To lean in or not to lean in

中国日报网 2016-10-14 12:11



To lean in or not to lean inReader question:

Please explain the title of the book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”, particularly “lean in”.

My comments:

To lean in or not to lean in. That is a good question. It is the question for many ambitious young women who want to make it big in their career.

Basically, if they want to be like the big boys, they’d better lean in, and lean all the way in, into the inner circle and be, always, in the thick of things.

To lean in literally means to incline our body, move forward and press into a conversation, a crowd, a discussion or something instead of leaning away, backing off.

At the office, of course, “leaning in” is now a movement in America, thanks to this very book, written by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook.

In her book, which was first published in 2013, she advises women to lean in instead of lay back, to be aggressive and to take opportunities at work by the scruff of the neck, so to speak.

Women are not always like that, of course. They tend to be shy and bashful, naturally inclined to defer to men, especially the alpha men, those who are ready to howl and growl in order to fight and fend for their causes, whatever those causes are – not unlike a dog.

The way I describe it, it does not look like a flattering scene but seriously, if you really want to make it big and be successful in the office or society at large, you will find it not much unlike what I describe.

I mean the competition, the dog-eat-dog, no-holds-bared tenacity and viciousness men sometimes exhibit in their daily maneuvering and jostling for position will make a dog blush.

And I am not even talking about the domestic variety. Instead, I’m referring to the wild types, the wild dogs, coyotes and hyenas and the like.

Are all men like that?

Worse, if you ask me, if they are really successful, worse if you consider the evil and intentional harm some of them are capable of inflicting on others, something that is absent in the animal world. Think of Hitler. And, to stay current, think of Donald Trump.

Trump supporters may accuse me of exaggeration on the part of their idol, but you get the point.

Anyways, to lean in is to be aggressive and not lay to lay back, to fight and compete like men and to take it rather than leave it.

If you want to be successful, becoming a boss, etc like Sandberg wants and succeeds in achieving, you probably have to do as she tells you to.

Sandberg, I understand, means it all in a good way. For women to succeed in the male dominated corporate culture, they indeed have to fight harder and sacrifice more, what with household chores, kids and so forth.

The thing is, do all women want that success? Indeed, should all women (and men for that matter even though “Lean In” is a feminist movement) strive for the kind of modern day success and competition that have turned society into the way it is?

Indeed, to lean in or not to lean in, that will be an ongoing question.

And not an easy one for any aspiring young women to answer, to be sure. To many women, it is about time – high time, as a matter of fact – that they leaned in. For others, it may not be such a good idea.

All women (and men) are not the same.

So, therefore, to each, her (or his) own.

All right, here are media examples of “leaning in”, meaning, metaphorically aggressive participation and total involvement instead of leaning away, laying back and backing off – and, perhaps, even walking away:

1. When Jasmine McElroy enters Room 200 at Howard University’s School of Business on a recent Friday night, she starts to sit in the second row, behind a semicircle of about 10 classmates already deep in conversation. But then Lean In campus coordinator Alysha McFall motions for her to take a seat within, not behind, the group.

You can almost hear Sheryl Sandberg: Sit at the table!

And that’s exactly what McElroy does.

It’s been a year since the publication of “Lean In,” Sandberg’s sort-of manifesto for getting women into leadership and helping them balance work with the rest of their lives. Beyond an endless debate over whether the Facebook executive is good or bad for feminism, the legacy of Sandberg’s movement won’t come down to book sales, a forthcoming movie or less sexist stock photography. It will be defined by Lean In Circles: clusters of women who meet regularly and keep one another focused on their goals, whether they’re trying to win a promotion, get into business school or learn to play guitar.

There are 14,000 Lean In Circles around the world, according to Sandberg’s Lean In foundation; and Sandberg has visited circles in Beijing, Istanbul, Minneapolis and Miami. Last month, I sat in on six circles in the Washington area and spoke to women in several more. Their members, or circlers, are the ones trying to live out the Lean In gospel. In a video pitching the circles, Sandberg invokes the success of book clubs and weight-loss groups. I found the Lean In Circles to be more like Alcoholics Anonymous fused with Girl Scouts — a support group built around a social movement.

- A year after ‘Lean In,” these are Sheryl Sandberg’s truest believers,, by Lisa Bonos, March 7, 2014.

2. Sheryl Sandberg was brave enough to do something which most people never can: she admitted to the world that she had made a mistake.

When Sandberg wrote “Lean In,” she didn’t adequately acknowledge the challenges single mothers face. Now that she is experiencing it first hand, she understands what a huge mistake that is. Instead of applauding her, it seems like too many women have decided to bash her instead.

It’s been said that white feminism has been an arena dominated by the privileged and tone deaf.

But, to be fair, people are only generally good at understanding the world that they know and live in. They fight for the problems that they can see. And sometimes, people need to go through a struggle in order to really get it. Not only did she get it, but she is doing something about it — pushing corporate America to change to better accommodate single mothers.

Single mothers often don’t have a choice of staying home with their kids, they have to work. But, they also don’t always have the choice of “leaning in.” They have so many responsibilities at home that they need flexibility, can’t always take on extra work or put in enough hours.

Despite having this problem myself, Sandberg’s book inspired me as a single mother and I decided LAWFI (Lean All the Way the Fuck In). Here is the process I went through: I took a bird’s eye view of my life and thought: “I am the only person that my kids have to depend on and I am going to work hard no matter what. I can either fight my way to the top or I can work hard and stretch myself thin without getting anywhere.”

I chose to fight. I watched videos on the Lean In website, I negotiated better, I took on challenges that were more than I thought I could handle. And then each time I thought that I had taken on too much, instead of backing down, I reached out for help.

I don’t have a husband, but I have friends and family who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. They have taken my kids when I worked late, they have fed us, loved us, housed us and given me the strength to keep going.

- Why I ‘Lean All The Way In’ As A Single Mother,, by Sarah Nadav, May 26, 2016.

3. I have always rejected the idea that a female point of view even exists in politics, for three reasons. First, just because we’re women doesn’t mean we all agree; and the suggestion that we should is a textbook and profound political sexism of its own, rendering us less by denying us the freedom to individuate. Second, a conception of “women’s politics” always takes as its starting point a demand for equality, and it makes no rational sense to limit that demand to equality between genders. There is no inequality between genders that isn’t interlaced with inequalities of wealth, race and power, or if there is, it’s not the most pressing. Third, the debating terms, when you talk about “female issues” often carry underlying prescriptions about how women should behave, which are themselves regressive and uninspiring. You can make the argument, forcefully, and on very solid turf, that any contraction of the state – be that in social care or services or public sector pay – will always fall disproportionately upon women, as they take up the burdens of care that the state once shouldered. While it may be true, that narrative isn’t galvanising; I don’t want to build a generous state on feminist grounds because I, by my nature, would otherwise spend my life mopping, tending and wiping. I reject care as a gendered activity.

Nevertheless, everywhere, I see the potential for unleashing a female solidarity that could cut through turgid certainties and redraw ideological fault lines. Freedom from violence and reproductive autonomy are good muster points but don’t go far enough. A constant eye on the future, a calm insistence that not everything of value can be counted, a love of international cooperation and respect for the institutions it has created, a knowledge that some things are too important to be left to the market, an empathy with the dispossessed: there is nothing essentially female about these ideas, yet where no women are, you never hear them. In the vacuum, you hear Trump and others like him. To regretfully borrow the phrase of Sheryl Sandberg, it really is time to lean in.

- What happens when the alpha males run politics? Donald Trump, by Zoe Williams,, October 9, 2016.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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