From the ‘Lean In’ pushers who demand I read the book to understand how great it is or to decide that I am justified in not reading it, I am told that Sandberg deals artfully with the limits of her advice. I am told that she is clear that she has privilege and I am told that knocking down a successful woman for writing the kind of business books men write all the time is some sort of violation.
I do not accept that it is my responsibility to authenticate my disinterest. I also think Sandberg will manage without the support of one low-status black woman.
Sandberg doesn’t have to attend to things I care about like race, class, inequality and capitalism. But when she does not then you must understand why I mostly tune out all those imploring me to lean in.
An “anti racist” scholar in Canada took me to task of my criticism of Slaughter’s Having It All thesis awhile back in an online forum. She said that I can no more expect Slaughter to speak to my feminist concerns than I can be expected to speak of Slaughter’s.
That gave me pause.
I think I have determined how I would respond to that criticism as it relates both to Slaughter and Sandberg.
Basically, so what?
Privilege is about never having to critically engage the realities of others. So what if the threshold for clearing my litmus test for relevance adds an additional burden for those in privileged positions? If the burden is so great, I am always willing to trade my privilege for Sandberg’s.
It is not fair but I do not think I am arguing for fairness. Fair ignores the reality of structural inequality. Fair supposes that Sandberg and I are peers. And while I thank you for the back-handed compliment, you and I both know that is blowing smoke up my arse. We are not peers. We are not equals. Expecting some arbitrary ‘fairness’ index in our engagement of ideas effectively reproduces our respective unequal power relations. Sandberg should have to work harder to earn bona fides in my feminism because she needs my kind of feminism the least. Wealth and privilege inoculate her from the job insecurity, poverty, and isolation that other women work to provide through feminist ideals and labor. They have less time, fewer resources, less attention to be divided across concerns with concrete implications to their actual livelihoods, if not their very lives. Running a multi-billion dollar company is, without a doubt, stressful and time-consuming. But when Sandberg drops a ball her children likely will not go hungry. That difference requires, from me, a different litmus test for relevancy.
I am arguing for relevant cultural work that contributes to a feminism that is not all about privileged women.
Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd)
This is an excerpt from her essay Lean In Litmus Test: Is This For Women Who Can Cry At Work?. It is truly exquiste and perfectly encapsulates my feelings, thoughts and perspectives regarding Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, and this particular brand of feminism that some have referred to as 1% Feminism (no pun intended, I think…)
This book is NOT for me. Sandberg was not thinking about anyone even remotely like me when she wrote it. What is NOT okay is the presumption that this is some sort of feminist pathway for all women. To me, it is a work-life advice book for a particular sliver of women in the way that Seth Godin writes modern marketing and business advice. It won’t replace any bell hooks on my shelf, is my point. It’s not for me.
As Tressie points out in other parts of the essay, it may be for women who can cry at work, as she writes: "Crying at work is a euphemism for the myriad ways in which black women are sanctioned for demonstrating behavior from which white women benefit."
Again, this book is not for me. And that is okay. I hope people will stop demanding that I worship this book sometime soon.