Review: On Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In'

Sheryl Sandberg wrote us a “sort of feminist manifesto” and I was like — You know what, Sandberg? I’ll take it. Because even before it came out, people were bashing you. The problem is, Sandberg is apparently too rich to give advice. Her “Lean In Campaign” held little for most women, according to the Washington Post.

I was immediately reminded of my undergrad studies when I was taking project management. We were supposed to read a self-help business-type book like “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” and the book I had turned up with, Mireille Guiliano’s “French Women Don’t Get Fired“, was written by a woman for women. I was concerned that this book didn’t work because it ignored men completely. I spoke to my instructor who shrugged and said “That’s fine — most business books ignore women.” Revolutionary! And to think, I was supposed to have been the feminist in that conversation.

Gloria Steinem, on her Facebook page, said of Lean In:

I can testify that it addresses internalized oppression, opposes the external barriers that create it, and urges women to support each other to fight both. It argues not only for women’s equality in the workplace, but men’s equality in home-care and child-rearing. Even its critics are making a deep if inadvertent point: Only in women is success viewed as a barrier to giving advice.

And how true that is. I looked up Tony Robbins and Zig Zigler — Men famous for their ability to motivate and give advice and the only “out of reach” issues that came up were those that the two men had helped people to overcome.

Sandberg’s book is well-researched and presented some quantitative data: women earn 57 percent of the undergraduate degrees in America, but only hold 14 percent of executive officer positions at corporations; we hold 18 percent of the seats in congress, and 21 of the Fortune 500 companies are run by women.

She also speaks about the socialization of women and men and how that affects us. She speaks about biology and acknowledges that there are differences—ones that she learned breastfeeding two children in the middle of the night. “From the moment we are born,” writes Sandberg, “boys and girls are treated differently. Parents tend to talk to girl babies more than boy babies. Mothers overestimate the crawling ability of their sons and underestimate the crawling ability of their daughters.” So many of the things that evolutionary psychologists claim are inherent closely follow Western narratives around expectations of gender. Hmm.

What I could not shake while reading this book was the feeling that it’s not only women who should be reading this book, but men too. Sandberg speaks to equality in relationships, the need for women to lean in to their careers and men to lean in to their home lives. I had the audiobook version and was listening to it at home within earshot of my boyfriend. Sandberg talked about the distribution of chores, and how men who do more housework have more sex—and I’ll be damned if he didn’t get up and start cleaning. So thanks Sandberg—I’m leaning.


Danielle Paradis is a writer and blogger scribbling furiously across the feminist internet on Fem 2.0, Flurt Magazine, Persephone Magazine, and Paradigm Shift NYC. She’s completing a Masters in Learning & Technology at Royal Roads University. Danielle currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta while dreaming of any place warmer. Learn more at

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Maria Luisa

    Yes, to what you wrote. And not only that, regarding the so-called, media-fabricated “mommy wars” I would like to see men included, when it comes to discussing work-family issues. Every time I see women arguing on TV and putting each other down about working outside the home and handling family responsibilities, I want to puke. All this would be resolved if men were included. These are their children, their homes too.

  • Jan

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this book, Danielle. I’ll admit that I’d looked at it and, based solely on the cover and synopsis, initially dismissed it as fluff. Your summary suggests, however, that it’s not, and given the need for awareness of gender imbalances in the work world as well as in the home, I suppose any information that recognises that gender differences are not biological only and also includes strategies to overcome the environmental influences that result in inequality is beneficial.

  • Thanks for the review, it’s the first positive mention I’ve seen actually. Whatever its shortcomings it does sound the research included makes it worth reading. I will say though:

    “Sandberg talked about the distribution of chores, and how men who do more housework have more sex—and I’ll be damned if he didn’t get up and start cleaning.”

    I hate these arguments. They hold out sex for men as some kind of reward for simply pulling their weight in the house. Men are owed nothing for doing less than what women have been doing for centuries (i.e. their fair share and nothing more). They are certainly not owed sexual favours. Whether it’s true or not (and of course it seems likely that you would want to have sex with someone more who isn’t taking unfair advantage of your free labour) it should never be held out to men as a reason to stop oppressing women.

    • Angela

      There was actually some research published in January (which also made a splash in the media) showing that couples with a more traditional breakdown of household responsibilities had more sex. So this issue is by no means decided. This opposite explanation also made sense to me as sex (particularly in heterosexual relationships) can be used as an instrument of power.

    • Danielle Paradis

      I know hate the idea of a man cleaning to earn sex too…but I swear he actually did start cleaning–so that was kind of funny. The idea Sandberg puts forth is that couples have sex more because the woman is less stressed not as a reward. And yes ALWAYS to male accountability I want my boyfriend to clean because he is an adult too.

      • funny? not wanting to pry into your relationship, but did it occur to you that, while you might not think that way, that’s exactly how he’s thinking?

        Also, look again at your phrasing (or sandberg’s phrasing?)

        “men who do more housework have more sex”

        Oh, it’s the MEN who have more sex? Because they did more housework? That formulation sounds like a simple equation of individual effort = reward. In contrast to saying – “couples who share work more equally have more sex”. Maybe I am nitpicking here but that phrasing really makes it sound like a reward. Doesn’t the woman have more sex too? But no, that’s out of the picture – it is only framed in terms of the man getting more sex for doing housework.

        Also, yes indeed to Jan’s comment.

        • oh since you said Sandberg explicitly didn’t frame it like that then I guess that was your phrasing? I’m not trying to call you out, I’m just thinking it’s interesting that you wrote it like that and what that might imply.

  • I kind of want to read this, but I’m afraid it’ll make me feel bad for not being an ambitious person. I’m just not. Never was.

    And I’m hearing the cleaning=sex thing all over Twitter lately, but really I’d like my husband to clean because he’s an adult who lives here and that’s what you do, not because he wants more sex. Hypothetically, because he does his share, and we hardly do it, but that’s because of the kids, not the mess!

  • Me

    There were a couple of critical columns on Al Jazeera about this that I thought were worth reading, if anyone’s interested:

  • What

    Everyone is fooled into thinking that Sandberg’s book is interesting/relevant in itself, “the fact that she is COO of Facebook is a sufficient resume to speak on women’s issues,” and so they think they need to address what Sandberg says… because Sandberg said it. But that’s the trick. We don’t parse out what the (female) CEO of General Dynamics says, no one writes articles about her, because what she says can’t be used to promote the system, what Phebe Novakovic believes won’t motivate a future 9-5er to work overtime: she’s not pretty enough, she works in explosions, she’s not aspirational. That’s why there is no Time Magazine spread on her, even though she rules the world. To paraphrase the great Marshall McLuhan, the messenger isn’t the message, and the message isn’t the message. The medium is the message, properly massaged.