You might want to send the kids out of the room. I’m about to utter the F-word: I’m a feminist. I don’t normally see the need to declare this — saying I’m for equality for women is like saying I’m for breathing.
Usually, my professional colleagues, family and friends share this sentiment. As a poet, I find that I work with as many women as male publishers and editors. The other day, my straight brother (happily) joked to his buds that he “liked being a house husband when my wife works.”
But, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” the new book by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has everyone not living under a rock buzzing about feminism. A half century after Betty Friedan helped to ignite the second wave of feminism by naming the “problem that has no name” in her iconic work “The Feminine Mystique,” Sandberg has become the Friedan of our time. Expanding on a TED talk and other speeches, Sandberg exhorts women to “lean in” – to assert themselves in the workplace and in their life at home. If women want equality – to succeed, to have leadership roles in the workplace – she says they must stop sitting on the sidelines and “sit at the table.”
Until there are as many women as men in top positions in government and in corporations, there won’t be equality in the workplace, Sandberg says without mincing words.
“If current trends continue, 15 years from today about one-third of the women in this audience will be working full time, and almost all of you will be working for the guy you are sitting next to,” she says in a speech at the Harvard Business School.
Like “The Feminine Mystique,” “Lean In” is a wake-up call. It’s easy to feel that there’s no need for feminism in developed countries with women serving in professional roles from astronauts to clergy to police officers to soldiers to NASCAR drivers. Yet, Sandberg reminds us that “the blunt truth is that men still run the world. Of the 195 independent countries in the world, only 17 are run by women.”
Women are earning more college degrees and entering more dominated fields, Sandberg says. Yet, “Despite these gains, the percentage of women at the top of corporate America has barely budged over the past decade. A meager twenty-one of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women,” she writes.
As was the case with “The Feminine Mystique,” “Lean In” should be taken with a large grain of salt. As Sandberg, who is worth millions, acknowledges, “Lean In,” is written from a position of privilege. There are a couple of references to women of color (Alice Walker is quoted once) and one reference to “same-sex partners,” but the book is mainly addressed to elite, white, upper class, able-bodied, heterosexual married women with children.
Critics have piled on “Lean In” like a Beltway multi-car collision during rush hour. “Everyone loves a fight…”Sandberg writes.
I don’t want to pile on. But I can’t help but wonder: How in 2013 can you write a feminist manifesto without including LGBT people? Are there no LGBT people working at Facebook or among her corporate peers? Sandberg must have queer friends — some of whom, I’d bet, are married or have kids.
I doubt that Sandberg is homophobic. In 2012, Facebook received an award from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. In a video message sent to the award ceremony Sandberg said, “I’m thankful that GLAAD has recognized our commitment to helping young people make safe choices.”
Sandberg’s intentions are good. She wants to form a movement of “Lean In” circles where women will support one another in their efforts to achieve equality. But to truly accomplish this, the movement must include LGBT folk.