Porch Season opened Sunday, and as always I porched with great vigor and aplomb. I also rooted around in my flower beds. When I “root around,” I literally tunnel through the dirt like a mole. Often I pop up out of the ground and discover I’m in the neighbor’s yard. Fun stuff, if rather filthy.
At day’s end I retired to the porch for my reading, which included the latest Time magazine, the one with Sheryl Sandberg on the cover. There’s an excellent profile by Belinda Luscombe. Bottom line is, Sandberg may be running for president one of these days, but for now she’s content to be the new face of feminism, urging women to “lean in” rather than prematurely take themselves out of the race to the top of American leadership positions.
“Stripped of many caveats, [Sandberg’s thesis] boils down to this: The sisters are doing some of it to themselves. For a variety of reasons, they’re not aiming high enough. They’re underestimating their abilities. They’re doing too much housework and child care. They’re compromising their career goals for partners and children — even when such partners and children do not yet exist.”
A striking detail in the story comes from Sandberg, who refers to a 2003 experiment in which students looked over a case study about a successful entrepreneur. If the hypothetical entrepreneur were male, the students liked him more than if the entrepreneur were female. Sandberg’s conclusion: “Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.”
The issue of whether women “can have it all,” and what that phrase actually means, is remarkably durable, and Sandberg’s book comes along about a year after Anne-Marie Slaughter’s treatise in The Atlantic about her decision to leave the Obama administration and return to a somewhat saner existence as a professor at Princeton. Slaughter essentially said that, no, until we change the way we operate in this culture, women can’t have it all. Slaughter: “Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women.” (Discuss.)
On a purely personal note: I do often find myself wondering if ambition (male or female) is all it’s cracked up to be. Remind me: Why would you want to be the boss, the CEO, the person in the corner office? Seems to me there are downsides to leadership, not least of which is that you work long hours and don’t have as much time to putter around the garden or sit on the porch. It’s often better to be useful in an organization, and dependable, but relatively unimportant, such that you can duck out the back door when you need to. Sometimes you want to stop and grow the flowers, you know? And that may mean that, at key moments, you should lean out.