their statements by saying, “This might sound stupid but,” or “I could be wrong but,” and the men just said what they had to say without apology. I realize that I just did that. Not very Leaning-In of me.)
One: Haven’t I (or, we as women) always been Leaning In? When I hear Ms. Sandberg talking (on 60 Minutes, blogs, TED, Katie Couric, etc) I start to feel badly about myself, like I haven’t been Leaning In enough. Why? I think it’s because I am not a Billionaire. Really. I think it’s money. (I love it when people are super rich, especially women, so don’t take this the wrong way here.) In lower school, when I was struggling to make it through English class, trying and trying to keep up to pass — wasn’t I, Leaning In? In High School, when I worked at the ice cream shop during the summer – just one of the soda jerks (not the CEO) – wasn’t that Leaning In? Wasn’t it Leaning In to apply to colleges? Wasn’t it Leaning In to try to make friendships and have boyfriends and join acting companies and work at the video store? (Again, just working there, not running the joint.) I spent a lot of time navigating more boyfriends and auditioning for 100 movies (that I didn’t get) — the entire time I felt I was Leaning In. I felt I was Leaning In when I got married (before I was “successful”). I felt I was Leaning In when I had babies and brought them to the set with me (I was the 11th banana on a TV show, so it’s not like they built me a nursery — I basically passed the kid to a grip when I had to shoot.) I felt like I was Leaning In when I went with my ex-husband to Ohio so he could further his career. I was Leaning IN!! Then I wrote books and I Leaned-Into them. My point is, aren’t we all Leaning In all the time? The only difference I can see between me and Sandberg is that I didn’t make a TON of money for myself and my family, and because that is true, I now feel like I haven’t Leaned-In far enough. I think that is part of why some women are writing critical essays about Sandberg — they feel they have Leaned-way-the-fuck-In, but the fact is they don’t have a billion dollars to back it up.
Two: On the 50/50 household work spilt with husbands and wives. Slay me if you must, but I think that is rare. Sandberg says the only way to be really successful is if you “get it right” with finding a husband who can do 1/2 of the household stuff. I am not saying that wouldn’t be great, and apparently there are studies that show that if you both chip in 50%, the kids turn out better. But here is the thing, I looked at a list of all-the-house-hold-jobs-that-you-are-supposed-to-split recently published on a big site like The Atlantic or something smart like that — and guess what? My husband doesn’t even do 70%. Did I get it wrong with him? Is that why I am not a billionaire chief operating officer? I think not. My father washed the dishes every night, he cleans the cat litter and does a few other tasks — that is a good showing — but it’s not 50%, not even close. My mother did SO MUCH and she had a full-time job. She leaned way WAY in, but she’s not a billionaire so I wonder if it counts? (Mom — it totally counts, you rock.)
Maybe this conversation is for women in their 20’s? I don’t get what I am supposed to do with it at 43? Say, “Hey Peter, you schedule the piano lesson– okay bud?!?” Maybe actually, this conversation should start in 3rd grade — but I went to all girls schools my whole life where they chanted, “You are just as smart, just as powerful, just as strong, and have just as good leadership skills! You CAN DO IT!! LEAN IN!!!” They may not have yelled “LEAN IN” but they might as well have. And you know, they were wrong. I leaned In and In and In, but mostly found that life is pretty sexist, men get paid more money, they get listened to instantly even if they are saying something thoughtless, and my wonderful male friends barely do any housework while their working, brilliant wives (or actually not, most of them stopped working to raise children even though they received had law degrees and clerked for Supreme Court justices) do most. And now as an adult I find, that after thinking I was Leaning In, and becoming sort of successful, I don’t feel like I really have because I haven’t made a billion bucks like Sheryl Sandberg, bless her. It’s not that we all haven’t Leaned In, it’s that we are not billionaires.
Isn’t it that the world that’s broken, not us women? Some other smart-woman-writer wrote that too recently. Who is supposed to be Leaning In here? Us or them?
I have a friend who I ask a lot of advice of. He usually responds, “Lean into it with love.” Maybe that is the kind of Leaning-In I should be focusing on.
Although it is fun to think about all this other stuff.