Sheryl Sandberg wants us to Lean In while ignoring Trump. Is she kidding us?
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, author of Lean In (the book) and founder and board chair of Lean In (the organization), wants to empower women — as long as it doesn't make anyone uncomfortable.
For years, she's positioned herself as a voice of working women while refusing to acknowledge the politicians and policies that exploit them — a kind of privileged feminism that lets her pander to both sides. (Consider Paul Ryan, who won Sandberg's "Lean In Award of the Day" in 2015 despite his outspoken stance against mandatory paid leave for new parents.) In December, Sandberg, along with other tech leaders, attended a roundtable with President Donald Trump but was unable to make the Women's March the following month, citing a "personal obligation," reported Re/code. (Sandberg did announce a sizable donation to Planned Parenthood.)
On Mother's Day, Sandberg shared a Facebook post that on the surface appears to be a powerful statement on equality in the workplace. But it's a perfect distillation of the Lean In brand — a platform unwilling to engage in politics at the risk of ruffling feathers.
Sandberg's calls to action indirectly repudiate Trump's policies, but she avoids criticizing them. Instead, we get wishy-washy sentiments like "I hope we can ... use this day to commit to do more" that do little to confront what's really holding back working women.
Is this skittishness the result of a lack of self-awareness? A misguided PR directive? The early steps toward a political campaign? It remains to be seen.
Let's break down Sandberg's Mother's Day post, point by point
Being a mother is the most rewarding — and hardest — job many of us will ever have. The day you become a mom, you also become a caregiver, teacher, nurse and coach. It's an all-in-one kind of role that comes with no training.
And, it must be said, a potential increase in premiums for pregnant women, thanks to the health care plan passed by House Republicans.
For most moms, it's only one of many jobs we have. Over 40% of mothers are the primary breadwinners for their families — and in many, the only breadwinner. We all have a responsibility to help mothers as well as fathers balance their responsibilities at work and home.
Trump's policy proposals were originally for married birth mothers only, despite his promises for paid family leave. The administration is "contemplating" a more inclusive plan, reported the New York Times.
Companies can do a lot to lead the charge, and I'm proud of the steps Facebook has taken. But not everyone has the opportunity to work for a company that supports working parents. It's time for our public policies to catch up with what our families deserve and our values demand.
Trump's first labor pick, Andrew Puzder, was a critic of raising the minimum wage. Alexander Acosta, Trump's replacement pick after Puzder withdrew his nomination, has yet to make a firm public stance on the issue.
We need paid leave. The United States is one of the only developed countries in the world that doesn't guarantee paid family leave — and we're the only developed country in the world without paid maternity leave. That means many moms are forced to return to work right after giving birth to keep their jobs. They deserve more support. So do dads, LGBTQ parents, adoptive parents — families of all kinds. All of us will have times when we need to take care of ourselves and our relatives. We shouldn't have to risk losing a job or being able to meet the basic needs of our families to do that.
And we need affordable child care. Child care for two children exceeds the median annual rent in all 50 states. How are parents supposed to work if they don't have a safe and affordable place to leave their kids?
On this Mother's Day, even more than ever, I feel deep gratitude for my amazing mom Adele Sandberg, who has given me her love and strength my whole life and these past two years especially. I am also grateful for the love and support of my mother-in-law Paula Goldberg who dedicates herself not only to her own family, but to families with children with disabilities through the PACER Center. For those for whom this day can be more painful than celebratory, I hope — as Connie Schultz would say — that it lands gently.
Right after Trump's inauguration, websites that included information on federal policy and opportunities for people with disabilities were taken down, as well as a contact page for a Disability Issues Outreach team. Trump's fiscal priorities, as seen in a comprehensive budget proposal, could prove detrimental to individuals with developmental disabilities. Trump himself notoriously mocked a disabled reporter on his campaign trail.
This is an emotional day for so many reasons — because we thank the mothers we have and remember the mothers and the children we've lost. I hope we can also use this day to commit to do more for all the mothers who have given so much and deserve even more.
Sandberg acts as though female empowerment and politics are separate conversations
In her Mother's Day post, she never mentions how the current administration poses a very real threat to women, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community. She calls for policy changes directly contradicting the proposals coming out of the White House, without stating so. And that feels intentional.
The organization Lean In has been steadfastly avoiding any stance that could be deemed even slightly critical of Trump's White House and the GOP.
"As an organization, we are nonpartisan and committed to that," said Rachel Thomas, Lean In's president, according to Bloomberg. Thomas added that Lean In believes gender equality and women's leadership transcend politics.
But in her Mother's Day Facebook post, Sandberg is calling for a direct confrontation of the obstacles women face — obstacles that are deeply rooted in and affected by political agendas.
It's infuriating to watch Sandberg and her organization painstakingly and cravenly dance around the direct cause of the problems she's claiming to stand against. If Sandberg takes her position seriously as a role model for other women and girls, she would show them the importance of standing up for what's right, even if it makes you uncomfortable.