Friday, February 28, 2014

Lean Out, Lean In, Lean Out, Then Shake It All About

Sheryl Sandberg has been making noise ever since the release of her book Lean In which encourages women to be more aggressive in their social attainment. I have nothing against Sandberg and think that her heart was in the right place, but her Lean In movement is total horseshit and it has long since worn out its welcome.

First, let's ignore the white, hetero-normative, cis-gendered focus of her book. This is a problem that could fill a book and others have come close to doing so. I actually think that this criticism effectively negates Sandberg's arguments entirely, but it's not the biggest problem that I have with her work.

I also want to point out that while the core argument she is making is nonsense, she makes tons of great points about equality and sexism that are worthy points. If these were novel points or analyses, it would be a bigger deal, but they aren't. These are data points that have been known for a long time.

The biggest problem that I have is that Sandberg further reinforces socio and econo-normative behaviors and values. For Sandberg, success in life is found in a nuclear family, money, and property. Again, this is utterly without merit. Research has shown that economic stability is critical to happiness, but economic stability is relative, and that once stability has been reached, property and money do not correlate with happiness.

If the world were different, she would just be another author saying less-than-correct things, but the world is not different; the world is the world. And the world is one which is filled with damaging and counterproductive value programming that encourages people to try to find happiness in money and status. As such, her message is actually dangerous.

There is no inherent value to climbing the proverbial ladder (or jungle gym as Sandberg rephrases it). As far as I know, she never once addresses the underlying assumptions of value that undergird her thought. For her, they are taken for granted.

Well I don't take them for granted. Money is not inherently valuable. Success is not inherently valuable. Our national discussion rarely focuses on these subjects because it is the last thing anyone wants. Our economy is based on people not believing these things. Businesses are based on people not believing these things. Governmental power is based on people not believing these things.

People who addresses these underlying issues and try to discuss them and not simply the icing on the capitalist cake are labeled as fringe or fanatics — people with their heads in the clouds. By belittling these people, we can avoid discussing things that are, on a societal scale, very scary.

Sandberg would have been much more groundbreaking if she had used her privilege and position, the bully pulpit, to discuss our underlying values. Because it is these values that are the wellspring from which our prejudice flows. The patriarchy and all its concomitant misogyny and sexism are products of these very basic values.

(There is actually a term for this, mores: folkways of central importance accepted without question and embodying the fundamental moral views of a group. These are deep-rooted assumptions. They are like the id and ego of a society — the reptilian hindbrain of a nation.)

Sandberg didn't do that. She produced a digestible little nugget of fluff. And funny enough, this perfectly embodies her underlying values. Her fluff sold hundreds of thousands of copies and earned her spots on talk shows. If she had written a truly trenchant and piercing analysis of society, no one would have bought it.

She did precisely what she said we should all do: she leaned in... straight into the top of the best sellers list.

No comments: