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Crossposted at Of Means and Ends

It’s been too easy for feminists to balk at Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, a quasi-feminist book and now organization that focuses on women in the corporate sector more aggressively pursuing their career goals while largely ignoring institutional factors that hold back women. But the Lean In organization just keeps making it easier. (h/t to Jessica Luther):

It seems that Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit organization, Lean In, is honoring, as one of its “Trailblazing Women You May Not Know (But Should),” Florida G.O.P. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lentinen. You might assume, since Ros-Lehtinen is a Republican, that she holds all the usual horrible Republican positions on foreign and economic policy. And indeed, you would be correct.

But you’d probably figure that, if an allegedly feminist organization like Lean In is honoring her, she must have at least some sort of a decent record on women. Is she pro-choice, maybe? Or at a bare minimum, a supporter for equal pay, perhaps?

Sorry — no, and no. The New Republic’s Mark Tracy has the goods here. It turns out that Ros-Lehtinen is an anti-feminist nightmare whose anti-woman politics are not a shade different from Phyllis Schlafly’s.

The post goes on to chronicle Ros-Lehtinen’s offenses, from voting against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to having a 0 rating from NARAL. As someone who has worked on foreign policy issues for years, Ros-Lehtinen has long been one of my least favorite members of Congress. Her record there is no more female-friendly than her record on domestic issues. She supports hawkish policiesthat make war more likely, pushes Israel-can-do-no-wrong legislation rather than supporting an evenhanded approach, and even led the charge to torpedo a bill to prevent forced child marriage.

This isn’t an anomaly either, as Susan Faludi noted in a lengthy piece on Lean In and feminism’s long-running “dance with capitalism”:

“If we can succeed in adding more female voices at the highest levels,” Sandberg writes in her book, “we will expand opportunities and extend fairer treatment to all.” But which highest-level voices? When former British prime minister Margaret (“I hate feminism”) Thatcher died, Lean In’s Facebook page paid homage to the Iron Lady and invited its followers to post “which moments were most memorable to you” from Thatcher’s tenure. That invitation inspired a rare outburst of un-“positive” remarks in the comment section, at least from some women in the U.K. “Really??” wrote one. “She was a tyrant. . . . Just because a woman is in a leadership position does not make her worthy of respect, especially if you were on the receiving end of what she did to lots of people.” “So disappointing that Lean In endorses Thatcher as a positive female role model,” wrote another. “She made history as a woman, but went on to use her power to work against the most vulnerable, including women and their children.”
Faludi describes the earlier transition from “common struggle to individual advancement,” and this epitomizes it. This kind of watered-down feminism that reduces to a formula of woman in power=good confirms it. How many young women, women of color, low-income women can relate to a feminism that embraces leaders who use their power in a way that harms so many of us?

I won’t argue that the concerns of women in corporate America are irrelevant. While their struggles occur within a very privileged system, they are still not on equal footing with men and that needs to be addressed. But one can’t defend a brand of feminism that would throw other women under the bus. Women’s progress isn’t going to “trickle down” by empowering women like Ros-Lehtinen.

If you want to spend some time reading longer pieces by great feminist writers eviscerating the broader Lean In approach, read bell hooks here and Susan Faludi’s full piece here.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Nice! Off to read more! (0+ / 0-)

    ...Son, those Elephants always look out for themselves. If you happen to get a crumb or two from their policies, it's a complete coincidence. -Malharden's Dad

    by slowbutsure on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 11:57:14 AM PST

  •  Ugh (5+ / 0-)

    Thanks for this. My husband actually asked me what "Lean In" was the other night. Turns out, he really does read the posts I've made on my Facebook wall criticizing it. He pretty much agrees with bell hooks. I, too, am tired of the lazy powerful woman=good thinking that I see so many people, especially my fellow white women, support. My Facebook wall looked like a battlefield the day Margaret Thatcher died because of it.

    Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

    by moviemeister76 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 11:57:52 AM PST

    •  It can be difficult to break people out of that (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slowbutsure, moviemeister76, NinetyWt

      simplistic view of women's advancement. It's obviously one that people who oppose the larger goals of more inclusive, intersectional feminism would like people to embrace.

      Like I said, these groups like this are definitely making it easier by picking some of the worst people to highlight. I'm very curious how Sandberg's approach is resonating outside of the corporate world. She doesn't seem to handle criticisms of ignoring structural issues very well, and Faludi didn't have much luck getting answers from the organization.

      Glad other people are spreading the word about this and keeping the debate going!

