The internet has been abuzz recently with discussion of a new form of feminism developed by Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg. In her new book, Lean In, and in a now famous TED talk, Sandberg argues that women need to do a better job advocating for themselves in the workplace, in taking opportunities even if they may conflict with a future reality, sitting at the table and expecting more from the men in their lives. As she says,
We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives – the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve.
Sandberg has received criticism, including from other feminists, that she does not fully account for the systematic barriers in place that limit women’s equality in the workplace and in society. A lot of that criticism has been unfounded but regardless, in order for women to achieve true equality, there needs to be both systematic policy change and women leaning in and demanding their rightful place.
Are you a Mormon woman who dreams of the day someone like you might actually be allowed to offer the invocation or benediction at your faith’s semi-annual worldwide General Conference? Be sure to adjust your posture and tone of voice you use when you take your seat at the table and negotiate with… oh, wait. Are there women at the table where such decisions are made?
Her powerful thought experiment speaks to the same question and criticism that Sandberg received for her secular philosophy, “[i]f segregation is doctrine, where exactly should one lean?” I believe that, for some of us, the answer is in continued church activity and our local congregations. The pants activism is a perfect example of this kind of leaning in. It makes the pain visible and it also refuses to go anywhere else, despite other’s discomfort. This is not the kind of action that brings about huge change but it keeps our hands raised.
Additionally, there are things to be gained as a sister, feminist and person from leaning into a patriarchal system. Probably the most important for me is that it has allowed me to understand and commune with women I have nothing in common with. At the very least, meeting my sisters where they’re at and loving them despite our disagreements has made me a better advocate for the women I purport to be helping.
Is this the right way for every Mormon woman who struggles with the gender inequality in the church? No. Is it the only right way to do Mormon feminism? No. But neither is leaving the church and chaining one’s self to the temple gates. It will take all kinds of action for our cause to be successful.
What do you think of “Lean In” feminism? Do you think it can be applied to Mormonism? Are there merits to leaning into a system that is inherently problematic for women?