Review: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg


I’m not so much anti-capitalist as I am anti-businessman. I just don’t know what they do all day, in their offices, and their gray suits. I finished Lean In a couple of days ago, and the part that sticks with me the most is the part where Sandberg discusses the hours in her workday, as a working mother. She talks about how she used to work twelve hour days at Google as a rule, but now, as a mother, she makes it a rule to be at the office from 9 to 5, so she can be home for dinner with her kids. She spends, like, the next two pages talking about how controversial this was, how worried she was her colleagues would judge her. She validates this schedule by talking about how she’s always working even when she’s not in the office; she’s constantly emailing (another reason I don’t trust business people–they’re always emailing, but it’s like, about what? What’s so important that you have to be constantly emailing about it?), she works even after she puts the kids to bed.

So here I am, thinking: Wait. Are people really going to expect me to work twelve hour days? Am I going to have to stay up until 1am emailing to make up for the lazy decision to work 9 to 5? I was missing the point of Lean In, but I was also coming upon the realization that while there are some tidbits of wisdom every woman can use in it, it’s not a book that’s really meant for all of us.

Some of us can’t imagine working twelve hour days in an office building because we don’t want work to take up so much of our life. Part of reading Lean In made me realize I had to own up to the fact that I just don’t want an impressive job so much as I want a job with a normal schedule that allows me to have time to focus on what I really want to be working on–my writing, and my cat. Sheryl Sandberg is a clear type A, workaholic person. I think she’s very admirable, but we’re not all like that.

I hate business. Maybe part of the reason I hate business is because it’s male dominated, and whenever a world is male dominated, it seems wildly unattractive to me. Business, sports, government. Gross. So you’d think I’d like the vision Sandberg has–making every industry 50% women. And, yeah, I do. “Lean In” the message is totally meant for me. I fully intend to lean in to a bunch of crap about my life, especially my career, and this book inspired me to do so. But Lean In–the book–not completely meant for me. Not because it was boring; it wasn’t. Lean In isn’t completely meant for me because I don’t really want to rise into equality in some male dominated professions. I’d rather dismantle them. I don’t want to be a venture capitalist. I want a venture capitalist to explain to me what exactly it is they even do, and then I want to banish them from my worldview, because a life spent in gray suits emailing for twelve hours a day is so extremely distasteful to me. I can’t even bear to think about it.

This, I know, is because I was educated as a woman. I was taught to like kitty cats more than math. It was done on purpose to keep me unequal. But–you know, cats are just better than math. It’s just a fact.

I’m being facetious. I find business inherently boring, so I don’t see in Sheryl Sandberg a woman to want to emulate. She’s brilliant and some women will find a hero in her and I think that’s fantastic. There are other women, though, who Lean In probably won’t completely resonate with, either–I’m thinking of women living in poverty, women of color, trans* women. I could not forget where Sandberg is coming from, what made Lean In not enough for me to become a working women’s manifesto. Sandberg is Harvard educated, and discusses a plethora of mentors and employers that guided her to where she is today. Not all women have that. A lot of women have nothing but resistance, and not just for their sex. I don’t think Sandberg discussed her career trajectory to make it seem typical–she does concede at a few points in the book that not every woman has the same opportunity. I just wish there was a bit more discussion of the way class, race, etc also hold women back in their career. Leaning in a little bit, being a little more confident, may help me in my career as a white women, but will it help to the same degree for women of color?

I think we live in a time where no feminist text can truly be a manifesto. We’re post-manifesto. That’s good, because I like to read a lot. I love that books like Lean In are being widely read. I just worry about the books not being read, and the stories not being told.