    •  I was kind of shocked at all the "Ding Dong (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      moviemeister76

      the Witch is Dead" singing going on all over Great Britain.  Then I read some of the horrible stuff she had done, putting so many people out of work.

      I was shocked when I read that some people in Scotland are third generation who have never, ever worked.  Kind of puts "Train Spotting" in a whole new light...

      ...Son, those Elephants always look out for themselves. If you happen to get a crumb or two from their policies, it's a complete coincidence. -Malharden's Dad

      by slowbutsure on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 12:43:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Is anyone else annoyed by the overuse of "lean"? (5+ / 0-)

    It stinks of MBA lingo.

  •  This is about intersectionality, (4+ / 0-)

    among other things. There is never a good fit between issues of identity group interests and economic circumstances and interests. I am sure that all women find themselves on the receiving end of sexism, just as all people of color find themselves on the receiving end of racism. However, wealthy women have vastly different economic interests from women with middle and lower economic status. It is a gap that really can't be bridged most of the time.

    •  similarly, I look to a time (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Victor Ward

      when it makes sense for their to be gay Republicans. Having neither Party demonize gay people to the point that conservagays have a home will represent progress.

      The point of feminism or gay rights or whatever can't be "you get to adopt all of my other political positions." Rather it should be your status is irrelevant to where you fit yourself in because no one is discriminating against you. That is true liberty.

      So in that regard, that there are powerful women on the right is just as important as their being powerful women anywhere.

      If we want to improve the quality of what these righties believe, then that is another topic. Feminism is not the cure.

      I hear gardening is a nice hobby.

      by SeanF on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 12:49:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Please correct me if I am wrong, but (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    moviemeister76

    the recent spates of critiques of "white feminism" started showing up with a vengeance since Sheryl started telling "us" to "Lean In."

    I've only seen a couple of her interviews. Sheryl has the resources to put someone with a passing knowledge of the last 40 years of feminism on her board, and have a required reading list. She needn't agree with it, but it would be very nice if we didn't have to re-invent the intersectionality of race-class-gender when we said the word "feminism."

    Darling, you didn't use canned salmon, did you?

    by JrCrone on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 02:06:53 PM PST

    •  It depends (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JrCrone

      I imagine it depends on where you actually hang out on the internet. I've seen pretty consistent critiques of white feminism for a long, long time in some places, but definitely an uptick here at DKos and other predominantly white blogs since her book was published.

      And, yeah, it's freaking exhausting having to explain the basics of everything every couple of months.

      Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

      by moviemeister76 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 07:26:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Actually (0+ / 0-)

        as much time as I waste on line, I don't really hang out on the internet except with my awesome feminist pals in a facebook-y context, silly baseball fan boards, and reading out of the History-Lists via H-Net.

        Seeing "white feminism" show up with SO many clueless crybabies attached to it was a bit eyebrow-raising for me.

        That's me, Rip Van Crone.

        Darling, you didn't use canned salmon, did you?

        by JrCrone on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 11:27:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Unfortunately, I wouldn't expect (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      moviemeister76

      Sandberg to take that kind of approach given her response to criticism so far. But yes, there's been criticism for many years about racism and classism within feminist organizations. A lot of the blogs and authors I follow have been talking about intersectionality on a regular basis well before Lean In, but people take advantage of it as a high-profile hook for drawing attention to the ongoing issues.

      •  Agreed on all points (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        moviemeister76

        I've been in a kind of intellectual exile (long, tedious story) since leaving academic life.

        Part of my query here comes from the point of view of being exposed to all the working through of these biases since the late 1980s, and the justified critiques made by women of color (both within and outside the academy).

        I was just mostly part sad and part amazed that the discourse hasn't reached a greater consciousness in the intervening years.

        Darling, you didn't use canned salmon, did you?

        by JrCrone on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 11:23:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Heh (0+ / 0-)

          I've been saying for years now that research and intellectual thought always hits the majority of the public about two decades after most everyone in academia or everyone doing any kind of research has already dissected it to pieces.

          Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

          by moviemeister76 on Thu Feb 06, 2014 at 12:05:52 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I'm reminded of EMILY's List (0+ / 0-)

    In my district back in 2006, we had an open seat for the first time in decades. There were five people running for the Democratic nomination, including a woman who had been a Republican up until two years before. She was the most conservative of the five, echoing the neo-liberal line like she had swallowed the Heritage Foundation. Yet because she was female, EMILY's List supported her.

    Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað

    by milkbone on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 06:16:53 PM PST

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