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The Work-Life Balancing Act, Again
June 24, 2013 8:58 AM   Subscribe

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?,” Sandberg asks women in the opening chapter of Lean In. She obviously does not work in journalism (as my wife does) or academia (as I used to), let alone manufacturing. The question for most American women, and for most families, is much simpler: “How do I survive?” Sandberg’s book has been compared with feminist classics like The Feminine Mystique, but it really belongs in the category of capitalist fantasy, a tradition that originated with Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help and was popularized by the novels of Horatio Alger. The success of Lean In can be attributed, at least in part, to its comforting espousal of an obviously false hope: that hard work and talent alone can now take you to the top. This is pure balderdash, for women and men. Class structures have seized to the point where Denmark has more social mobility than the United States. The last myth to die in America will be the myth of pluck; Lean In is the most recent testament to its power.
posted by barnacles (70 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Every infuriating thing I know about the technocratic elite I've learned from metafilter.
posted by Halogenhat at 9:08 AM on June 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


A reasonable counterpoint from ThinkProgress.
posted by yoink at 9:10 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"For the Boomers and members of older generations, a married couple’s decisions about work were ultimately questions of power. For younger generations, marital decisions boil down mostly to money."
posted by bonehead at 9:18 AM on June 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


The essay has a little bit more going on for it than just protestations about class mobility. It's focus is much more on how men are being omitted from the "trying to have it all" discussion, when they really have a role to play as well.

A possibly better (& much longer) pull quote:

When it comes to work-life conflict, the study found, about half of all working parents say it is difficult to balance career and family responsibilities, with “no significant gap in attitudes between mothers and fathers.” Perhaps this is not surprising, given that mothers’ and fathers’ roles have converged dramatically in the past half century. Since 1965, Pew reports, fathers have tripled the time they spend with their children....

Meanwhile, women’s rise to economic dominance within the middle class continues. Since 1996, women have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men, and last year they started earning a greater number of master’s and doctoral degrees. It is an outrage that the male-female wage gap persists, and yet, over the past 10 years, in almost every country in the developed world, it has shrunk....

What isn’t changing is that top leadership positions remain overwhelmingly filled by men. “As the 99 percent has become steadily pinker, the 1 percent has remained an all-boys club,” Chrystia Freeland pointed out last year, in her book Plutocrats. According to the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap” report, women around the world hold a mere 20 percent of powerful political positions. In the United States, the female board-membership rate is 12 percent—a disgrace.

posted by Going To Maine at 9:21 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a really hard time following that article and I'm still not sure what his main point is. It sounds like "but what about men! what about husbands!" and I'm sure that's not it, it couldn't be that a man's contribution to a discussion about issues women face would attempt to redirect the conversation to how men are affected. Could it?

It's focus is much more on how men are being omitted from the "trying to have it all" discussion, when they really have a role to play as well.

On preview, yep, I guess it could.
posted by headnsouth at 9:27 AM on June 24, 2013


Of course the myth of bootstraps is tough to kill here. We're suckled on the teat of the Rugged Frontiersman Doing It For Himself and refuse to look at that myth long enough to even acknowledge that the Rugged Frontiersman archetype benefitted massively from government spending, from the Louisiana Purchase to the cavalry patrols and network of forts that made travel at least somewhat safe to the genocide campaigns against the various native tribes.

But everyone on top is invested in propagating that myth and, worse, it seems like a significant percentage of them buy into it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:29 AM on June 24, 2013 [26 favorites]


An interesting article with several points in it that ring true for me at least, and for many people I know, especially on the intersection of feminist, family and economic concerns. If I can wax pretentious for a moment, the cultural logic of neoliberalism has invaded every aspect of life: it puts a relentless pressure on anyone in the developed West to conceive of themselves in neoliberal terms, i.e. to seek to be more "efficient", to operate as an entrepreneur, to be blind to their connections with others (and in particular their hard to quantify but essential debts to others) and to adopt the artificial cheeriness of customer service and the "good office colleague", relentlessly accommodating and upbeat, with nobody to blame but themselves for any failure. This is, in part, a sort of self-denying morality that women have had to endure for a long time, although it has been purified of any explicit gendered element.

In any case, it represents a gigantic denial of both reality and human intelligence. It says to any intelligent adult - "who are you going to believe? me or your lying eyes?" Because the truth is life is unfair. Bad luck strikes us all at unexpected moments. And yet, look at the effort that businesses and corporations and their slavish and well-cossetted representatives put into denying that simple, horrible fact. We are told we cannot come together to use the state to provide us all with a basic standard of security and healthcare. If we want that, we are bad. For trying to set ourselves free of want, we are told we lack independence. For taking it upon ourselves to defy bad luck, we are told we lack responsibility. And above all, we are told not to disrupt "the market", that gossamer thin mechanism, that unrealisable ideal, that somehow must always be obeyed and yet somehow always needs the power of the state to save it.

Any thinking human being must surely reject this as ridiculous on the face of it.

But it is all the more pernicious for its social effects. One of the distinguishing and odious features of modern neoliberal capitalism is the patronising lecture. We are all familiar with it. When you are given too much to do at the office - more than any human being could - you are told that you need to be better at "time management". It reaches its pernicious apogee in the figure of the "management consultant", the man or woman without talent, without content, without expertise - but with the authority to pronounce on everything (and typically the recipient of a second-class degree from a first-class university).

LEAN IN strikes me as much the same species of paternalistic tosh, just dressed up in feminism (making it, perhaps, maternalistic tosh?). Its author has lived an immensely privileged life. She is now wealthy enough to have, in effect, servants to carry out her desires. She would not call them servants, just as English aristocrats would have been horrified if you had suggested that their servants were slaves. But that is what they are.

The solutions that she offers to other women are therefore worse than useless. Of course women need to network, think of themselves as dynamic etc. etc. But if you are told to do those things in a patronising way, as a way of adapting yourself to the system that is wounding you rather than empowering you to change it - well, it's all just meaningless twaddle, potential empowerment replaced with a prettier kind of subservience.

What can be done instead?

I increasingly suspect that the only thing that will fix the profound economic problems that most people now face is a substantial structural change, possibly created from the bottom up. An atomistic or individualist or consumerist response will a) probably not work and b) not create the degree of security necessary to achieve any kind of individualism anyway.

One possibility might be the creation of more cooperative workplaces. Professor Richard Wolff has a number of interesting suggestions along these lines, at the website Democracy at Work. But there are probably other answers. Still, without some kind of structural change - a writing off of unnecessary or pernicious debts, a restructuring of the workplace, a restructuring of property holding - the whole capitalist system just plain getting out of people's way and allowing them to fix their own damn problems - we will continue to grind on as we have done, deeper into a kind of alienated misery and slavery.
posted by lucien_reeve at 9:29 AM on June 24, 2013 [61 favorites]


And I should add to that that I don't even see the idea of a market, capital, a workplace, the limited liability corporation etc. as inherently bad.

But there is clearly a vicious dynamic whirling through society at the moment, and it needs to be stopped. And its victims are both men and women alike: it seems baffling and bizarre to me that we continue to accept the traumas that capitalism's endless crises and stresses inflict on all of us, including innocent children.
posted by lucien_reeve at 9:31 AM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I had a really hard time following that article and I'm still not sure what his main point is.

