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None of us has been unaware of Sheryl Sandberg this week. She was at the World Economic Forum, as seen at left; on 60 Minutes; and on every magazine cover you can think of, both in print and on the Intertubes. Why? Not because of her achievement in becoming the  chief operating officer of one of the top companies in the world (Facebook), but because of her best-seller,  Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, which grew out of her enormously popular 2010 TED Talk. 

In 2010,  Sandberg described “how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers,” and encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto. In addition to the talk and book, Sandberg is also promoting a semi-grassroots set of “Lean In” netw0rking groups to enable women to empower each other.

The book has certainly made a splash: and, people agree, it’s grist for dialogue.

Chrystia Freeland, at Toronto Globe and Mail, finds the book revolutionary: “It is radical because she is not decrying the vile misogyny that oppresses women in some distant and impoverished land. The sexism endured by the women of, say, Afghanistan is incomparably more severe and more limiting than the stereotypes that trammel the graduates of Harvard Business School. But it is also much easier for the privileged Westerners—men and women alike—who inhabit Ms. Sandberg’s world to champion the cause of downtrodden women in another, poorer society. Confronting the problems in your own backyard, or your own corner office, is more personally threatening.”

Lean In by Sheryl SandbergBut many, many others have critiqued it too, from every angle imaginable. At The Daily Beast, Michelle Goldberg usefully compiles some of the most vocal protests:

Writing in USA Today, Joanne Bamberger, who either didn’t read Lean In or didn’t comprehend it, lumps Sandberg in with Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, accusing both of launching ‘the latest salvo in the war on moms.’

“In The New York Times, the usually supercilious Maureen Dowd evinced a sudden concern for feminist authenticity, slamming Sandberg for co-opting ‘the vocabulary and romance of a social movement not to sell a cause, but herself.’

“Melissa Gira Grant, writing in The Washington Post, carps that ‘this is simply the elite leading the slightly-less-elite, for the sake of Sandberg’s bottom line,’ which makes sense if you believe that a woman worth hundreds of millions of dollars would go into feminist publishing for the money. (Skirting feminist self-parody, Grant proceeds to complain that Sandberg fails to grapple with the struggles of domestic workers, the unemployed, people whose caretaking duties extend beyond children to aging parents as well as ‘close friends and extended families,’ women who can’t have children, and those who are lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.)

“Weighing in at Forbes.com, Deanna Zandt admits that she didn’t bother trying to get a review copy of Lean In, but nonetheless claims that Sandberg’s message is ‘buck up, little campers. It’s a tough world, and you’ve got to be tough.’

 At MSNBC, Melissa Harris-Perry brought in a crew of heavy hitters to sort it all out.

At Alternet, Brigid O’Farrell points out that labor union women’s voices are essential to this discussion. Progress, she says, will come not from the front office but “from women workers, backed by strong legislation, joining together in unions and negotiating for themselves. […] As labor historian Dorothy Sue Cobble has eloquently documented, in the 1960s there was the ‘other women’s movement’ led by labor feminists.

Still, Nisha Chittai posits at Ms. Magazine that Lean In may be ‘The Next Great Feminist Manifesto.”  “I found it to be a thoughtful, heavily researched and detailed book that will no doubt inspire countless young women to aim higher in their careers . . . Sandberg’s message is a welcome departure from that oft-repeated message that women can’t have both a career and a family. Instead, Sandberg is saying to women: You can achieve all the things you want in life, and here’s how to start achieving those goals now.”

Even if it’s no manifesto, says Maureen Corrigan at NPR, Lean In is “Still a Win for Women”: “Given all those heavy-hitters pitching in and considering the pre-publication feminist firestorm, you would think Sandberg’s book would be a riveting read, but lean in and I’ll tell you something: I dozed off twice while reading it. Most of the book is kind of blah, composed of platitudinous-corporate-speak-intermixed-with-pallid-anecdotes . . . But, but, but . . . there are still some compelling reasons why, echoing some of Sandberg’s supporters, I’d optimistically slide Lean In into my teenage daughter’s bookshelf.”

And all the dialogues about ‘leaning in’ certainly make for a healthy dialogue, writes Tracie Egan Morrissey at Jezebel. “Suddenly feminism is back in the mainstream in a big way. And this time it’s not just a conversation about how it ‘died,’ but rather, a conversation about what we can do to propel ideas forward. This is a really exciting moment because for the first time in a long time it feels like the women’s movement is actually moving.”

Women’s Voices for Change welcomes Sandberg to the conversation we’ve been sparking since 2006, featuring women from Phillis Wheatley, America’s first black poet, to Rosie the Riveter to umpire Perry Barber. We believe, there’s a brand of feminism for everyone. 

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