Is 'Leaning In' Killing You? Try Leaning Out.


With all of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s talk about leaning in, few are talking about the mental cost of climbing the corporate ladder while balancing family life and, you know, sanity. But Georgetown Law professor Rosa Brooks is all about work-life balance because she did lean in and it was bullshit.

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….
I leaned 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.

But there was a cost to all of the awesomeness.

… 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.

I’ve been there — but instead of protein bars, I pray a few times a day that someone would actually invent that dinner gum Willy Wonka was tinkering with. Just think of the time you’d save if full meals unwrapped like Bubblicious.

Brooks writes hilariously at Foreign Policy that she kinda “hates” Sheryl Sandberg for all that Lean In malarkey, because dammit, even busy geniuses need sleep and time to rebuild. But Sandberg started leaning in back at university — Brooks and Sandberg were college co-eds together — so it might be too late for the Facebook executive to turn back.

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.

Brooks continues that leaning in is killing us, so to speak, and her solution is to keep climbing the corporate ladder without saying yes to every extra bit of work. Even as more men take on duties at home, women with children especially have a “second shift” after the office, with cooking, cleaning and caring for their family. Those expectations coupled with the daily work grind can be lethal and ironic.

And 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 … 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 that, girls!

And then Brooks declared her “Manifestus for the Rest of Us.”

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!

She had me at “manifestus.”

Images via Getty and Georgetown University.

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