Why We Should Lean In On The ‘Lean In’ Wave

Posted: July 18, 2014

While the ‘Lean In’ message may apply more to affluent/upper middle class women, it gives all women the opportunity to make our presence felt in the public spaces that matter.

‘Lean In’ has become one of the most important pieces of writing of the last 5 years, on the challenges for women in the workforce in intermediate to mid-level positions. It has reached a mainstream audience and for feminists and feminist networks it has now become a staple book for discussion.

More than just agreeing with it wholeheartedly or simply refusing to read it, it is important to understand what its faults are, but also how to galvanize its momentum for a broader gender equality agenda.

First, let me just say, I don’t think the book’s message is universal. I think it addresses structural challenges for (mostly white) women to succeed in Corporate America. Following its neo-liberal tendencies, it puts a lot more emphasis on the individual women, than it does on the structural challenges that prevent their ascension to leadership roles.

I still think the book is important though. Not because its message is new or inclusive, but because it is opening a discussion about the difficulties of women within several patriarchal structures that most mainstream channels didn’t even begin to question. The author of the book, Sheryl Sandberg, is admittedly not a Gender studies scholar or an activist. I think it would be disingenuous of her to do so. It is a lot about us now, to take this space and move the discussions forward.

A women’s demonstration in the Philippines, rights reserved to Kilusang Mayo Uno.

The third wave of feminism is about inclusion, so let’s bring our issues to the table. We want to talk about inclusion in the workplace, women’s representation in media and women’s representation in government. Let’s talk about violence against women, harassment on the workplace/in the streets and sexual violence.

Let’s use this opportunity to have open discussions on the need for comprehensive sex education, abortion, especially in conflict-zones and access to birth control and family planning. Let’s use this space, more than ever, to allow us, women from Latin America, Asia, Africa, indigenous women, black women, queer women to have a more significant voice in feminism, politics and on the development agenda. Let’s discuss identity, our heteronormative culture and fight discrimination, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia.

My point is, I believe we have to be intersectional and inclusive, but also smart and getting our messages across and transforming power relations. Sandberg’s neoliberal feminism is not perfect, like TED Women is not perfect, or UN Security Council resolution 1325 is not perfect but they are getting women’s rights in the mainstream agenda.

We need those spaces, we need to change those structures. Rather than op-out of the dialogue we can use this moment and those openings – not to undermine those struggles, that are in themselves valid – but make those spaces more meaningful for all of us and to get closer to actual gender equality.

Top pic credit: jumfer (All pics used under a CC license)

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