I still believe, though, that women are attracted to feminist ideals beyond driving vanity projects. We don’t find feminism only when we somehow win the leisure time to develop a political analysis; we do it because we can’t afford not to. But when Sandberg asks the women in her movement to share only “positive” stories (as the Lean In Circle materials stipulate), where women always overcome the odds through their individual mettle, when do women get a chance to identify the obstacles still in front of them, those structural barriers that do not melt before positive self-regard? Without naming that which is still not won, what is this movement actually struggling for? To make change, or to be celebrated as women who adopt the mantle of “changemaker” in Sandberg’s world?
Any movement leader needs a compelling vision, not just an outsize platform. For Sandberg, that’s in making “work-life balance” an issue for all people, not just women. But Sandberg’s recipe for balance is found between the demands of a woman’s employer and the demands of her children. Where are women’s own desires in this equation?
Where, in Sandberg’s feminism, are the women who do not want children, or who can’t have them? Women who do not want to get married, or women who legally are not allowed to marry? Where are the women whose care-taking duties include, in addition to their children, elderly parents, close friends and extended families? If all these women do exist within the frame of the “Lean In” movement, Sandberg gives them as little airtime, and therefore value, as the men who seek to exclude them from their power base. Her movement, insofar as there is one, holds little for the majority of women.
But this is, for women, no great tragedy, and certainly no greater exclusion than we — child-free, unmarried, lesbian or bisexual, transgender, or working in the many thousands of jobs outside the halls of global capital’s leadership — already face. We know what Sandberg cannot understand: Women and our social movements do not need a better boss but a more powerful base, from which we can lead on our own terms.