This for me, as well, but I find much of the writing in The Atlantic ridiculously hard to follow.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:32 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lean In is a book for young women who want to succeed in the technocratic elite.

25 year old women in consulting companies, investment banks, graduate management programmes at large companies, etc will probably find much of interest in reading a book written by someone they aspire to emulate.

Chances are that if you're in academia, journalism, or in a blue-collar manufacturing job, or for that matter if you're a young single mother with limited education working a retail job you're not going to get much out of a book that isn't speaking to your particular problems and context.

I frequently give career advice to graduate hires at the management consulting firm where I work. I'm guessing that virtually none of it would be applicable to someone who isn't a young person with an elite education but that doesn't make it irrelevant for the people that I'm speaking to.

My feeling is that a great deal of the criticism of Sheryl Sandberg is rooted in a world-view which rejects the technocratic elite and the system that produced them. Usually for very good reasons, but that is not relevant to young women who don't share in that rejection and who want to succeed within the existing corporate system.

For pretty obvious reasons feminists in particular and social justice activists in general are often passionate egalitarians and aren't going to respond well to a book that teaches people how to successfully ascend the existing hierarchy.

and there we have it...

Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In Circles”—her national network of book clubs cum professional self-help groups for women—are not supposed to be mere marketing exercises; they are intended to be psych-up sessions for elite women who want to learn to be more demanding. Good for them, I suppose. But do we want women emulating the egomania of the corporate male?

Do 'we' want that? Maybe not. But some women do want to do just that.
posted by atrazine at 9:40 AM on June 24, 2013 [23 favorites]


I'm not sure what I just read there.

Is he mad that he quit his job?
Mad that he didn't really understand the target audience for Lean In?
Angry that childcare is too expensive?
posted by madajb at 9:41 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm not entirely sure he read 'Lean In' or, if he did, he read it with a certain slant before he even started.
posted by madajb at 9:42 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, women’s rise to economic dominance within the middle class continues. Since 1996, women have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men, and last year they started earning a greater number of master’s and doctoral degrees.

I'd like to see someone make the case that having these higher degrees actually causes economic dominance and is not just correlated with it per this chart. Put another way, you certainly don't need a PhD to run a Fortune 500 company, and your master's degree in [insert non-marketable discipline here] isn't necessarily going to translate into a better salary. It may just be that people who attain higher degrees are driven to succeed and their actual success is not attributable to the degree but to the drive.

If that case can't be made, then the author's first sentence does not follow from the second.
posted by seemoreglass at 9:42 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Of course the myth of bootstraps is tough to kill here. We're suckled on the teat of the Rugged Frontiersman Doing It For Himself and refuse to look at that myth long enough to even acknowledge that the Rugged Frontiersman archetype benefited massively from government spending, from the Louisiana Purchase to the cavalry patrols and network of forts that made travel at least somewhat safe to the genocide campaigns against the various native tribes.

No, our problem is more subtle. Any thoughtful person would agree that homesteaders were not truly independent, not as if they were building a working civilization from scratch on an alien planet. Of course the government has always provided a lot of the support and protection that made economic growth possible. But there used to be an idea that made all the public expense acceptable, which was that what the government was protecting and supporting was actually valuable. The frontiersman was not alone, he was supported by a vast infrastructure. But we were happy to support him, because he was building something (a farm, a city) that we all really wanted, and we were grateful to him for doing it. It was a fair trade. The fact that the trade was with the government and not a company or individual was not really important.

Now the situation is different. Because of outsourcing, automation, and the sheer limits on just how many different TV channels and flavors of iced tea we can realistically consume, it is becoming clear that not everyone's work is valuable, to anyone. So if the government is still in the business of supporting people, it can't be out of an expectation that those people will make things we really need -- it can only be out of sheer, naked altruism, and that is just a tough sell.
posted by officer_fred at 9:53 AM on June 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


or, if he did, he read it with a certain slant before he even started.

Gee, you think? ;-)

The success of Lean In can be attributed, at least in part, to its comforting espousal of an obviously false hope: that hard work and talent alone can now take you to the top. This is pure balderdash...

So, what's your suggestion, Stephen Marche? If hard work and talent is balderdash, what the fuck is your second choice? Not as much hard work, not as much talent?

Send me a postcard from Zuccotti Park.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:57 AM on June 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


It sounds like "but what about men! what about husbands!" and I'm sure that's not it, it couldn't be that a man's contribution to a discussion about issues women face would attempt to redirect the conversation to how men are affected. Could it?

It could, in fact, be about how eliminating men from the discussion is detrimental to the overall process. It's not a zero sum argument. If you want to have a space for women to complain without mansplaining, cool. But this problem affects everybody, and everybody's input is required to solve it.
posted by disconnect at 9:59 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've leaned in, worked hard, bootstrapped, and am still vulnerable to arrogant younger male bosses who can't see a gray-haired female person with disabilities as an asset. Especially is she acts like she's equal to men. It's changing, but slowly, and there are backlashes, and setbacks.

What would really work, for me, and, I think, for society, is a culture that values children, parenting, work-life balance, lots of holidays, generous vacation time, work-from-home for jobs where it makes sense, flexible hours, and a bunch of other stuff I probably left out. What we have in the US is a culture of Work Harder, Work Longer, or to paraphrase an old joke, "Sew faster kids, the CEO's kid wants a pony."
posted by theora55 at 9:59 AM on June 24, 2013 [17 favorites]


“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?"

I ran a tech business by myself in my early twenties. I worked very hard, but had some good luck too. It was growing, but at the time I was coming out of college then Americorps and had a lot of debt and no savings. I thought I was pretty healthy, but unexpectedly I ended up collapsing and going to the hospital. I left with a very large debt, from a fairly simple episode of fainting from low blood pressure. I closed up my business and took the first job offer I could get, which was a great job in terms of security and health insurance, but never afforded the kind of personal growth I experienced while in business on my own.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I hadn't had to do that. Would I still be running that business? Would it have grown? I closed it down because of fear, fear not because of being a woman, but fear of the American health care system. Sandberg's work is alien to me because she's embedded in a large corporation and a stable family unit while endows her with a certain amount of security that a lot of women don't have, esp in freelance and small business.

These days I have been lucky again and have money. I could open a business by myself again, but it will take a long time to rebuild what I had then. I think the focus on self-growth and ambition is great, though there are a lot of things I personally care about a lot more than work, but let's be realistic that Sandberg's life and her challenges are representative of very few women.
posted by melissam at 10:03 AM on June 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


I mean, seriously. The ultra boiled down message of Lean In is "work together, try harder."

Clearly, that's a capitalist fantasy created by Don Draper in a craven attempt to sell you more nylons. And not, say, a concept as old as old gets.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." -- Aristotle

And then seconds later, Aristotle sold some more nylons to Athenian housewives.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:03 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gee, you think? ;-)

Hey, I was going to say that all he knows about the book he got from other reviews, but I figured I'd give him the benefit of the doubt. heh.
posted by madajb at 10:03 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought life as all proving myself, moving up, trying to be that high and mighty title at an ad agency. Then as I got older, married, owned a home, then 2 dogs, then a child, and now taking care of an 82 year old father w/ severe health issues. I cannot Lean In let alone Stand Up. My day is getting up at 5:30am, getting on a 6:40 train, getting to work by 8, trying to project manage everything there (and lately failing at it), leave by 4:15, get home by 6, cook for my son, myself, and my dad. Make sure his bills are paid, ours are paid, meds are put out, kid is showered, and read to before bed. In bed by 9.

