Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"Lean into an unpaid internship"

Fiction is better, the article. By yours truly. I need to be better about the whole social-media self-promotion thing, i.e. it's not enough to just link to the article without making it clear that I, you know, wrote it. I need to... "lean in." I mean, I'm getting there. I have the beginnings of a functional website.

OK, so I've finished Lean In, and will provide my much-anticipated verdict. (I must phrase it like this, despite not actually thinking my verdict is especially anticipated, because Sandberg promotes faking it until you make it.) Which is not entirely unenthusiastic, if somewhat less positive than Flavia's.

As a reader, I'm not the biggest fan of books that are collaborative efforts between famous people and people actually capable of writing. It's not the principle of the thing - as long as the "with" is acknowledged, it's fine - but the writing style that ensues. There are these little quasi-humorous asides, where you may find yourself wondering, is this Sandberg? Her "with"? The moments that are meant to feel natural just don't. I found the style incredibly distracting, even though I could tell it was designed for easy reading.

Style aside, it's a mix of sensible advice applicable to all women; sensible advice applicable to the three or four women in Sandberg's boat (the second-after-Sartre problem); artificial-feeling nods in the direction of stay-at-home moms doing really important work, too (although I might file that, too, under "style" - it feels very much included to preempt that accusation, but cuts against the book's main message); and painful attempts to make Sandberg's career trajectory relatable. There are also platitudes - be confident, but not obnoxious. Fair enough, but how? Isn't the problem there that the line is only ever visible to others?

First, the sensible-and-applicable. The bit about how you should do what you would do if you weren't afraid, it's self-help-ish, but not wrong. And the advice about the long haul - that just because your work hardly/doesn't pay for childcare doesn't mean you should quit - seems right. There's value in staying in the workforce in some capacity. And the big-picture argument - that there ought to be more women at the top of every field - was true when Anne-Marie Slaughter said it and remains true. Fewer women opting out means a broader pool from which Slaughters and Sandbergs might emerge, and means a lot of good-but-not-spectacular careers for women who don't quite reach the top. (Most men won't, either.) And the biggest, overarching point - that the person who steps back in a straight couple shouldn't by-default be the woman - is entirely true and important. And relevant to everyone, not just executives.

Next, the not-as-applicable. The stuff about the two-body problem was... not so helpful. First, a 27-year-old woman is faulted for not wanting to move abroad for a year for some very important job because she has a boyfriend. Fair enough - if you're not going to go abroad for your work then, when? (I did, and have the grungy Paris-dorm flip-flops to tell about it.) Then Sandberg insists that women should be open about their personal lives as this relates to geography, and proudly recalls telling her mentor, Larry Summers, that she'd rather not move abroad because she wants to meet a man (they're only found domestically?), and also would rather not live in D.C. because it's where her ex-husband lives. What normal person could do this, given that there are enough problems for many people trying to tell higher-ups that they want to live near the person they're actually involved with? What message does this convey, other than that it's good to be at a place in life where Larry Summers has your back? (As someone I discussed this with said, this sounds more like leaning out.)

We then reach the point where Sandberg is happily married to her second husband, but they live in different cities. The cost (or, one suspects, comfort) of travel isn't an issue, but they have a kid now, which complicates matters. Her husband - 50-50 partner that he is - graciously decides to move to her city. Has he opted out? Not exactly - he's become CEO of another company and moved that company to her city. And how delightful that must have been for all the employees of said company, who must now move away from their families. This isn't how it goes for white women, or for white women with college degrees. This is how it goes for like three people in the world, and she and her husband are among them. Between this and the enthusiasm for "Porn For Women," that book about how, ha ha, women's biggest 'turn-on' is for their husbands to clean the house, Sandberg would lose me from time to time.

The main problem with the book is that it's trying to be two things - a guide for all the women, and one for the second-after-Sartres of the world. It's not exactly that it's offensive to women who are less ambitious. It's very every-box-checked, with privilege acknowledged, the full deal. It's just... maybe not so useful if you're never orchestrating the merger of two companies or some such. If your goal is ruling the world, then yes, it's incredibly important to pick a spouse who'll embrace this. Yet few men - and, drumroll please, few women - are interested in signing up for that life, and if you want a happy relationship, and don't want to be CEO of an especially large corporation, this may not be a wise strategy. This one woman is discussed and praised for having played mind games with boyfriends, canceling on them for fake work events, to see how they'd react, and asking them to travel with her (was she paying?) at a moment's notice. It's not worse for a woman to do this, but it's kind of weak behavior on anyone's part.

And then there's the Lean In empire, which is its own thing, and which just feels like internet-age positivity without much direction. A 20-something unpaid intern tells her Lean In story (dream the big dreams!), as do Sarah Ferguson (!) and Tyra Banks (!!!), who evidently leaned into her position as a supermodel. You can also intern for zilch at the Lean In organization. For all that Lean In has to say about the need, as a woman, to deftly negotiate, there sure is a lot of space left open for celebrating women who work-for-no-pay outside the home.


Petey said...

"But there are small-scale stories worth telling, and fiction is often their best literary home ... Fiction allows us to tap into these often unsightly but fundamental aspects of our shared humanity. Reading fiction, we can relate without having to endorse."

Well, sure!

But is there a market for fiction?

You can't slatepitch fiction. Think of how many pageviews those 4,000 comments generated.

Hell, it's not even just the internet. Reality teevee is a relatively new innovation too, one which ended up decimating fiction teevee.

Fiction is great, but personal essays are great too. (And pieces like yours, which are neither, are great too.) But one can't ignore that there is a real market for personal essays. The trick is just ignoring the comments.

(I read fiction. But I'm a dirty hippie. And we've got minuscule market share. (Margaret Atwood's trilogy completion comes out in two weeks. Good time to catch up on the first two, if you haven't read them already.))

Petey said...

"Then Sandberg insists that women should be open about their personal lives as this relates to geography, and proudly recalls telling her mentor, Larry Summers, that she'd rather not move abroad because she wants to meet a man (they're only found domestically?)"

Well, perhaps they're only found domestically unless one is potentially good at math. And given that Sandberg has been an attentive student of Larry's...

Bada, bing! Thanks. I'll be here all week. Tip your waitstaff well.

Phoebe said...

The point of the article was that it's a shame the market is thus. So I'm not sure why you're responding me to tell me the market is thus.