Lean In. No, closer!
I can’t improve on Maureen Dowd’s column in The New York Times yesterday, Pom-Pom Girl for Feminism, in which she takes down Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Lean In will hit the shelves and its website will go live March 11, 2013. Sandberg wants women to think positively about moving up through corporate America’s glass ceiling. She’s pushing to get women meeting monthly in small groups, where we will empower one another “to explore topics critical to [our] success, from negotiating effectively to understanding [our] strengths.” Dowd complains that the wildly successful Silicon Valley exec “doesn’t understand the difference between a social movement and a social network marketing campaign.” Dowd, herself, is inclined to “lean out.”
But me, I’m in favor of leaning in. Closer.
I wholeheartedly endorse Sandberg’s impulse to get women in small groups to recreate a ’70s-style consciousness raising vibe. The issue — now and in the 1970s — is who belongs in the group. The single biggest problem with American women’s attempts to organize for rights over time, from the 1840s to the present, is its inability and/or unwillingness to consider class and race. Our contemporary women’s movement does not need another wealthy, articulate white woman encouraging increased dialogue among similarly entitled peers. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt, Betty Friedan…not to take away from the remarkable achievements of these foremothers, but we’ve got to reconfigure our frustrations and rage so that we are angry on behalf of all women, not just ourselves.
None of us has time to rely on Trickle Down — not in our economic policies, and not in our feminism. Sure, women at the top and women in business generally need better strategies to negotiate for higher salaries and better promotions. But I don’t for a minute believe that by earning these bigger paychecks and securing higher-powered jobs, better-off women will be paving the way for the poorest, most disenfranchised women in the country. They’ll be paving the way for themselves.
If any of us needs a reminder of what women need, here are two, separate examples reported recently:
The Last Clinic, a powerful, short documentary about the one remaining clinic in Mississippi providing abortions
We need to pull together, to lean in closer, so that we are working to ensure that all womenhave what the richest of us have: affordable health care, day care, sensible parental leave policies, the choice to use affordable birth control, access to nutritious foods, safe neighborhoods, and freedom from abuse, violence, and fear. We need to unify as a group so that we achieve these goals. Then, and only then, will the tide rise high enough to lift all boats.
So, yeah, create a software platform that allows social media connections and the formation of consciousness raising groups. Write an algorithm that peoples these groups with members who aren’t like each other in at least three or four profound ways. Set up guidelines to help us tell our stories to each other. We need to listen deeply. And then? We need to get busy on behalf of each and every one of us.