There is a lot of conversation happening in the blogosphere around the movement by Sheryl Sandberg and friends to “Ban Bossy” Many women in leadership in faith circles can resonate with the sentiment of this campaign, as many faith-based institutions historically have silenced women by labeling leadership traits as “unfeminine” while simultaneously enshrining leadership as a male characteristic. Sandberg argued in her TED talk that inspired the movement, that in her experience many girls and women have been called “bossy” when boys and men who express similar sentiments are portrayed as “brave” and “leadership potential.” In my own experience I have experienced and seen this happen and have observed that few places are as guilty of this practice as faith-based institutions. As a professional woman and a mother of two precocious and intelligent girls, I was initially impressed with this effort to reshape the language of educators, mentors, and parents when encountering strong, opinionated children. However, upon further reflection, and after reading several engaging blogs across the political and ideological spectrum, I have changed my mind.
While I applaud Sandberg and associates efforts to highlight the gendered assumptions about leadership that are still present in many institutions and individuals in American society, I think their efforts to “ban” a word are misguided, as “banning” has the effect of stopping dialogue. What is really needed is a cultural conversation about the meaning of “leadership” and the rainbow of its expressions in society. We need an ongoing conversation about how leadership is perceived and how it is expressed in engendered and personality-based and culturally shaped ways. Their efforts to highlight the effects of a label like “bossy” are to be commended, but banning this label alone is not enough for building a future where women and girls have space at the table equal to men and boys, because there are men and boys and culturally different minorities who are also not at the table. It is time that we stop using gender as a straw man and begin considering how labels such as “bossy” construct such narrow definitions of leadership affect both developing boys and girls.
If past conferences such as Women of Faith drew thousands of evangelical women to indoor stadiums for devotional Bible study, a new generation of evangelical women is looking outward and concerned with issues such as social justice.
The IF:Gathering in Austin earlier this month was one of those conferences. At the Austin Music Hall, about 1,200 women were greeted by farm tables decorated with candles and cabbage- and lavender-filled centerpieces. The free coffee came from Westrock Coffee, an organization committed to safe working conditions in Rwanda. But the wholesome, back-to-nature ambiance was just the start.
The women participating, including more than 44,000 online, sponsored 600 children through Food for the Hungry. Speakers included sex trafficking victim advocates Christine Caine and Bianca Olthoff, humanitarian photographer Esther Havens, and Annie Lobert, founder of Hookers for Jesus, a ministry for prostitutes that attempts to end sex trafficking.
The year 2013 may well come to be known as the Year of the Woman.
Women of high socio-economic status both applauded and lamented the publication of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, while women of a certain age waxed nostalgic over the 50th anniversary release of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Those under 30 were surprised that the latter book existed, and those in their middle years realized the reading assignment that somewhat bored them as inapplicable in college was now vitally important, as they struggled with work/life balance and debated whether to stay home with the kids or remain in the paid workforce.
The “mommy wars” raged, and were fueled by controversial statements and work policies by women in positions of leadership. Stay-at-home moms and paycheck-earning moms stared one another down across a divide narrower than they realized, and bloggers everywhere called for a united female front.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why I feel so bothered by Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In.
I suggested to my husband that maybe I’m being defensive since I am an educated woman in a professional field who has very clearly chosen to “lean out” to spend more time at home.
Or maybe it’s because I disagree with putting any degree of blame for inequality in the workforce on women.
Or maybe it’s because I don’t like the idea of human capital.
None of those reasons, however, seem to explain why the book and the phrase “lean in” have become such an obsession for me. I certainly consider myself a huge proponent of equality and women’s rights. I have marched, protested, researched, worked toward, and fought for true equality for women all of my adult life.
So my discomfort with Sandberg’s book isn’t because I’m anti-woman or anti-feminist. It isn’t because I disagree with her and want all moms to stay home and bake cookies and volunteer for PTA. It isn’t even because I feel the need to defend my choice to be a 99-percent stay-at-home mom. Instead, it’s because, as a Christian, I believe that the whole idea of “leaning in” does not take into account the principle of putting others before self. (Phil. 2:3-8). This principle applies equally to both women and men.
(Caveat: neither women nor men should be trapped into subservience by children and/or spouse. I am talking about putting the real, rational, and loving needs presented by being part of a family before one’s individual needs.)
Well, somebody had to do it: Somebody had to go buy the incessantly hyped volume Lean In by the stratospherically successful Facebook COO (and mother of two) Sheryl Sandberg, and figure out what’s behind the seemingly endless radio talk shows and online profiles — they have been following me, they have, filling up my car like clouds of incense and dinging on my phone with the book’s mantra-like subtitle, Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
I bought this part-memoir, part self-help book on a gorgeous spring weekday when, because I work part-time, I was supposed to be home anyway. Because the pollen was getting to me and I had woken up groggy, my husband generously offered to take the children to school on his way in to work, something that Sandberg would applaud: husbands who will assume major leadership at home are a major key in enabling mothers to succeed.
I stumbled around the house in my nightgown for a while, then finally got dressed and picked up Lean In at the Target in suburban Largo, Md., which at 10 on a weekday morning, was as silent as a tomb.
I drove half an hour to have lunch with a homeschooling friend, folded laundry and cleaned some grout, picked up my children from school and finally settled down to read the book on the bench at my son’s baseball practice, as the evening sun sank over the trees.
I found myself surprised by how much I enjoyed it: Sandberg, who’s about my age and who shares some of my generational preoccupations, comes across as warm and intimate, gently self-deprecating in describing her own “monkey bar” career path (it’s not a ladder, she says, because you can move sideways too), as well as some of her mistakes.