When I went on a Target run with my mother during my freshman year of college, I opted for the novel Lean In instead of embarking on the path of Hunger Games fandom. Rather than digging into the world of Katniss and Peeta, I dove headfirst into Sheryl Sandberg’s feminist manifesto and couldn’t get enough of it.
The novel became my new altarpiece; I worshipped Sandberg’s words, hanging onto her sentences to fully absorb the gravity of her message. I read biographic articles on her, watched her TED talks, studied her essays and, soon enough, told myself I was surely her No. 1 fan. She was the Beyoncé of my intellect. And instead of being “Drunk in Love,” I was drunk in feminism.
As my admiration for Sandberg soared, I soon realized many others felt far from the way I did. Though Sandberg served as an inspiration for my own dreams, I discovered critics who vehemently opposed her teachings. The Ivy-league educated Sandberg is a New York Times-best selling author with more accolades than I can name, but her credentials meant nothing for those angered by her take on feminism.
Business Week’s Sheelah Kolhatkar wrote in her article, “What Sheryl Sandberg Doesn’t Get About the Gender Gap,” that Sandberg focuses on the upper echelon of female workers, ignoring the middle class of working women.
Daniella Gibbs Léger in Essence argues that Lean In doesn’t speak to lower-income women or women of color.
The Huffington Post ’s Vanessa Garcia recently penned an article called “Why I Won’t Lean In.” She compares Lean In to the erotic romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey. She argues that leaning in is the equivalent of submission; but in drawing such parallels, she fails to grasp the true meaning behind Sandberg’s language. Leaning in is the very opposite of passivity. To lean in is to engage actively in one’s life, to never take no for answer, to rise up and to continue the fight.
The criticism of Sandberg reveals a glaring problem with the women’s empowerment movement: a lack of unity among women.
Undoubtedly, most of the criticism targeted toward Sandberg comes from other women. Rather than supporting one another in their endeavors for success, women tear each other down.
As Joan Walsh of Salon put it, “Steven Sandberg would never face this kind of rage for writing a how-to-get-ahead book.”
But this isn’t just my own take. It’s not just a conclusion I arrived at from witnessing the cattiness of college girls. Granted, I’ve made my fair share of judgments about another girl’s outfit (let’s be real, ladies, we all do it), but at the end of the day, I value my friendships with other women and credit their love and support for much of my own progress in life. But looking at the larger picture, such support isn’t as commonplace as you might think. And this notion is proven by statistics.
In 2012, the Atlantic reported that women are not a unified voting bloc. Why don’t women vote for other women, especially with such lack of prominent female voices in the world?
Dr. Peggy Drexler of the Huffington Post cited a study by the Workplace Bullying Institute that showed how women bully other women at work through verbal abuse and job sabotage more than 70 percent of the time. With so much progress to make, it’s imperative that women see the value of joining forces rather than undercutting each other.
In the way that groups of different ethnicities or identities have joined together to fight back against intolerance and create progress, women must do the same. Without a cohesive group and a focused vision, it is unlikely that these jarring statistics will ever change.
In the way that African Americans marched for freedom in the Civil Rights Movement or members of the LGBTQ community have rallied for equality, women must recognize our strength in numbers and stand in solidarity. Marginalized groups find success in unity and achieve together, not apart.
I do not encourage a blind following; educating oneself about the credibility of an individual is necessary. Petty criticisms, however, bar progress. Taking a closer look at how we, as women, view one another and speak of each other is worthwhile.
In our battle to break down barriers, it’s evident we stand as our own roadblock.
Rini Sampath is a sophomore majoring in international relations. Her column, “Leaning In,” runs Mondays.