Tiffany B. Brown

On “Lean In”

Sheryl Sandberg is a formidable woman. She is, after all, the Harvard Business School educated, well-connected billionaire COO of Facebook. And that makes people want to listen to her and heed her advice. It is in this spirit, and for these reasons, I assume, that Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead was written.

I approached Lean In with a truck-sized dose of skepticism. Sandberg’s tome was preceded by the biggest media blitz I’ve ever seen in advance of a book., for example, had no less than a half-dozen pieces about it. and the New York Times featured another half-dozen pieces each.

I’ll admit I have been pretty critical of Lean In the book, but especially of Lean In, the movement. After Sandberg’s appearance on The Daily Show, I tweeted the following.

That’s pretty unfair to say, considering I hadn’t even read the book. So I borrowed it from the library (you didn’t think I was going to buy it, did you?), and gave it a read.

After reading Lean In, I still think it’s the vanity project of a rich, feminist n00b.

Now I do think we should applaud a wealthy, powerful woman for calling herself a feminist. Not all such women do. And Lean In is a well-written book, perhaps even an enjoyable read. Sandberg does a wonderful job of using personal anecdotes to illustrate the book’s themes. Her language is approachable. Her points well researched. Her tone is affable, though Sandberg drops a lot of names. It’s really not a bad book.

But neither do I think it a particularly good book. It’s middle of the road as far as business books and self-help books go. Lean In is most certainly not the next great feminist manifesto Ms. Magazine suggests it could be. Indeed, I have heard many of the same points about women in leadership and business before. I’ve read much of the same research elsewhere.

Lean In is very much FETWBETW (that’d be “for executive-track women, by executive-track women”). Ultimately, Sandberg is doing what most billionaires do: write a book, start a foundation. If only we could all be honest about that, instead of hailing her book and organization as feminism’s next great wave.

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