March 19 2013
AEI’s Christina Hoff Sommers has a must read piece on Google COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead up on the Atlantic.
While Hoff Sommers finds much to admire in Sandberg’s book, she is concerned that Sandberg misreads gender differences:
Sandberg envisions a time where gender roles all but disappear. "A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes." She blames society for tricking little girls into liking princesses and little boys into preferring superheroes. "The gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophesies."
Sandberg excels at the forward edge of economics and technology, but her sociology leans back to the Age of Aquarius. She praises to the skies Marlo Thomas's 1972 unisex album "Free to Be You and Me." She wants to bring back consciousness-raising groups, calling them "Lean in Circles." Women are advised to meet together and carry out "Listen, ask, and share" exercises. Sandberg's "Lean In" website provides "exploration kits" for these séances. One instructs group members to go round the room and finish sentences like "What I am most looking forward to in the month ahead..." and "Today I am feeling..." Is this how Mark Zuckerberg got to the top?
Sandberg's goal is to liberate her fellow Americans from the stereotypes of gender. But is that truly liberating?
Looking at data and studies, Hoff Sommers argues that gender differences aren’t, as Sandberg believes, the product of oppression but of social well-being and adaptation. Interestingly, gender differences are wider in more prosperous, developed societies. Hoff Sommers notes that in China and Russia more women are engineers. Is this a sign of equality or an indication that women aren’t able to pursue their genuine interest in those countries?
Hoff Sommers concludes:
Sandberg seems to believe that the choices of contemporary American women are not truly free. Women who opt out or "lean back" (that is, towards home) are victims of sexism and social conditioning. "True equality will be achieved only when we all fight the stereotypes that hold us back." But aren't American women as self-determining as any in the history of humanity? In place of bland assertion, Sandberg needs to explain why the life choices of educated, intelligent women in liberal, opportunity-rich societies are unfree. And she needs to explain why the choices she promotes will make women happier and more fulfilled.
An up-to-date manifesto on women and work should steer clear of encounter groups and boys-must-play-with dolls rhetoric. It should make room for human reality: that in the pursuit of happiness, men and women often take different paths. Gender differences can sometimes be symptoms of oppression and subordination. But in a modern society they can also be the felicitous consequences of liberated choice—of the "free to be you and me" that women have been working towards for generations.
Read the entire piece.