While today may be International Women’s Day, I don’t think many would disagree that it could easily be “Sheryl Sandberg Week” for the whirlwind of press attention that she has received for her website launching. Not only did LeanIn.org hit the web just two days ago, but also this week she hit the newsstands with a rare female appearance on the cover of TIME magazine and spread. In a bold red dress, the feminist figure has an even bolder message on the cover: “Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Successful”. If that isn’t a socially charged message, I don’t know what is.
One day after the magazine disseminated into US airports, street corners, and homes, Forbes author Victorian Pynchon commented on the diction of such a strong message: “Sandberg hasn’t attracted lawsuits… Yet we’re to assume women expressing differences of opinion must ‘hate’ her.” Framing Sandberg’s controversial opinions in this manner certainly cannot help the criticisms, and create only more harm for those not knowledgeable of the havoc in the professional women’s sphere. Pynchon argues that TIME is spurring a cat fight with this message, and “though bad for women, is good for newsstand sales and they don’t give a damn whether its harmful to women or not.”
“Confidence Woman”, the associated TIME article written by Belinda Luscombe, is nothing short of fully endorsing Sandberg, and we wouldn’t expect anything otherwise. Luscombe fills the spread by elaborating on Sandberg’s background, defending her critics (even mentions the Anne-Marie Slaughter “make-up”), quoting Sandberg’s male peers, all with charm and even a little Yiddish! Furthermore, she goes over particular chapters of the book and comments on other women’s success stories following the Sandberg model.
While the catchy headline and elaborate article screams Sandberg support, I do believe the diction of the title and the constant defending of critics throughout the TIME piece shows signs of weakness in Sandberg’s road to gender equality. It is appropriate to counter an argument, but asserting to the public that “haters” do exist will only perpetuate more, especially those mommies. Speaking of mommies, another TIME author Caitlin Flanagan critiques the lack of attention Sandberg devotes to childrearing in “What About the Children?” stating, “here is an inescapable truth: to ‘lean in’ to one thing is to ‘lean away’ from something else.” If we scroll down to the bottom of the article to read her bio, we learn Flanagan is the author of Girl Land and To Hell With All Of That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife – books on the conflict of roles as a mother. Flanagan as a motherhood-impulses-prevail proponent versus Luscombe’s support-of-Sandberg outlook helps us understand how two authors framing the same issue create an influx of opinions that make the “truth” nearly impossible to dissect.