Tue, Mar 19, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Book review: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

A new book by Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook, is an infantilizing, reactionary guide for ambitious women

By Zoe Williams  /  The Guardian, London

But that is exactly the point: this book isn’t offering a new spark for a feminist revolution. Rather, it says, your revolution has stalled — why don’t you try getting what you want my way? Perhaps predictably, this involves a lot of flexibility, and even more smiling. “A woman needs to combine niceness with insistence,” she concludes, having surveyed all the evidence that people respond badly to women who lobby in their own interests. “I understand the paradox of advising women to change the world by adhering to its biased rules and expectations. I know it is not a perfect answer but a means to a desirable end.” We’re back at the prom. Zip it, smart-arse, or you won’t get laid. Except you probably wouldn’t want to get laid, because it would erode your value proposition.

This goal-driven, ideology-free approach has some fascinating insights into the world of business itself. Where Sandberg describes the thought processes that led her to Google (fast-growing companies always have more work than they have people; slow-growing companies have more senior people than they have interesting work, so senior people concentrate instead on eating each other — it’s obvious once somebody says it), or the interview process that led her to Facebook (dinner with Mark Zuckerberg, every night, for weeks), it’s magnetic. But when she pans back to apply her approach to all women, her conclusions are often comically infantilizing. She gives Arianna Huffington as an ego ideal. “Her advice is that we should let ourselves react emotionally and feel whatever anger or sadness being criticized evokes for us. And then we should quickly move on. She points to children as her role model. A child can cry one moment and run off to play the next.” Sure. And a cat can go to sleep when it’s bored. Emulating the cat may not be the best way to deal with a boring situation. Later, a superior intervenes on her behalf with a client who keeps trying to fix her up with his son, and she remarks: “I could not have been more grateful for Robert’s protection. I knew exactly how that baby bird felt when he finally found his mother.”

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