Lean In? Not so much.....

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If you’re a white woman who works or has worked in big business you’ve probably read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and quite possibly you related to it. Should I ever need or decide to get a job somewhere other than VERVE I will refer to it when asking for raises and recognition. If my daughters choose to work in corporations I will suggest they read it too. I liked it. It started a conversation.

But here’s the thing. I read it over 3 years ago. Since then my understanding of the limitations and arrogance of white feminism has evolved. Happily I’m not the only one. I just finished Dawn Foster’s Lean Out. Full disclosure, this is yet another book on feminism written by a white woman. That’s said, you should read it.

Foster recognizes the strengths of Sandberg’s book saying -

A lot of what Sheryl Sandberg said was very practical and needed to be said... and a lot of her advice was very very good. But what Sandberg didn’t say was ‘You need to forcefully speak up more in meetings, because men have a habit of talking over you, and patriarchy encourages male voices and discourages female voices, and you need to work against that.’ She never criticised the institutions that perpetuate inequality against women.

Foster’s position is that individualistic corporate feminism discounts the experiences of most women and is actually facilitating the sexist culture they hope to change. She also makes a very strong case against the effectiveness and morality of trickle down feminism.

Foster deftly explores the ways in which individualistic feminism has so easily and so often allowed and enabled feminism to be dismissed and unrelatable to the women clinging to the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. If the majority of women can’t relate then it isn’t a movement, it’s a “lifestyle”.

And one thing that upset me quite a bit is that the only reason that Sandberg’s life is at all possible is because she employs low-paid women to clean her house, do the grocery shopping, look after her children, run her finances... and her advice wouldn’t help those women at all. Speaking up more in meetings isn’t going to help a cleaner, because they don’t have meetings, they just get isolated.
— Dawn Foster

Foster is also funny, which always helps a lot, especially when writing about such an infuriating, depressing subject. Her point of view is new to me, and I’ve read quite a few feminist texts. My mind has been broadened.

I hope that the women who relate to Lean In will read Lean Out and not feel threatened by it’s premise and proposed solution. This is the next step towards understanding how the world’s patriarchal sexist cultural structure can be reconfigured and how we need new ideas, not tweaked ones.

Article by Anna Quick-Palmer