I cannot stress enough that it's not about feminism or working smarter. It's about how a lot of times, women in family situations are the default life project manager--for work, bills, and family--always taking care of someone. Goals, dreams, and self gratification??? I honestly don't remember what mine were. All I want is to get through my day and have one less person ask me for something.

The glass ceiling---I don't even care anymore. Just get me through a job and retirment as fast as possible.
posted by stormpooper at 10:09 AM on June 24, 2013 [24 favorites]


The thesis is that Lean In is the latest myth of pluck, packaged for aspiring professional women.

The author contends that economic drivers are more important considerations for family happiness (or survival) than "leaning in". That's where husbands do need to participate, in his view, in that conversation. Health care, education, child-care, maternity/paternity leave, all have greater bearing on what real couples do, and on their happiness, than a fantasy of corporate advancement over family.

So, what's your suggestion, Stephen Marche?

From the article, social supports that work: health care, affordable child care, paid maternity & paternity leaves. Attitudes that support other than traditional divisions of labour and preferences. Give economic options to women and families rather than having them scramble for the necessities. "Leaning in" is a fantasy, if people don't have the economic freedom and social license for their family arrangements to be able to devote the time and effort to work success.
posted by bonehead at 10:09 AM on June 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


I had a really hard time following that article and I'm still not sure what his main point is. It sounds like "but what about men! what about husbands!" and I'm sure that's not it, it couldn't be that a man's contribution to a discussion about issues women face would attempt to redirect the conversation to how men are affected. Could it?

The point of the article is that child care and work-life balance aren't women's issues. They're family issues, and the strains placed upon families by the way our society currently addresses this issues affect men and women alike. Also, that while the fact that women have yet to ascend to the corridors of power is a problem, solving that problem won't really do dick to address the larger crisis of family life mentioned above, and maybe if we stopped thinking of these problems as "women's issues" but rather family issues we'd get further along. Because even if you had a magic wand that you could say, tap on the heads of 30-odd US senators to change their Y chromosomes to Xs, swapping out Mitch McConnell with Sarah Palin or Lisa Murkowski won't do a damn thing for real change, though it might get you a parking space 10ft closer to the front door.
posted by Diablevert at 10:10 AM on June 24, 2013 [26 favorites]


But some women do want to do just that.

I think it's more that they want to succeed. And if that's what success in the technocratic elite takes, they're willing to do it. The want and the will are not the same thing however.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:21 AM on June 24, 2013


I had a really hard time following that article and I'm still not sure what his main point is.

He probably only got it into the Atlantic because of his wife anyway...
posted by ennui.bz at 10:23 AM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sometimes I feel like all of us on the labor side of things, all of us on the middle to lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, are like the supporting players on a high school or college football team.

We're all told that we need to give 110%, show up early, stay late, leave it all out on the field, step up when it's time for somebody to step up and win this thing if we want to make it to the Big Show by coaches (CEOs and upper management) who know damn well that we can't all make the NFL (the management track/financial security).

Many of us will give 110% and sacrifice our bodies so that the stars at the skill positions and the coaches and "the program" look good, but ultimately we'll be forgotten by the power structure after we've been used up.

When someone from our part of the ladder does make it to the upper part, we'll be told that "they must have wanted it more." The negative effects of tough breaks and the positive effects of family connections (continuing with my football metaphor, as a Longhorn, I'm looking at you, Chris Simms) will both be downplayed.

Wish I knew what to do to change it. At this point in human history, many people smarter, braver, and wiser than I am have done their damnedest and yet it seems like we're losing ground on this matter in the US.
posted by lord_wolf at 10:28 AM on June 24, 2013 [15 favorites]


"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." -- Aristotle

FWIW, the Nicomachean Ethics makes it clear that Aristotle believed excellence to be the province of a fortunate, rich few.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:36 AM on June 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


First, I want to give stormpooper a hug and say "I'm right there with you".

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?"

Heh. The honest and true answer to this is that I would quit my job and sell our house and be The Mom full time. This is not something I ever expected of myself, and I'm often gently chided by others for this aspiration but it's fully true. But, paradoxically, I'm one of those women who is the 'breadwinner' in the family -- I work long hours in a professional, creative, leadership position, and without my salary we'd be living below the poverty line.

And as my child grows up, I fully believe that what he really needs is a full-time parent who can be there for summer vacation and sick days, who can volunteer in his classroom and bake cupcakes. And that parent does not have to be me. It could be his dad. But without both of us working, I am afraid that we'd be unable to give him the most basic things (like food security). So we both continue to work full time and try to balance what we need to do with what we most want to do.

So, yes, on that level I guess that it's about doing what we need to do to survive, but on a more complex level it's that it's somehow become taboo to simply have a change in priorities; to discover that the things you thought were most important in life are not actually so important at all. I would have more respect for Sandberg's "Lean In" bullshit if she had a child who was 12 or 13 and she'd fully processed and come to terms with everything she's given up by making the choices she has. But her child is an infant, and she still has all that in front of her. Before my son was born I would have been the fiercest proponent of finding ways to build equality in the workplace -- and, to a degree, I still am, particularly for low-wage mothers -- but honest to god I don't see any shame anymore in just dropping out to clean the bathroom and bake cupcakes.

Because, at the end of the day, I've found that my greatest ambition for personal success is not to have my name on the door or make the same salary as the VP down the hall. My greatest ambition is to raise my child to be a successful, well-adjusted, happy adult.

And if that's old-fashioned or uncool, well, so be it.
posted by anastasiav at 10:41 AM on June 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


So, what's your suggestion, Stephen Marche?

From the article, social supports that work: health care, affordable child care, paid maternity & paternity leaves. Attitudes that support other than traditional divisions of labour and preferences. Give economic options to women and families rather than having them scramble for the necessities. "Leaning in" is a fantasy, if people don't have the economic freedom and social license for their family arrangements to be able to devote the time and effort to work success.


One reason that people are responding to this book very differently is alluded to in this quote from Anne Applebaum (quoted in the Thinkprogress article linked up-thread):

“this is not a book that belongs on the shelf alongside Gloria Steinem and Susan Faludi. It belongs in the business section,”

She's totally right. If you look at this book from the tradition of sociology, from feminism, or from other ways of thinking that examine a whole society and ask the question: "How do we as a society fix things?" then it doesn't have much to offer. This is a career advice book and for better or for worse it should be evaluated within the context of that genre.

Bonehead is of course right that it is precisely those things (healthcare, education, maternity leave) which are provided collectively that will make the largest difference to the lives of women across a whole society. But career advice books don't address those things. They focus on starting with what an individual already has (and to be clear, most career books are written for university educated middle-class people) and making the most of that.

I think that also addresses the difference in perspective between Cool Papa Bell and Stephen Marche:

So, what's your suggestion, Stephen Marche? If hard work and talent is balderdash, what the fuck is your second choice? Not as much hard work, not as much talent?


For anyone of any given socioeconomic background (which they can't influence) and with any given amount of luck (ditto) hard work and talent will tend to improve career prospects. As personal advice, it is perfectly sensible and I don't imagine that either he or his wife would be where they are without having themselves followed it. Of course it is an error to attribute structural income inequalities to differences in hard work and talent. It is not the case that if anyone, regardless of background, had worked as hard as they did that would have ended up as an editor of a major magazine or a published author.

I think that it's the unclear status of this book as a career book in a space (feminism) which is used to structural arguments that contributes to this mixed reception. If you're coming from a tradition of sociological enquiry then any book that discusses the role of hard work and personal talent is going to raise your hackles into the stratosphere because you are primed to read about the causes of large scale structural issues. Even if the book isn't explicitly making the argument that the spread between the top and bottom decile of women's pay is the result of those factors (and Lean In doesn't) the fact that it talks about personal behaviour at all in a context where you are accustomed to structural argument will cause that perception.
posted by atrazine at 10:47 AM on June 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


Hmm, I feel like much of this piece, like much of the criticism of lean in in general, is criticising the book for being something it's not. I well understand the impulse, especially when there are these pressing issues of inequality etc, but ultimately I feel it is misplaced. And like others I can't help wondering how many critics have read the book. Even Marche declines to names who compared it to the feminine mystique, and why, a traditional journalists straw weasel. Sandberg herself seems well aware of its limitations, it's in the book. I dunno, I'm not the intended audience, and I'm not very capitalist in general, but I'm kinda like hate the game not the player. It's not a book about society, or Marxism, it's not trying to be. You have you assess it on its own terms.
posted by smoke at 11:11 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, what's your suggestion, Stephen Marche? If hard work and talent is balderdash, what the fuck is your second choice? Not as much hard work, not as much talent?

This. Did you actually bother to RTFA or just get all pissed and fire off the comment

"The solution to the work-life conundrum is not “enlisting men” (as Slaughter puts it) in the domestic sphere. The solution is establishing social supports that allow families to function. The fact is, men can’t have it all, for the same reason women can’t: whether or not the load is being shared 50-50 doesn’t matter if the load is still unbearable. It will not become bearable once women lean in, or once the consciousness is raised, or once men are full partners, always, in domestic life. It will become bearable when decidedly more quotidian things become commonplace—like paid parental leave and affordable, quality day care (which Sandberg and Slaughter both advocate)."

[...]

A conversation about work-life balance conducted by and for a small sliver of the female population only perpetuates the perception that these are women’s problems, not family ones. If you doubt that such thinking is still pervasive, see the recent op-ed in The New York Times about tax policy’s effect on working families, which contained this sentence: “Most working mothers who pay for child care do so out of their after-tax income.” That’s right: child care is a not a father’s expense, or a family’s expense, but a mother’s. As Sandberg points out, when the U.S. Census Bureau studies child care, it “considers mothers the ‘designated parent,’ even when both parents are present in the home. When mothers care for their children, it’s ‘parenting,’ but when fathers care for their children, the government deems it a ‘child care arrangement.’ 

As long as family issues are miscast as women’s issues, they will be dismissed as the pleadings of one interest group among many. And truly, it’s hard to see, at least in terms of political theatrics, why the complaints of the richest and most successful women in the world should bother anybody too much. Fighting for the American family is another matter. When gay-rights activists shifted their focus from the struggle for their rights as an oppressed minority to the struggle to create and support families, their movement experienced nearly unprecedented political triumph. It is easy to have a career as an anti-feminist. Force the opponents of day-care support and family leave to come out instead against working families. Let them try to sell that.

Gloria Steinem’s famous declaration that “women’s liberation will be men’s liberation, too” is true. The opposite is also true. Real liberation will not be one against the other, but both together."
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:12 AM on June 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


You're better off just turning to crime rather than getting involved in 'graduate management programmes'.
posted by colie at 11:19 AM on June 24, 2013


The success of Lean In can be attributed, at least in part, to its comforting espousal of an obviously false hope: that hard work and talent alone can now take you to the top. This is pure balderdash...
So, what's your suggestion, Stephen Marche? If hard work and talent is balderdash, what the fuck is your second choice? Not as much hard work, not as much talent?


That is, at best, a horribly uncharitable reading of the article. Marche's point is not that hard work and talent should be discouraged. The point is that hard work and talent are neither necessary nor sufficient for success in our culture as it is. AND THESE ARE BAD THINGS. At present, you can work hard and have talent but still not be successful. And, similarly, with a lucky enough heritage, you can be a lazy idiot and still be successful.

What Marche seems to want (and I agree with him here) is to decrease the role that luck plays -- and thereby increase the roles that hard work and talent play -- in determining success. Some of the things that would make hard work and luck closer to being sufficient for success is a social structure that guarantees adequate education, healthcare, childcare, and employment opportunities to everyone.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:22 AM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


What Marche seems to want (and I agree with him here) is to decrease the role that luck plays -- and thereby increase the roles that hard work and talent play -- in determining success.

Which is more or less the entire point of the book.

It's basically 200 pages of :
"You weren't lucky enough to be born a man which is a distinct disadvantage in corporate America today. If you're going to play on an uneven playing field, here's some advice to help you succeed and overcome some cultural expectations you were probably saddled with. You're smart and ambitious, but that's not enough if people don't know about it.
Also, while you're at it, look out for the women coming up behind you, they'll probably need a hand up as well. The more women we get into positions of authority, the better it will be for all women."
posted by madajb at 11:38 AM on June 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is such an interesting article. It's like seeing the reverse of the world through a mirror.

In 2007, my life was right where I wanted it to be. After the lean misery of graduate school at the University of Toronto, I had, at 31, landed a job on the tenure track at City College in Harlem, as a professor of Shakespeare.

In the actual world, the 'technocratic elite' is one of the most democratized social strata in the nation's history. If you're able to code, you have entry.

I could never have majored in Shakespeare, as much as I love it, because I had to pay my own way - and you can do this in the tech field. Generally speaking, anyone can learn to code and find a decent job in IT. There are typically no out of work java developers.

However, studying something that brings no return on your investment is a luxury.

That someone could spend the majority of his twenties studying for a Ph.D. in Shakespeare and then complain about an unfair job market is baffling.
posted by four panels at 11:43 AM on June 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think "technocratic elite" means what you think it means, if coders are so thick on the ground.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:51 AM on June 24, 2013


You're better off just turning to crime rather than getting involved in 'graduate management programmes'.

Why is that? I don't really know what you mean.

To be clear, I'm talking about programs like this.
posted by atrazine at 11:54 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, what's your suggestion, Stephen Marche? If hard work and talent is balderdash, what the fuck is your second choice? Not as much hard work, not as much talent?

Pushing for structural reforms that would even the playing field for both men and women, so that people are so pre-occupied with making basic ends meet and can focus on their careers if they want.

Sandburg's approaches to leveling the playing field are not going to help most people. Letting people know you are smart? Helping other women? It's like the people who think driving a hybrid is going to solve climate change.
posted by melissam at 12:07 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The more women we get into positions of authority, the better it will be for all women."

Well, that's the thesis of feminism. Anybody know if it's true?

