Sheryl Sandberg’s Making the Case for “And”

Friday, February 22, 2013

It’s never been an either/or thing for me. It’s always “and.” I am a writer AND a mother. But I know for far too many women it’s not that simple. Between the work-life imbalance guilt, the ridiculously uneven playing field, the pitiful parental leave policies in the US, and this potentially hollow bid to have it all, women are left feeling that they have to make a choice. They cannot effectively be more than one thing.

But now Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has a new book coming out next month called Lean In  that encourages working mothers to give up on either/or and instead go for “and” — choose both.

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In her recent piece in The Atlantic, journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon calls Sandberg’s philosophy — and movement — a radically realistic solution for working mothers. As Lemmon wrote:

“In a women-in-the-workplace discussion consisting mostly of ‘either/ors,’ Sandberg’s argument in the upcoming book Lean In injects the word ‘and’ into the conversation in a way that urges women to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work. Choice is good, and so is aspiration. Ambition is great, and so is telling your boss that you want to have children. Working hard at your job is important, and so is finding a way to leave the office early enough to be home for dinner with your kids.”

Of course there’s criticism brewing. Of course. Come on, you know that is a must. The New York Times review of the movement (more than the actual book) smartly notes this:

“Even her advisers acknowledge the awkwardness of a woman with double Harvard degrees, dual stock riches (from Facebook and Google, where she also worked), a 9,000-square-foot house and a small army of household help urging less fortunate women to look inward and work harder. Will more earthbound women, struggling with cash flow and child care, embrace the advice of a Silicon Valley executive whose book acknowledgments include thanks to her wealth adviser and Oprah Winfrey?”

Do you think that’s true? Will women rally behind this idea, this movement that we can indeed be more than one thing; we don’t necessarily need to choose? (Also curious: Is this debate and issue something that women outside of North America struggle with? Is the working mom in Italy grappling with either/or?)

Definitely leave your thoughts below!

4 Comments
  • 1
    Kristin says:

    I think we need powerful working mothers to start a sea change, to change the culture. But I think it’s going to be a very long time before the average wage worker, or frankly the average salaried worker, is going to be able to reap the full benefits of “and.”

  • 2

    I have to say that I agree with the criticisms – but that doesn’t mean we can’t hold the whole “lean in” philosophy as an ideal.

    Speaking from a place of privilege – but always responding with knee-jerk defensiveness because of my students’ experiences – I find that those of us who write and surf and work in cozy offices with Keurig machines can easily forget what real life is like for so very many women who are raising families and working.

    The anxiety of “Will I be able to choose?” is an anxiety of privilege. And I don’t think Sheryl Sandburg has any clue what it’s like to work on one’s feet or without being able to “check in” with your kids or email or Facebook for eight hours (or more). I think about the parents who came in to parent teacher conferences or for discipline hearings for their children – and lost a half a day’s wages because of it. And I think about how teachers sighed about the parents who never came in because they couldn’t take off or leave small kids at home or take the train back at night in time. For many people it’s not about having it ALL, it’s just about having ENOUGH. And that goes for the Papas, too.

    Sorry. That’s probably more than you were looking to hear.

    • 2.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Oh, definitely looking to hear this too, Kristen. Women who are working two or three jobs to try to make ends meet don’t have the luxury of these “who am i?” debates. This large section of Working America has struggles and concerns and limitations beyond what many of can imagine. It is about scraping by to have enough, and it’s depressing. Harsh and real and depressing.

      Thanks, as always, for the thoughtful comment.

  • 3
    Catherine says:

    I find that the more you walk away from the home scene and the more privileged you are to er, employ some people to step in for you, the less you see the difficulty of raising children, running a household, etc. It is very easy to say you can be both from a privileged position but the reality is not all women, however clever, could be as successful as Sandberg in their chosen careers. Not only is it my choice to be a full-time mother, but here I am talking about several factors involved such as a society where women are still paid a whole lot less than men and where, however companies stress equal career opportunities, that’s not really being practised, in my opinion.

    I am speaking from my experience as a mother of a toddler. When my child is older and in school (and I don’t have to follow her around), I may choose to go back to where I had left off in terms of my career. But right now, I just don’t see the point of working and spending less time with my daughter, or paying someone else to do it! I will never be able to get these early years back. I do find this as my privilege, that I am able to be with my young daughter, when my husband has to go to work.

    I think most couples just decide on their arrangements based on how practical it will be for the family. Now, it is also great if a woman is not forced to be “and” and is truly happy to go for either/or. It is also a matter of what people value the most, great if someone puts both value to motherhood and her career and good for her that she can do both, but then I know that other women wouldn’t, and couldn’t, think or do the same, and that’s when we just have to respect their choices.