Sheryl Sandberg's new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, is getting lots of press, and like all the commentators, I haven't read it yet. I probably won't read it, because it's not terribly relevant to my life. Let's talk about it anyway.
In the past year, Sandberg has spoken a great deal about the central message of this book. She says that there aren't enough women leaders in politics or business, because women give up too early. They are so worried about balancing life and family that they purposely don't try hard enough in the workplace, even before they have kids. Sandberg says that women should put on the steam and not worry about the family stuff until they have to deal with it.
Critics say that Sandberg is blaming the victim. Women aren't achieving more, because they aren't working hard enough? Really? Sandberg's defenders say that she gives plenty of attention to the deficits in policy and plain old sexism. Joan Walsh in Salon gives examples of women in her office who didn't ask for raises, while the men did.
One of my pet peeves is when social critics lump all women together in one group. Women have different preferences and abilities. Some want to make millions and run a Fortune 500 company, Others want a job that pays a decent amount, but doesn't consume their lives. Others want to devote all their energy into their families.
For those that want the CEO office, then Sandberg's advice is most useful. Well, my advice would be even more extreme. If you want the CEO office, then don't plan on having kids at all.
Dolly Parton was interviewed on NPR last week. She said that if she had kids, she probably wouldn't have been so successful as an singer. She didn't regret her decision. She had a lot of neices and nephews and she got her kid fix from them.
A friend of mine and I were gossiping last week about fellow academics who were getting promotions and all that. The commonality? They didn't have kids. Some weren't even married.
My kids are nearly 11 and 14. I always imagined that this would be the time when the parenting responsibilities would ease up. In some ways they have. I can leave Jonah to babysit Ian, when I go to the gym or whatever. Ian, my special needs kid, is simply delightful. He's incredibly happy and content at the moment and requires very little parenting energy. The school bureaucracy is still time consuming, but I'm no longer spending hours and hours teaching him how to talk. Jonah is another story.
Jonah hit puberty like a brick wall last month. He didn't ease into his teenage years gradually. It was a sudden and abupt change in body and mind. My formerly laid back, sweet boy is now moody and sullen. It's a boy version of PMS. The change is so textbook that I have a hard time not laughing when he moans, "YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!" He requires vast amounts of time and patience right now. I now understand why some parents choose to work through the younger years and then stay at home when the kids hit high school.
Since we could use some extra casheroo these days, I've been poking around at the job market. I'm not sure what I want to do, so I've been exploring all the options from retail to academia to policy think tanks. I ran across a position as a Policy Director at a major foundation helping activist groups with their social media policy, but didn't apply, because it was going to be 60 hour a week job with a three hour commute. If I leaned into this job, I would be dead from exhaustion, and my teenage kid would be left to navigate some very choppy waters by himself. Couldn't do it.
My problem with Sandberg's book isn't her advice. For women who want the top levels of business and politics, women do have to be more aggressive. The problem is that most people don't want that. There are too many sacrifices.
I also wish that I had mapped out a better career plan in my twenties. Unlike the women that Sandberg encounters, I didn't make strategic career decisions. It would have been better for me to work in my twenties and squirrel away the cash, rather than squander time in graduate school. I should have chosen a career that would let me cycle in and out of the workforce seamlessly.
So, I suppose that "leaning in" is good advice for a very small group of women. But most people need something else.