Part of Marche's point is that it might not be, that's it's quite possible that even if you had a 50/50 split in the corridors of power that doesn't automatically fix everything because the big bits that are broken are structural. That all women in power might mean is emailing work from the delivery room while you're getting an epidural.
posted by Diablevert at 12:22 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, talk about having to deal with your experiences being constantly denied or ignored: hi, I worked my goddamn ass off to rise above being raised by a single alcoholic mom, in poverty; graduated from college; went to work; figured life out; and am now a successful, independent contractor, all whilst being a woman.

Honey, I fucking love my bootstraps -- they were the only things keeping me going most of the time.

I know that believing in hard work and grit plays against the insistence that self-reliance, determination and merit are inherently racist/classist/sexist, but goddammit: it works. It's the exact opposite of easy, and none of the choices in front of you seem accessible or remotely possible, but it can be done. It has been done. It's being done right now, by lots of people.

Every single second, people jump into the unknown, hoping for something better. And even if they don't get what they want, or thought they wanted, all of the time, you've got to admire that.
posted by gsh at 1:34 PM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The more women we get into positions of authority, the better it will be for all women.

Well, that's the thesis of feminism.


Not really; it's only the thesis of a small slice of feminism known as liberal feminism. Most feminism has historically been concerned instead with fundamental change to the authority/power structure itself.
posted by eviemath at 1:38 PM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also for me, I made a choice long ago. My mom wanted me to be a housewife and marry rich, have a bunch of babies, and stay home to live the good life. I saw what housewife life gave. It wasn't the life for me. Unfortuantely I saw the negative side of housewife life---no advanced education, minimal skills that would be acceptable in a competitive salary workplace, and all money, social time, and decisions were controlled by my father. Yes, it was a dysfunctional nightmare that I wouldn't wish on anyone nor am I saying ALL housewives have it like my mom did. But seeing that life made me want my own career, money, and the POWER to make choices if shit hit the fan. I could leave, I could divorce, I could move on, I could kick the bastard out if I was in the same boat. I would never have to worry about where I would live, how I would raise my child, or if I would be homeless---relying only on another spouse to pave my way. F that I thought. So I was a "career girl" according to my mom. And despite my decisions, she absolutely hated my decision. She endlessly told me having a child was the way to go. And yes, having a child IS a way to go (for some/for me). He brings me the utmost happiness. But other choices have resulted in me being a breadwinner where quitting and being a housewife, even temporarily, will and can never, ever happen. Way too much resides on me. And you know, I may bitch, moan, complain, and it may cause me to have a nervous breakdown, but I made these choices fully knowing that I did not go to school to have full options in a full time job (say flex hours, part time hours). I did not choose money over love. So as I work at my job that has given me so much in terms of work/life balance and all I really expect is a nice and understanding boss, I see these single, young, and very determined women climb the ladder, play the games, hook up with only those who have title and influence, push others around, and move high, high, high in their career. Meh, good for them if it makes them happy. But to me, I may be tired, worn out, and on my last thread, but I"m happy being just me, with no promotion, looking for rave reviews, and trying to have it all.

I could care less. I'm not changing lives, saving the world, nor having a very influential life beyond the one thing that matters to me--my son. So tomorrow is another 5:30 wake up, teaching my son that in all decisions choose wisely, and if you're ok with it, making the other guy rich doesn't have to be the priority. What's that saying, no one puts "I wish I worked more" on their headstone?

Now...to figure out what the hell I"m going to do when retirement does come. Oh yea, proably die since most of us have to retire by 72. Hoo-friggen-ray.
posted by stormpooper at 1:39 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know that believing in hard work and grit plays against the insistence that self-reliance, determination and merit are inherently racist/classist/sexist, but goddammit: it works.

Racism, classism, and sexism work tirelessly against the admirable determination and effort of millions.

Once again: Good individual advice makes bad policy; good policy makes bad individual advice. Hard work and determination are admirable, but they are admirable because rare. As such, they are not strong foundations for the laws of the commonwealth.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:46 PM on June 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


I know that believing in hard work and grit plays against the insistence that self-reliance, determination and merit are inherently racist/classist/sexist, but goddammit: it works.

I, on the other hand, grew up poor in a stigmatized region and worked hard to get a graduate degree in my field. I still make less than the average starting salary for a man with an undergrad degree.

Fortunately, neither of our experiences are conclusive proof of the overall social situation, which is that even college-educated women overwhelmingly make less than men from the beginning of their careers.
posted by winna at 1:48 PM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't really get the Denmark comparison. Is Denmark known as some fortress of class immobility? My image is that northern Europe has an *extremely* high level of social mobility, so saying "Class structures have seized to the point where Denmark has more social mobility than the United States" is kinda like saying "He runs so slow even Carl Lewis is faster than him". Is there something about Denmark I'm missing?
posted by Bugbread at 2:24 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of people here are not getting is perspective. That you can both lean in, and that will help some people, and you can push for reforms. In fact, developing a "lean in" culture will only help, not distract, from a push for reform. We are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:24 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of people here are not getting is perspective. That you can both lean in, and that will help some people, and you can push for reforms. In fact, developing a "lean in" culture will only help, not distract, from a push for reform. We are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.


I don't think that's true, really. I mean, in one's personal life, sure. Lean all you wanna. But you want to change the conversation? You want real reforms to happen? You want to do what Betty Friedan did? Then you gotta come out with guns blazing. You have to dominate the airwaves. You have to lite that fire, and it helps to have powerful allies. Sheryl Sandberg is talked about because she has power. The reason we're all sitting here bullshitting about her book and what it means is because she has power. And as long as the dominant conversation in the blogs and the talk shows and the G-fucking-D New York Times Style section is about her form of polite, helpful, personally ambitious incrementalism, then no, you're not going to see real change. Sandberg delanda est.
posted by Diablevert at 2:38 PM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't really get the Denmark comparison. Is Denmark known as some fortress of class immobility? My image is that northern Europe has an *extremely* high level of social mobility, so saying "Class structures have seized to the point where Denmark has more social mobility than the United States" is kinda like saying "He runs so slow even Carl Lewis is faster than him". Is there something about Denmark I'm missing?

I think it's a nationalistic thing. "Tiny-ass Old-World Denmark is doing better than the United States at the thing the United States says it does best."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:01 PM on June 24, 2013


I'm only half-way through the comments, but I jumped here just to say how much I'm enjoying reading the discussion.

This is why I come to metafilter.
posted by math at 4:42 PM on June 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, that's the thesis of feminism. Anybody know if it's true?

I probably should have written: "The more women we get into positions of authority in companies, the better it will be for all women in business."

'Cause, you know, it's a book about how to succeed in business, not a manifesto on how to change the world.
posted by madajb at 5:21 PM on June 24, 2013


I know that believing in hard work and grit plays against the insistence that self-reliance, determination and merit are inherently racist/classist/sexist

The conversation isn't about work and work-virtues being *bad*, or even completely impotent. It's about their limits, and managing related expectations and risks.

If you believe those virtues often contribute to personal or socioeconomic success, that's probably correct.

If you believe that it's a simple relationship where if *anyone* will just put in enough work and grit then a proportional level of success comes out -- regardless of racism, classism, sexism, other structural/personal disadvantages, or even plain misfortune -- that's where you might find people disagree with you. Particularly if you believe the converse.

And that's probably a better argument to engage on than the misunderstanding you typed above.

it works.

It sometimes works. If the rest of the ingredients are there and the dice come up right.

It has been done. It's being done right now, by lots of people.

