an epiphany the other day. I was in the middle of marking up a memo on U.S. drone
policy while simultaneously ordering a custom-decorated cake for my daughter's
sixth grade musical cast party and planning my remarks for a roundtable on women
in national security.
Suddenly, it hit me: I
not what you're thinking. I don't hate Sheryl Sandberg because she's so rich,
or because she's the COO of Facebook, or because she has gleaming, meticulously
coiffed hair. True, Facebook is the Internet equivalent of Shiva*, Destroyer of
Worlds, and my own hair will never approach the glossy perfection of Sheryl
Sandberg's -- but I can find it in my heart to overlook these things. And I
have nothing against rich people, who sometimes fund my projects or buy me lunch
at fancy restaurants. Rich people, I love you!
hatred of Sheryl Sandberg is also nothing personal. I'm sure Sheryl Sandberg is
a delightful person, and I'd love her, too, if I knew her and she bought me lunch
at a fancy restaurant. In fact, she and I probably have some friends in common;
we were college classmates, though I don't remember if we ever actually met.
know Sheryl Sandberg?" I asked my friend Suzanne, who was also in my college
She gave me a funny look. "Well, I knew her. Don't you know if you
"I can't remember," I explained.
knew her, you would remember," said Suzanne. "She was one of those people you
would definitely remember. I used to
go to an aerobics class she taught."
explained it. 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.
of course, is also why I hate her. Sheryl, have you ever stopped to consider
that all this "leaning in" is ruining life for the rest of us?
ago, before Sandberg's book Lean
me to change my ways, I had a life. I had friends. I had hobbies. I could
generally be relied upon to remember my children's names, though I sometimes
skipped their adorable little preschool events to take naps and read novels. I
had a job, too, of course, but I also took occasional vacations, knocked off
work at a sensible hour and got eight hours of sleep each night.
Then I read Lean In
and realized that I was self-sabotaging slacker.
resolved to do better. I started stepping up at work: "I'll handle both those complex and urgent projects,"
I informed my colleagues, with just the right mix of confidence, assertiveness,
and non-threatening feminine charm. "With a little creative, outside-the-box
thinking, I can take care of both by tomorrow!" I stopped turning down
invitations to speak at conferences in inconveniently far-off places. I
accepted every media request. I promised to write articles and reports and
leaned in to the other spheres of my life, too: I became a room parent at the
children's school, hosted the class potluck and the mother-daughter book club, and
decided that my children would go to school each day with organic, homemade
lunches packed in attractive, reusable, eco-friendly containers.
Sandberg promised, the rewards of leaning in quickly became evident. My
confident, assertive yet non-threatening feminine charm helped me rapidly expand
both my business and social networks.
dropped the kids off at school, other mommies gazed upon me with approval, and
asked me where I had purchased those adorable little lunch containers. "I
handcrafted them from recycled tires!" I explained with a humble but
colleagues took me aside to tell me I was an up-and-comer and offer me plum
assignments. Younger colleagues asked me to mentor them and join their Lean In Circles. Speaking engagements flowed my
way, and rich people asked if they could buy me lunch. With my confident yet
charmingly self-deprecating smile, I accepted all offers and invitations.
Soon, the rewards of leaning in doubled.
Then they quadrupled. Then they began to increase
in some more. I ate protein bars and made important telephone calls during my
morning commute. I stopped reading novels so I could write more articles and memos
and make more handicrafts to contribute to the school auction. I put in extra hours
at work. When I came home, I did radio interviews over Skype from my living
room while supervising the children's math homework.
And I realized that I hated Sheryl Sandberg.
of course, I was miserable. I never saw my friends, because I was too busy
building my network. I was too tired to do any creative, outside-the-box
thinking. I was boxed in. Trapped! I wondered if foreign-policy punditry was
just too much for me. I wondered if I should move to Santa Fe and open a small gallery
specializing in handicrafts made from recycled tires. I wondered if my husband
and kids would want to go with me.
But then -- after my I-hate-Sheryl epiphany -- I came to a bold
if we want to rule the world -- or even just gain an equitable share of leadership
positions -- we need to stop leaning
in. It's killing us.
We need to fight for our right to lean back and put our feet
the thing: We've managed to create a world in which ubiquity is valued above
all. If you're not at your desk every night until nine, your commitment to the
job is questioned. If you're not checking email 24/7, you're not a reliable
a world in which leaning in at work has come to mean doing more work, more often, for longer hours, women will
disproportionately drop out or be eased out.
Because unlike most men, women -- particularly women with children -- are still
expected to work that "second shift" at home. Men today do more housework and
childcare than men in their fathers' generation, but women today still do far more
housework and childcare than men.
just as work has expanded to require employees' round-the-clock attention, being
a good mom has also started requiring ubiquity. Things were different in my own
childhood, but today, parenting has become a full-time job: it requires
attendance at an unending stream of birthday parties, school meetings, class
performances, and soccer games, along with the procurement of tutors, classes,
and enrichment activities, the arranging of play dates, the making of organic
lunches, and the supervising of elaborate, labor-intensive homework projects
than cannot be completed without extensive adult supervision.
