Monday, May 18, 2015

Book review: Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg



Recently I got a chance to dig in to the popular Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I had wanted to read it for a while, but don't you notice that sometimes books get sent to you like little angels at the exact specific moment in time that you are meant to read them? This was one of those books for me - especially since I had just started working again.

Originally, I thought I might not be able to relate to it too much because I'm not in a corporate profession. But this novel was very much a feminist manifesto - and the underlying theme was how to balance work with motherhood. The book touched on gender roles, work/life balance, self-confidence, and societal pressures on women - which is something that I deal with A LOT.

A huge message in the book was actually a call on men to step up to the plate at home and "lean in to their families" and "be more ambitious in their homes" - which is brilliant. Sandberg said that women aren't going to work or succeed if their husband's don't fully support them. And AMEN to that!!!


Here are some quotes from the novel that really spoke to me:

"A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes."

"We [women] internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives - the messages that say it's wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care. We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet."

"Many of these girls watched their mothers try to 'do it all' and then decide something had to give. That something was usually their careers."

"Professional ambition is expected of men but is optional - or worse, sometimes even negative - for women. 'She is very ambitious' is not a compliment in our culture. Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct. Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost."

"When a girl tries to lead, she is often labeled bossy. Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend."

"Popular culture has long portrayed successful working women as so consumed by their careers that they have no personal life. If a female character divides her time between work and family, she is almost always harried and guilt ridden."

"Women are not thinking about 'having it all', they're worried about losing it all - their jobs, their children's health, their families' financial stability - because of the regular conflicts that arise between being a good employee and a responsible parent."

"For many men, the fundamental assumption is that they can have both a successful professional life and a fulfilling personal life. For many women, the assumption is that trying to do both is difficult at best and impossible at worst. Women are surrounded by headlines and stories warning them that they cannot be committed to both their families and career. They are told over and over again that they have to choose, because if they try to do too much, they'll be harried and unhappy. Framing the issue as 'work-life balance' - as if the two were diametrically opposed - practically ensures work will lose out. Who would ever choose work over life?"

"We need more portrayals of women as competent professionals and happy mothers - or even happy professionals and competent mothers. Our culture remains baffles: I don't know how she does it."

"Fear is at the root of so many barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overachieving. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter. Without fear, women can pursue professional success and personal fulfillment - and freely choose one, or the other, or both."

"Owning one's success is key to achieving more success."

"Women need to shift from thinking 'I'm not ready to do that' to thinking 'I want to do that - and I'll learn by doing it."

"It's easy to predict society's reaction [to becoming a parent]. When a couple announces that they are having a baby, everyone says 'Congratulations!' to the man and 'Congratulations! What are you planning on doing about work?' to the woman. The broadly held assumption is that raising their child is her responsibility."

"If we make it easy for women to drop out of the career marathon, we also make it too hard for men. Just as women feel that they bear the primary responsibility of caring for their children, many men feel like they bear the primary responsibility of supporting their families financially. Their self-worth is tied mainly to their professional success"

"As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home."

"When it comes to children, fathers often take their cues from mothers. This gives a mother great power to encourage or impede the father's involvement. If she acts as a gatekeeper mother and is reluctant to hand over responsibility, or worse, questions the father's efforts, he does less."

"Tasks like laundry, food shopping, cleaning, and cooking are mundane and mandatory. Typically, these tasks fall to women. Sharing the burden of the mundane can make all the difference."

"The image of a happy couple still includes a husband who is more professionally successful than the wife. If the reverse occurs, it is considered threatening to the marriage."

"When husbands do more housework, wives are less depressed, marital conflicts decrease, and satisfaction rises. When women work outside the home and share bread-winning duties, couples are more likely to stay together. In fact, the risk of divorce reduces by about half when a wife earns half the income and a husband does half the housework."

"Employed mothers and fathers both struggle with multiple responsibilities, but mothers also have to endure the rude questions and accusatory looks that remind us that we're shortchanging both our jobs and our children."

"Guilt management can be just as important as time management for mothers."

"As Professor Williams explains, 'These mommy wars are so bitter because both groups' identities are at stake because of another clash of social ideals: The ideal worker is defined as someone always available for work, and the 'good mother' is defined as always available to her children. So ideal-worker women need to prove that, although they weren't always there, their children are fine, fine, fine...Women who have rejected the ideal-worker norm and settled for a slower career (or no career) need to prove that their compromise was necessary for the good of their families. So you have each group of women judging the other, because neither group of women has been able to live up to inconsistent ideals' "


Click on the link above to purchase the book or add it to a wish list.