And it will continue to be done. Some of the people who are pouring everything they've got into something right now will find themselves successful. Many will not.

No small number of the former will demonstrate that whatever other ingredients are necessary for success, an appreciation for their own breaks and/or an imagination that illuminates other possible event paths is not one of the essentials.
posted by weston at 7:38 PM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Lean In. Grit. Perseverance. These all read like they're designed by executives to turn their employees into workaholics.

You do not get to decide between being a worker bee and a C-level executive. You get to decide between being a worker bee, and a slightly higher level worker bee who gets paid more and has less free time. If you wanted to be a C-level executive, you wouldn't be reading this because you'd already have graduated from Harvard Business School, interned in the office of your dad's golf buddies, and executed your first couple of mergers while sipping a cocktail on your corporate jet.

The motto shouldn't be Lean In. The motto should be Evaluate Your Career Choices Rationally. Don't struggle for years for the promise of some distant reward, that's stupid. "Fail fast" -- if a job isn't working, move on. Education is not as valuable as educational institutions want you to believe. Put a dollar value on your own free time, and don't work for less than that -- mine is $40 an hour and yours should probably be higher. You can be passionate about your job, but don't get emotionally entangled. You need to be detached enough to recognize when you're getting screwed, and leave.

I have friends who are obsessed with this Lean In crap and I really can't stand it. Hard work is sometimes the answer, but it isn't always the answer. If your work makes an implicit promise that you'll get paid $X extra after you work $Y extra hours over $Z years, you'd better do the math and make sure the numbers make it worth your time, including the effect of taxes and a discount rate and a penalty for the risk that it won't work out. Most of the opportunities you will see over your working life will be bad deals. Don't take them.

None of this advice is specific to women. I just have been hearing more of the workaholic idiocy from my female friends a lot thanks to the book, and it really irritates me.
posted by miyabo at 9:54 PM on June 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


"...and I'm sure that's not it, it couldn't be that a man's contribution to a discussion about issues women face would attempt to redirect the conversation to how men are affected. Could it?"

I understand why you would be suspicious of this, but I think it's a misreading.

One half of his thesis is encapsulated in this:
And yet: A chorus of women demands maternity leave. Where is the chorus of men asking for paternity leave?

A conversation about work-life balance conducted by and for a small sliver of the female population only perpetuates the perception that these are women’s problems, not family ones.
...and this is in the context of the larger feminist discussion about women balancing work and family, which always explicitly includes issues of male involvement in familial responsibilities. It's not as if men aren't naturally part of this conversation.

There is a conspicuous absence of men involved in these discussions — that this is the case, that women discuss these issues among themselves while men are largely silent, underscores that these issues are still thought of culturally as "women's issues" in that negative, minimalizing sense.

He touches on some other things that are related to this, but my own impression is that a great deal of the difficulty and resentment experienced by women on these issues arises from the fact that it's being left to women to be culturally active about this stuff. Even individually, within the context of families. That is to say, while male involvement with child-raising has notably increased over the last thirty years, I think that one-third of this can be attributed to simple economic pressures, one-third to women pushing their male partners to change their behavior, and only one-third or less to men actually being fully active in these changes. Men aren't part of the conversation and they're mostly not part of the changes. They're passive.

The other half of his thesis is that the essential problems that most women face regarding work and family are not those of elite professional women, firstly, and, secondly and more importantly, attention paid to their problems is distracting from the attention that ought to be paid to the structural problems that are at the root of why it's so hard for women to manage both work and family — problems that aren't going to be solved by electing a female President or by a few more female CEOs. I'm ambivalent about the complaints of privilege regarding race and class leveled against mainstream American feminism, but I think in the particular context of the kinds of discussions we have about work and family these complaints have a lot of merit.

He talks about child care a great deal and it is the absolute, rock-bottom single most important component in this discussion (not that there aren't other very important issues involved, too). That quality state-provided child-care is mostly not even part of the discussion in the US is very revealing. That our culture has taken a regressive turn toward expecting mothers to stay at home with their children until they begin school, that basically women are now being expected to be high achieving professionals and supermoms is extremely revealing. Women are expected to achieve the impossible and that's the point. This is an idea that's coming to me just right now as I write this: I'm thinking that this is a very subtle backlash.

The first way our culture tried to assimilate feminist influences into the patriarchy was by expecting women to compete with men as men, which is paradoxical and doomed to failure (for example, the expectation that one has to be aggressive to be successful in business, but a woman being aggressive is seen as a bitch, so there's no right strategy, the game is rigged). Meanwhile, women rightly protested against a devaluation of the roles they'd traditionally played at home. So, now our culture has found an additional way to sabotage feminist change — not only are women told that they should excel professionally on a very uneven playing field, but now they're also being told that while they're doing that, they also should somehow be just as impossibly successful at home. Better moms than June Cleaver ever was (because, let's face it: she was loving and available but look at what she fed her kids and, oh my, Wally and the Beav need much better after-school activities) and a better dad than Ward Cleaver (a post-graduate degree and an upper-management corporate job, natch).

You might say, well, how many women actually do these things? But that's the point. There sure is a whole lot of cultural commentary about women operating, or attempting to operate, at very high levels of achievement, those are the role models.

The whole conversation has been moved away from the lives of the typical family and centered around unrealistic expectations for women to solve, alone, problems that can only truly be solved by families — parents working equally as active and interested partners in being responsible for their family's life and democratically through structural changes in our society. It's not an accident that the focus is on women exclusive of men and on the professional class exclusive of the middle or working classes and on individuals exclusive of government. Women are being set up to fail at everything that feminism rightly has told them they could have.

And so, yes, men absolutely should be part of this conversation. Obviously, men should be part of the conversation about how to maintain healthy and happy families. But men also should be part of the conversation because the project of feminism cannot progress without changes in male roles — and women cannot be expected to somehow force those changes on men. The latter has been our cultural standard for a while now, and that's why we now have the cliche of the hapless manchild and the hyperachieving and frustrated female partner.

Men have been uninvolved and apathetic and it's partly because many of them prefer the patriarchy and this passivity is a sort of unconscious resistance to a change they don't like (if I pretend to be asleep maybe she'll stop expecting me to get up and see to the baby); but it's also partly the result of the fact that our cultural narrative about feminism has, amazingly, somehow been that men are uninvolved and that, yes, somehow women are solely responsible for the necessary social changes. Arguably, feminists have been a bit complicit in this, but I think that mostly this is more an artifact of the larger implicit cultural narrative which marginalizes sexism and feminism. These are "women's issues", put in the back pages of newspapers and segregated to sections of the bookstores and, mostly, not to involve men. Because why would men be interested, anyway?

"Have you heard about how many men in Sweden take paternity leave? Those Swedes are freaks, right? And, also, forget we mentioned it. Instead, think about how more women than men are now getting undergraduate degrees." The narrative sets men and women against each other, tells women that it's all their responsibility, tells men that women no longer respect them, tells men and women both that they can have a standard of living and a family life almost no one could actually attain, and then fans the flames of the resulting failures and resentments and places the blame at the feet of feminism.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:59 PM on June 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


You do not get to decide between being a worker bee and a C-level executive. You get to decide between being a worker bee, and a slightly higher level worker bee who gets paid more and has less free time. If you wanted to be a C-level executive, you wouldn't be reading this because you'd already have graduated from Harvard Business School, interned in the office of your dad's golf buddies, and executed your first couple of mergers while sipping a cocktail on your corporate jet.