By incredible coincidence, parenting was discovered to require the
near-constant attention of at least one able-bodied adult at just about the
same time women began to pour into the workforce in large numbers. Sorry 'bout
hard enough managing one 24/7 job. No one
can survive two of them. And as long as women are the ones doing more of
the housework and childcare, women will be disproportionately hurt when both
workplace expectations and parenting expectations require ubiquity. They'll
continue to do what too many talented women already do: Just as they're on the
verge of achieving workplace leadership positions, they'll start dropping out.
general American tendency to think that "more time at work" equals "better work"
is exacerbated by the All Crisis All the Time culture of foreign policy. Global
crisis never sleeps, and neither do the overworked staffers at the Pentagon,
the State Department, or the White House. It's little wonder that many of the gifted
young female staffers who enter these workplaces hit a wall at some point, and
come to the painful realization that work and family obligations aren't always things
you can simply "balance." Often, these weights become too heavy. They can crush
wrote in a 2012 column on women in foreign policy and national security jobs, the
24/7 nature of global crisis is no excuse for workplace policies that crush
"The long hours and pervasive crisis
atmosphere that characterize most foreign-policy workplaces aren't signs that
Very Important Work is being done by Very Important People -- they're just
signs of poor management. Good managers, whether they supervise air-traffic
controllers, auto workers, or the National Security Staff, recognize that human
beings function best when they work in humane and flexible conditions....
It's far from impossible to do this, even in the foreign-policy
workplace. At the Pentagon, for instance, Michèle Flournoy, then defense
undersecretary for policy, actively encouraged her staff to adopt flexible work
schedules. Secure videoconferencing reduces the need for travel, and emerging
technologies increasingly permit people who must work with classified
information to do so remotely
via smartphones and tablets, reducing the need for people to spend long hours
at the office."
isn't just about women. Men -- and our society more broadly -- also suffer when
both work and parenting are intensive, round-the-clock activities.
the day, Henry Ford didn't advocate the eight-hour day for his auto assembly
line workers because he was a nice guy. He advocated the eight-hour day because
research demonstrated that worker productivity cratered after more than eight
hours. As the Washington Post's
Brigid Schulte documents in her forthcoming book, Overwhelmed:
Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, humans can only take so much for
so long. When a workplace is full of employees who always lean in and never
lean back, it's full of employees who are exhausted, brittle, and incapable of
showing much creativity or making good decisions.
overwork gets downright dangerous. We have tough legislation mandating adequate
rest periods for truck drivers and airline pilots -- not because we think they
need their beauty sleep, but because when overtired drivers and pilots make
mistakes, people can die. When did we come to believe that crucial national
security decisions are best made by people too tired to think straight?
truly want gender equality, we need to challenge the assumption that more is
always better, and the assumption that men don't suffer as much as women when
they're exhausted and have no time for family or fun. And we need to challenge
those assumptions wherever we find
them, both in the workplace and in the family. Whether it's one more meeting,
one more memo, one more conference, one more play date, one more soccer game or
one more flute lesson for the kids, sometimes we need to say, "Enough!"
1929, Virginia Woolf issued a cri de
coeur: How can women become poets and writers, she asked in her now-classic
essay, "A Room of One's Own," when they have no money, no
independence, no privacy and no space? "A
woman must have money and a room of
her own if she is to
write fiction," declared Woolf.
Other forms of
creativity are no different. If we want to do more than just go through the
motions, both love and work require a protected space in which creativity can
Today, most women can
make money on their own and acquire rooms of their own -- but they still get
too little psychic space and too little time for the kind of unstructured,
creative thinking so critical to any kind of success.
Perhaps the modern
equivalent of Woolf's "room of her own" is the right to stop "leaning in" all
the time. There is,
after all, much to be said for leaning out -- for long lunches, afternoon naps,
good books, and some nice, slow hours in the La-Z-Boy recliner.
But it takes a village
to give every woman her own La-Z-Boy recliner. When women -- or men -- lean out
alone, they end up getting eased out, or just dropping out in despair.
this has to be a movement.
Sheryl Sandberg can
keep right on leaning in if it makes her happy, but here's my new feminist manifesto -- call it a Manifestus for the Rest of
We need to fight for
our right to lean out, and we need to do it together, girls. If we're going to
fight the culture of workplace ubiquity, and the parallel and equally-pernicious
culture of intensive parenting, we need to do it together -- and we need to
bring our husbands and boyfriends and male colleagues along, too. They need to
lean out in solidarity, for their own sake as well as ours.
Women of the world, recline!
Correction, Feb. 24, 2014: The original version of this article incorrectly referred to Vishnu as the "Destroyer of Worlds." In Hinduism, Vishnu is considered "the Preserver," and Shiva "the Destroyer." (Physicist Robert Oppenheimer said that when he saw the world's first nuclear explosion, he thought of a verse from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita in which Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, said, in Oppenheimer's phrasing, "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds" -- Chapter 11, Verse 32. In this limited sense, Vishnu has been linked to "Destroyer of Worlds.") Return to reading.
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