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Dear readers, which quotes speak to you?
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7 comments

  1. Hi MadhMama,
    Great book. It's sad that Sherly's husband passed away few days back only.

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  2. I'm not sure I buy into this "lean in" concept. For the past year I did the whole working in a corporate job while raising my first child who is about to turn 1 year old. Even with my husband's help, I felt totally worn out every day. My health and happiness has suffered and we eventually made the family decision for me to stay home full time with the baby while he is still so young and dependent on me. Someday with baby number 2, I do not want to do things how I did with baby number 1. I will stay home full time to care for that child. I'm not cut out for working a demanding job while raising a small baby. Kudos to those who can do it and still maintain their sanity, good looks and figure, as well as their job performance. The past year was like a bad dream that I'm just waking up from. I'm thankful I have a husband who can provide enough that will allow me to do this and that I can spend these precious years focusing on what's really important in life. The time will come for getting back into working and making that come into focus more...but for myself, the time is not now. My family has to be my focus.

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  3. Also, I don't completely agree with this quote...at least while living in upstate NY:

    "The image of a happy couple still includes a husband who is more professionally successful than the wife. If the reverse occurs, it is considered threatening to the marriage."

    I have seen many couples where the woman is in the prestigious job and is the breadwinner for the family while the husband is either working a more modest job. At least outwardly, these couples still appear to be completely happy with their dynamic and often these women are really strong minded and want to take the lead while their partners are happy to let them be the boss. I think generally, yes, it's considered more acceptable for the man to be professionally successful, but there are definitely parts of the US that are more progressive and ok with non-traditional situations.

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    Replies
    1. Certainly in the West at least more and more families are in the position where the woman is the main bread winner. I even know families with stay at home dads and working mums. I agree with you that being able to chose to be a stay at home mum if you feel you want to do it is a feminist choice. Unfortunately old fashioned feminists don't understand this and keep analyzing the world as we were in the 19th century and all women were bourgeois... (Pad)

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  4. This post really speaks to me right now, thanks.

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  5. I have been hemming and hawing over this book because of mixed reviews. Some applaud it as promoting feminism while other say that this puts more pressure on women who are already stretched too thin. From you review it seems to be helping women than putting more pressure on them. Maybe I will get around to reading it and analyse it one of these days.

    I like most of the quotes but not so much with these lines -

    "For many men, the fundamental assumption is that they can have both a successful professional life and a fulfilling personal life." - In most cases, this is a traditional model where the father is not too involved with their childrens' lives or knows them personally. Children lean on the mother for everything and keep the father at an emotional distance. So, if we were to judge in that fashion, men are not really fulfilled in that aspect.

    "For many women, the assumption is that trying to do both is difficult at best and impossible at worst."
    - Trying to overdo both is difficult for anybody irrespective of gender. It is women who focus more on perfectionism and trying to be a perfect mother who makes organic home baked cookies as well the perfect career women as well as hot while men generally are more relaxed about this. They are not going to hit the roof for a school bake event and will just buy cookies. It is us putting pressure on ourselves.


    "Women are surrounded by headlines and stories warning them that they cannot be committed to both their families and career." - This scaremongering is again by women for women. Do you read such stories in men's magazines? No.

    "They are told over and over again that they have to choose, because if they try to do too much, they'll be harried and unhappy." - Applies to anybody - male or female. Men who overwork are not harried only if they have a female partner whose only job is to manage everything when he is at work.

    "Framing the issue as 'work-life balance' - as if the two were diametrically opposed - practically ensures work will lose out. Who would ever choose work over life?" - Sheryl admitted that she leaves the office sharp on time and does not check emails after that. So she is focusing on W-L balance. People who are not CEO's cannot always do that. At the same time, having observed the work culture in east Asia, all I can say is people need to get a life and identity beyond work. No point being a one dimensional personality with no life or fun beyond the job. For these cases, I recommend lean out not lean in because they are leaning in too much and sacrificing their lives for the job. Who would choose work over life? Most in east Asia ha ha. I think again this is a women to women idea - everything in perfect balance, perfect being the operative word. Nothing is perfect including the balance part. Some days you work more, some days you focus on life more. Life is in motion.

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    Replies
    1. I was discussing this with hubs and I realized that I had not been adequately clear or wholly correct about the entire thing and there are variations within Asia as well.

      Before marriage - Yes, there is not much work-life balance and most people lean towards work.
      After marriage - Similar leaning in too much towards work.
      After kids - Most women do not have the luxury of a choice on whether they want to continue to work or not and this is where the book's criticism of elitism comes in because not everyone has a choice.

      If I were to look at east Asia where there are developed countries, there is still often no choice because of cost of living or them still being conservative.

      Japan - Developed but still very traditional. most women have to choose life because it is expected that they will and they have no support whatsoever. They have to give up their jobs after kids. If you like you work, the only choice you have is not to get married which is what happens a lot.

      Other countries in the region - I think there is often no choice for couple not to have kids because the pressure is too intense. Top that, both parents have to work because of cost of living. So really what choice are we talking about. There is an intense pressure to get back to work in a month or 2 and you are seen as a slacker if you take longer leave. So, we are not really talking about the choice to lean in at the work place more or choose life because most do not have a choice.

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