You seem very sure that nobody reading this went to Harvard Business School. I know for a fact that a number of Mefites did.
posted by atrazine at 1:21 AM on June 25, 2013


It's not as if men aren't naturally part of this conversation.

You may not like hearing this, but very often when men try to be part of this conversation they do not get welcomed into it. Because, let's face it, there are men who are trying to have conversations about things like parental (not just "maternity" or "paternity") leave. There are men who are trying to have conversations about work-life balance and the way traditional gender roles suck for everybody.

But the men who are trying to talk about this stuff get lumped in with those Evil MRAs(TM) and dismissed more or less out of hand, and how dare you come in and derail with your OH NOES WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ, and go back to wearing your fedora, loser.
posted by ubernostrum at 1:50 AM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is anyone really seriously positioning Lean In as some sort of academically rigorous feminist critique of the patriarchal power structure? Because I'm reading a lot of complaints that it basically isn't that, but I don't really know why anyone would assume that it is.

It's a how-to-succeed-in-business book. Aimed, as some others have noted, at individual women who are probably already significantly invested in the current power structure and want to succeed within it, rather than who are interested in effecting some sort of structural change.

So unless there is a lot of direct commentary from the author that makes it seem like the intent of the book is to be something beyond individual advice, I think there's a bit of a double standard at work just in the criticism it has received: nobody seems to fault Jack Welch or Steven Covey or any number of other (male) business writers for not prescribing sweeping social change. It's been a while since I flipped through Seven Habits, but I'm pretty sure that upsetting the established power structure is not really one of them.

So yeah, it belongs in the business section. I think there might be some legitimate room for criticizing it even then, on the basis of whether a 20-something woman who takes the book's play-by-their-rules-and-win advice is going to be happier at the end of her career than someone who takes a different path, but that seems to be less the problem people have with it, than a general feeling that it's not the book some want it to be.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:27 AM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is anyone really seriously positioning Lean In as some sort of academically rigorous feminist critique of the patriarchal power structure? Because I'm reading a lot of complaints that it basically isn't that, but I don't really know why anyone would assume that it is.

No, people are complaining because the only kind of feminism that gets any mainstream attention these days isn't feminism at all, it's a business book. A book of tips for the savvy on how to improve their hustle. Meanwhile, a whole lot of people are closer to flying off the back of the treadmill than breaking their PB in training for Ironwoman. And maybe a more interesting more useful discussion for everybody might be how we can slow the fucking thing down rather than what brand of running shoes have the most traction.
posted by Diablevert at 6:20 AM on June 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


But the men who are trying to talk about this stuff get lumped in with those Evil MRAs(TM) and dismissed more or less out of hand, and how dare you come in and derail with your OH NOES WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ, and go back to wearing your fedora, loser.

Men who point out that family issues are not "women's issues" do not get lumped in with the Evil MRAs in my experience. One of the key points of feminism is that so-called "women's issues" are people's issues.
posted by leopard at 8:19 AM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why Denmark? Likely started with The Spirit Level, a 2009 bestseller that used Denmark as an example of high social mobility, which has filtered out in the media over the past few years. Some typical pieces from the Guardian and the NYTimes.
posted by bonehead at 8:25 AM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


My feeling is that a great deal of the criticism of Sheryl Sandberg is rooted in a world-view which rejects the technocratic elite and the system that produced them. Usually for very good reasons, but that is not relevant to young women who don't share in that rejection and who want to succeed within the existing corporate system.

Yes, I am sure that there are plenty of people who criticise Sandberg from that standpoint. However, I do not. Even taken on its own terms, in recent years the existing corporate system has turned quite self-destructive. We are living in a "recovery" which has only occurred because a lot of people are prepared to work longer hours, and because confidence in the stock market has improved. Neither of these is a long-term solution or particularly sustainable. There are deep-seated structural problems here that are producing these negative psychological consequences in people's lives and they go beyond a surface aversion to the technocratic style (although I also dislike that style intensely).

I think there are a great many people who reject the book because they already are working hard, leaning in so far they are practically horizontal, and it isn't providing a fulfilling or successful existence. What those people need to hear is not "cheer up, work harder, network more and one fine day..." What needs to change is not those ambitious young women but the corporate system they are about to enter.

There is also an ugly truth here, that Sandberg works very hard to hide. The corporate system as it stands is fundamentally exploitative - it relies on paying people less than their labour is worth. This is a very old Marxist critique, but I honestly believe that it reflects a very down and dirty reality of day to day business life. Most people who have worked in offices are familiar with the pressure to stay late or come in early - or get a particular project done "on time", which usually means taking a bite out of the employee's time. While it is obviously very difficult to establish with mathematical precision what a particular employee's time is "worth" in some absolute sense, any organisation is under a constant pressure to try to pay employees less than that. Otherwise they go out of business.

Another point worth considering is that there is nothing that says that efficiency, self-esteem, feminism, technocracy or networking necessarily go along with support for a system of exploitation. One of my female friends who likes this book - a bit, anyway - is quite ardently left-wing and she enjoys networking. In my view, for her the advice is largely redundant, but the reason she likes the book is not as a source of advice, so much as because it validates the networking and mutual encouragement that she likes doing and believes is important. I think: good for her! I have no problem with that!

Look, one problem for the left has long been that it can be a bit gloomy. I regularly roll my eyes at every left-wing conference and speaker whose only message seems to be "we're all as good as dead and everything is going to hell". That seems defeatist.

But at the same time, I have little patience for the kind of rhetoric that Sandberg uses either, and I don't think that's just because I am a big hippie (I'm not), or otherwise outside of the intended audience. I think it's because I don't like privileged people giving glib solutions to deep and complex problems that they obviously either don't want to - or don't have to - think very much about. That way lies greater social instability and a lot of unnecessary misery.

Perhaps the only thing to do is to take what good advice Sandberg offers and put it to use making the world a better place, rather than a worse place. It wouldn't be the first time that someone quite good at being efficient mistook that for a larger social movement.
posted by lucien_reeve at 10:14 AM on June 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


nobody seems to fault Jack Welch or Steven Covey or any number of other (male) business writers for not prescribing sweeping social change.

Good point. I would and do. Substituting business books for genuine reflection and moral improvement is a terrible, harmful thing in the long run.

Intelligent people are increasingly realising that this system is broken. The question now is, what can be done to change it.
posted by lucien_reeve at 10:17 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Men who point out that family issues are not "women's issues" do not get lumped in with the Evil MRAs in my experience.

Not so long ago I decided to try to tackle "domestic violence is a human issue, not a women's issue" in an FPP. Some people responded well. Some people responded with GRAR MRA knee-jerking.

And that's on one of the -- and I mean this -- best places, anywhere on the internet, to try to have a discussion. On Metafilter, the discussion moved past the GRAR. On other sites... it would never, ever do that. I've been around that block enough times.

One of the key points of feminism is that so-called "women's issues" are people's issues.

The way in which I approached that FPP about domestic violence probably can give you an idea of what kind of experience I have had with the things that call themselves "feminism".

