Lean In or Lean Out?
Not long ago, few people had heard of Sheryl Sandberg. In 2001, she took a job at a little known company, Google, which soon grew into one of the wealthiest companies in America. By the time she left, she was the vice president of global online sales and operations. In March 2008, she became the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook. In 2010, she gave what is now her infamous speech on TED Talk, which catapulted her into the limelight.
And on March 11, 2013, Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead hit the shelves. In its first week of publication, the book sold 140,000 copies, and it had to go back for reprint eight different times. Lean In has become a national bestseller in less than a month. Sandberg is fast in becoming a household name, and she desires to teach women how to “lean in” to their jobs in order to find success and ultimate fulfillment.
Lean In is based on three core values. The first value is to “sit at the table.” Sandberg encourages women to negotiate for themselves and not be afraid to interject ideas. She notes that women attribute success in their lives to hard work, luck, or the help of others; whereas men are more willing to say they are successful because of their own skills. She believes that women deserve and should be at the top in at least half of the companies in America, but that will not happen until women are willing to “sit at the table” with men and allow their voices to be heard. The second value is to “make your partner a real partner.” In families where both the husband and wife work, she says that women still do twice as much housework and spend three times more energy and time taking care of the children. What is her solution? She encourages young women to select a husband or a partner that is willing to sit at the kitchen table, stay at home, and change as many diapers as his wife/partner. She envisions a world where men are encouraged and not belittled for being stay-at-home fathers. The last value is for women “not to leave before you leave.” In her book, Sandberg notes when women decide they want to have children, they often turn down promotions and stop being aggressive in their professional lives. She encourages women to stay engaged and not lean back. She also encourages women to keep pushing up in their careers until they have children, and then they can decide what they want to do with their life.
There has also been some backlash to Sandberg’s book in the midst of its success. Sandberg is accused of being an elitist billionaire, who can hire a nanny, a housekeeper, a chef, and a personal assistant to help her run her life. For the average woman whose husband makes a middle class income, nannies and personal chefs are not a reality. With the rising costs of childcare, some women are choosing to “lean out” and return back to the home. I found it fascinating that one career-oriented woman made the statement in a CBS interview that the feminist movement provided women with a choice, the choice to stay home. Lisa Miller, author for the New York Magazine, has a new article out entitled “The Retro Wife.” In this article she follows a family where the wife is a self-proclaimed feminist but has chosen to turn in her stilettos for an apron in order raise their two young children. What is her reasoning? She believes that women are better suited for the task of mothering, and she did not want nor could they afford to put their children in an upscale daycare facility. Fifty years removed from Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, women can have a full-time job, a husband, and a family, yet some are realizing they are still not happy trying to have it all.
So with all this talk about “leaning in” and “leaning out,” what is the Christian woman to think?
Every woman struggles with finding and maintaining a balanced life. I have a wonderful husband, two little girls (23 months and 9 months), and I am in the final stages of my doctorate work. I understand the struggle of wanting to complete a task, whether it is a dissertation or a career, and raise a family. But, in all my reading and research of this new “feminist manifesto,” I was struck with one reality. When a woman is blessed with a child, someone must care for, feed, nurture, and raise the child to become a responsible person in society. As followers of Christ, we are given the responsibility to raise our children to know and serve the Lord (Deut 6:4-9). In a word, someone must still fill the role of mother. Who is better equipped to serve, nurture, and train our children than us?
Titus 2:3-5 commands older women to “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” We live in a society where feminism is no longer a movement but a norm. Women still feel the pressure to work outside the home for a more fulfilling life, yet women are increasingly stressed, pulled in different directions, and live under a mountain of guilt.
Could it be that, as a society, we have removed ourselves from God’s perfect plan? God knows how difficult it is to raise a family and have a successful career. His desire is to protect us and our children from the stress that life brings. He is the One who fashioned us in His perfect image, and His desire is that we, as women, would trust Him to care for our needs and for our family’s needs. I realize that there are unusual circumstances that cause some women to work either part-time or full-time, and I empathize with those women. But, there are increasingly more women who choose to forgo the needs of their children in order to live in a nicer home, drive a nicer vehicle, or go on nicer vacations. To that woman, may I lovingly ask you, is it worth it? Is “leaning in” to your career more important than nurturing that precious child God has given you? Is “leaning in” to your career going to help you give your child an understanding of God’s word and His plan for her life? More importantly, is “leaning in” going to cause God’s word to be reviled (literal meaning is blasphemed) in your life? Every child needs a mother, and God has designed you to be the mother in your child’s life.
I am often asked what I plan to do after I graduate. Many wait for me say that I will finally do some incredible thing that only a doctorate degree will allow. But, to be honest with you, I plan to continue doing what I have the privilege of doing every day, serving alongside my husband and being “mommy” to my beautiful little girls. For me, “leaning in” is not a chance to gain more freedom and success, and “leaning out” is not a choice I get to make. My desire is to lean in to Christ and live for His glory.