The Problem with Leaning In

Last week, Rosa Brooks (an academic mom like us) posted a wonderful piece in response to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In mantra. Here’s the link. I admit, I haven’t actually read Lean In, although I followed some of the media hype and blogs surrounding the issue. Overall, I thought it just didn’t apply to me. After all, I don’t work at a company like Facebook. I’m in charge of my own time (for the most part) and besides tenure, I’m not really looking for promotion. Or at least THAT kind of promotion,

Okay, I admit that it would be nice if Harvard calls me up some day, and tells me they will pay for me to visit and decide if I would like to be one of their professors of early American history (tenure assumed). And that’s not going to happen unless my book (hopefully books and articles and talks) get some attention. Which is not going to happen unless I finish writing them. When I start thinking like this, I get all hyped up and feverishly start typing. I then look around for grants and conferences.

Then I remember that I’m doing fine. Yes, I’m not as prolific as some of my friends at R1s who have more research release time (or my friend who is an independent scholar with no kids). But, I am doing my own research, and I’m writing. Just on my own timeline, not some imagined schedule conjured up by comparing myself to others.

And I think that’s one of the biggest problems with Leaning In. What seems to be a solution to being a woman (and mom) in a business environment by networking and working harder, is really just an opportunity to compete with other women. Have you been to the website? It sounds good, it even looks good. But, what I see is just another group of people telling me what I’m doing wrong. How about this… You are doing NOTHING wrong. You have a job? Awesome. You are still working on your PhD? Good for you!

This is one of the many reasons I like the Recline article. Rosa Brooks, who went to college with Sheryl Sandberg, but never met her, said this about that realization:

“Some college students, like my friend Suzanne, take aerobics classes. Some college students, like Sheryl Sandberg, teach aerobics classes. Other college students, like myself, lie around the dorm reading novels. No wonder I can’t remember meeting Sheryl Sandberg in college! She was already busy leaning in. I was busy leaning back on my sofa, with a good book and a nice cup of cocoa.”

Honestly, I love books and hot chocolate. And I’m not sure if I would be a better person or a better professor if I was one of the students who taught aerobics classes (not that I could). It’s Rosa Brooks realization, after she does Lean In for a few years, that she’s miserable and decides to scale back that really made sense to me. I believe if you honestly WANT to be the best academic there is, go for it, follow the advice of Sheryl Sandberg and network and step-up to the plate at work and school and home all your little hearts desire. I’m not going to compete with you. I’m going to do what’s right for me. And if I need advice, I’m going to turn to the people I love and trust, and who know me best. And who knows, maybe being my own person and doing what’s right for me WILL appeal to Harvard. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, if you’re reading this, you’re going to LOVE my book when it finally appears.


About msmcdphd

I started this blog because I don't know what I'm doing! I'm a professor at a state school and a mother of one wonderful toddler. There are others out there like me. Maybe together we can come up with something that will be helpful to other women like us just as clueless about how to do this professor mommy thing with dignity.
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