The strongest statement you can make and that I will not call you on is that this is one of the key points of a thing that you personally practice and refer to as "feminism". I have intense and intensely personal experience to the contrary, and I am not alone in that, should you want to argue that it is a key point of the mainstream aggregation of activists and movements commonly referred to and referring to themselves by the collective banner of "feminism".

This is a recurring theme in gender discourse, by the way: spaces which call themselves "feminist" promote the idea that they are somehow in favor of "helping everyone" or "for everybody", but then range from failing to follow through, up to actively driving out male voices and trivializing or denying relevant male experiences. And then they wonder why those guys develop issues with feminism.
posted by ubernostrum at 5:49 PM on June 26, 2013


I'm a male feminist and have been for thirty years and I am extremely aware of how men are responded to within feminism. Sometimes — not that often, but sometimes — we're treated unfairly. And, usually when that happens, it's for entirely understandable, human reasons. But most of the time, though, when feminists are hostile to men, it's because the man is clueless, doesn't recognize his privilege, and wrongly believes that finding himself in a context where his privilege isn't recognized or allowed is the same thing as being mistreated.

I don't know what your domestic violence post was like. It's entirely true that there are women who commit physical violence against their male partners and that this is extremely under-reported because of the stigma associated with it due to gender roles. And it's also true that women can, and do, rape men and this is also extremely under-reported for the same reasons, and also because a majority of the population wrongly thinks it's not physically possible. Those things are true, the survivors of these things matter, it's important, and these things should be talked about.

However, 95% of the time when I encounter someone talking about female-against-male domestic violence (not female-against-male rape, because I never encounter anyone talking about it), just like 95% of the time when I encounter someone talking about black-against-white bigotry, it's in the service of an argument that diminishes the severity of male-against-female or white-against-black violence. It's an attempt to divert the conversation, to make a false equivalency, and far too often an opportunity to express bigotry.

The proof is in the pudding and, frankly, a blanket anger toward and dismissal of scare-quoted feminism is pudding of a very distinctive and recognizable taste. If you want to not be perceived as an MRA troll, don't act like one.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:14 PM on June 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


When I said that family issues are not "women's issues," I don't think I meant what you thought I meant, ubernostrum.

People will often talk about the challenges women face in balancing family and career. How does one be a good mother and still put in enough time at the office to advance? Women have it tough, balancing all these concerns! But why don't people ask the same thing about men? Because there's an unspoken assumption that is so powerful that most people don't even realize it's an assumption. It's that parenting responsibilities fall mainly on mothers. People don't wonder about how it's possible for a father to balance work and family, because there's a presumption that mothers will do most of the work and that dads can be good dads just by showing up to soccer practice once in a while. Feminism is not just about fighting for working mothers, it's about challenging this assumption that family responsibilities beyond earning a paycheck must fall on mothers. That means reframing things so that workplaces aren't simply supporting working mothers, they're supporting working *parents*.

But after reading your comment, I imagine your reaction to the question "why don't people ask the same thing about men?" to be subtly different. I imagine you saying, "Exactly -- what about the single dad who has to balance his career with taking of his kids? What about the dad whose wife is the primary breadwinner? What about the dad who turns down demanding work opportunities because he wants/needs to spend more time with his children? Their voices are being neglected."

At the end of the day, both responses kind of end up in the same place, recommending that we not strongly distinguish between working fathers and working mothers. But I think there's still a large difference between them, and that's because your response (as imagined by myself, sorry but please hear me out) completely ignores the fact that everyone assumes that mothers should shoulder primary parenting responsibilities. Actually, that's not true -- it does recognize this fact, but only in the service of portraying men as victims -- when people assume that mothers do all the work, single dads and supportive dads who do a lot of parenting are hurt and neglected. And while it's true that men are victims of partriarchy, and feminists will agree with that, they are not the primary victims of patriarchy, and to completely gloss over the fact that the patriarchy is a really really really big fucking deal for women as a class is likely to piss people off, and that is what is likely to raise MRA troll flags. In general, men benefit tremendously from sexist double standards; such double standards have pernicious effects on men as well, but that is a second-order effect, not a first-order effect.
posted by leopard at 9:04 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well said, leopard. But it's not really fair to put words into someone else's mouth. Your characterization of a certain kind of argument, which may or may not have been presented in this thread, is pretty accurate, though.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:08 PM on June 27, 2013


Yeah, bad form, I didn't really mean to attribute anything to ubernostrum... I was really just trying to explain why feminists might react angrily to what is essentially a feminist argument (and on second look I basically echoed your comment, but repetition from a slightly different perspective angle can't hurt...)
posted by leopard at 9:20 PM on June 27, 2013


I think you should be careful attributing to me responses imagined by yourself.
posted by ubernostrum at 8:57 AM on June 28, 2013


I've been reading the end of this thread with interest...and from my perspective, it tends to reinforces the feeling I have that feminism is exhausted as a discourse.

Because it's like...I just don't see any practical, reliable way to put daylight between the Good Feminist Reasons for endorsing Policy X and the Bad Patriarchal Reasons to endorse Policy X as you have elucidated them, leopard. Yet in one case the speaker deserves a rah-rah He Gets It and in the other they deserve a lecture on why patriarchy is bad, mmmmkay? And one know which is appropriate to the occasion because of...what? Gut instinct?

I agree with you that there is such a thing as disingenuousness, that many MRAs are raging misogynists. I don't think women have attained full equality yet. But a lot has changed in last 30-odd years. And while there is certainly a lingering perception that child care is a women's burden, in reality, a helluva lot of guys out there are taking on a helluva lot more of that burden than their fathers ever did. I don't know if we as a society can move forward on making these things better for everybody if Job #1 has to be policing our allies for any instance of failing to acknowledge that chicks have it worse than dudes.
posted by Diablevert at 12:17 PM on June 28, 2013


"I don't know if we as a society can move forward on making these things better for everybody if Job #1 has to be policing our allies for any instance of failing to acknowledge that chicks have it worse than dudes."

That's not what leopard was saying.

I can think of so many examples of positions and policies that are, on their own, perfectly sensible and right and with which most everyone will agree but that are mentioned and advocated mostly within the context of countering another position and policies that is also sensible and right, as an attempt to discredit the other policy or divert attention from it.

This is not a problem just within the context of feminism, it's basically universal to social contexts where privilege is being challenged and eliminated. The privileged class always points to individual examples of where their members have been treated unjustly as an indictment of the project to combat privilege and as an explicit argument that the claim that such a privilege exists is false.

So, no, there's nothing wrong with talking about the difficulties of working fathers. It's how it's being talked about that reveals whether it's a sincere effort to address a problem as opposed to an insincere effort to deny the reality of another problem and divert a discussion away from that problem.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:44 PM on June 28, 2013


So... basically you're claiming the authority to invalidate someone else's description of their own lived experience, and to invalidate someone else's own good-faith statements of what they believe in and why, and the authority to assign to them a completely different set of experiences and beliefs, and possibly a whole sinister agenda or something, simply based on the fact that they might not 100% agree with the way you engaged in a knee-jerk dismissal of their concerns.

And you wonder why I hesitate to say I'd feel welcome in certain movements, or express doubts about those movements' ability to actually listen to and take into account the voices of people who aren't their traditional demographic.
posted by ubernostrum at 4:52 PM on June 28, 2013


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