Dear Sheryl Sandberg

Dear Sheryl,

UnknownHere’s my post this morning about what a bunch of slackers we ladies are for wanting to spend more time away from our jobs. (And guys: you can be slackers too, if you just get in touch with your lazy ass inner selves.) Joke, joke… But bring on the outrage, anyway. I’m actually totally serious about all of this. I’m sick of privileging certain kinds of “work” (well compensated, male-stereotyped) over other essential adult tasks. You see, Sheryl…

Is it okay if I call you Sheryl? This is a little confessional here, but a lot of working moms  don’t want to lean in quite as much as you think we should. I hate to rain on your parade. I know you must have my best interests at heart. You spent a lot of energy making life better for women in corporate America by… advocating for better parking spaces for pregnant executives. There’s a cause I can get behind! (I had pre-eclampsia with my first pregnancy and not a single shlub (sp?) on Amtrak would give up his/her seat or help me with my luggage when my legs had swollen to elephantine proportions.) Besides, unlike most of the journalistic/pundicratic wannabes circling the internet drain, I happen to have read the entirety of your surprisingly thin, surprisingly not at all gender-revolutionary book. Sheryl, I know that my argument — LET’S NOT FORGET, MANY WORKING MOMS WANT TO WORK LESS, NOT MORE!– doesn’t really fit with your “we need a couple hundred more billionaire female executives to sleep 4.5 hours per night or the world will implode” shtick. And remind, me, Sheryl, how – if history is any guide – a few extra extremely rich female executives are going to make a dent in income inequality, poverty, sex trafficking, maternal mortality, reproductive health care, and the like? And while we’re on-topic, how, exactly, do you propose, as you have done, that they are going to have better marital sex by waking up at 5 a.m. to answer emails and working the late shift after Jr. has gone down for the night? (Sorry, hon, but that vexing bugaboo, actual data, is not on your side on that small point.)

Why is transformative, do-gooder, people-empowering capitalism any more in a woman’s ‘wheelhouse’ than a guy executive? (And somebody please tell me why I keep hearing the word, “wheelhouse” five times a day!)  Anne Applebaum, who is pretty much the most unslackerly gal I’ve ever read,  has a fantastic exegesis of all of this in the New York Review of Books, where she argues — much better than I’m feebly paraphrasing – that Sheryl Sandberg joins a long line of successful, likable, business-memoirists trading in unsubstantiated platitudes while thinking they should be taken seriously as world-transformers. Too harsh? I don’t know. For now, I give you… my post this morning. Consider yourself warned:

photo: TIME, Inc.

photo: TIME, Inc.

It’s almost become a cliché to note that women are still under-earning compared to men in the workforce. But maybe this reality shouldn’t keep surprising us. The recent headlines miss an important part of the work-life balance story: plenty of working mothers are earning less than men because they want the sort of jobs and working arrangements which indeed pay less.

According to a recent Pew poll, 67% of all mothers would ideally forego full-time work in favor of working part-time (47%) or not at all (20%). By contrast, only 25% of fathers would choose part-time work (15%) or not to work (10%). Among all women – mothers and women without children – who describe themselves as “financially comfortable,” only 31% would ideally work full-time and another 34% wouldn’t work at all. And among married mothers, only 23 percent would ideally like to work full-time. These are large percentages of different types of women who would choose family or personal priorities over full-time employment.

Current labor statistics bear out these fantasies: women are twice as likely as men to work part-time even though they are also more likely to be college-educated and thus more marketable.

We spill a lot of ink trying to account for this seeming failure: corporate America doesn’t do enough for families (undoubtedly true). Government doesn’t do enough for families. (Ditto.) But there’s a certain condescension in these explanations, as if we can’t quite believe a woman knows her own mind. Even in countries like the Netherlands, with a tightly woven safety net and a high degree of gender equality, the majority of mothers still opt for more time at home with their families. And why not? Maybe it’s time to stop searching for societal ills or individual pathologies to explain this fact…

 Continued at:

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director/author. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
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3 Responses to Dear Sheryl Sandberg

  1. adauphin04 says:

    Thank you, Erika! I roll my eyes when anyone presumes to speak for a whole section of society, just because they happen to be a member of said section. Thank you!

  2. I do think Sandberg’s message is a good one for affluent female business school graduates. For others who might be drowning in the stress of trying to make ends meet, raise kids, pay the bills and get dinner on the table, it comes off as a privileged woman telling us what to do. And sounds to me like it’s pressuring women, who are often working harder than anyone.

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree. And I think the media have played a role in this sanctimony by anointing her, Oprah-style, as some kind of really profound social change agent/visionary for womankind and not, simply, a successful business person with a handful of tips. I also found a lot of her message quite self-contradictory at times and in ways that seemed confusing even to her fairly limited target audience.

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