Reviews of Homeward Bound

“3.5 out of 4 stars” - People Magazine                                                               “The brilliance of Emily Matchar’s new book is that it exhaustively describes what disillusioned workers are opting into: a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle that’s focused on the home. Matchar synthesizes dozens of trend stories … into a single, compelling narrative about the resurgence of domesticity….Refreshing.” -The New Republic                                                       "[P]rovocatively explores what the movement says about the role of women in society today.” – The New Yorker                                                                       "I unreservedly loved it…It’s empathetic and funny and thoughtful and smart, and I encourage all of you to read it."– The Hairpin                                                         “Cogently argues that choosing a more hands-on, DIY lifestyle – family farming, canning, crafting, can, without sacrificing feminism’s hard-won gains, improve on an earlier time when ‘people lived more lightly on the earth and relied less on corporations, and family and community came first.’” - ELLE                                                               “[I]ntelligent and insightful...essential reading.” - Christianity Today                                                       “A lively and perceptive reporter… a valuable and astute assessment.”—Publishers Weekly                                                         “A well-researched look at the resurgence of home life…. Offers intriguing insight into the renaissance of old-fashioned home traditions.”— Kirkus Reviews

What is New Domesticity?

This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?                                                                                     My book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which explores New Domesticity in greater depth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

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In defense of Sheryl Sandberg

It was lame when Betty Friedan was criticized for not writing about working class women or women of color in “The Feminine Mystique.” And it’s lame that Sheryl Sandberg is being attacked right and left for being too privileged to have anything valuable to say about working motherhood.

Sandberg, the massively influential COO of Facebook, has written a new book, “Lean In,” which aims to tackle the issue of why women still have so much trouble getting to the top of the ladder in business, government and pretty much every other high-powered field. I haven’t read the book, because it’s not out yet (March 11 is the release date), but from my understanding, it’s main gist is that women need to be more assertive and willing to toot their own horns in order to succeed in competitive fields. Sandberg acknowledges the structural issues that can make success difficult – no paid maternity leave, inflexible policies, etc. – but encourages women to band together and fight these. She even suggests weekly “lean in” sessions (which sound like a modern update on 1970s consciousness raising groups) for women to get together and talk about their successes and failures together.

Yay, right?

Not so fast. Apparently, Sandberg is a Marie Antoinette in Louboutin heels, too blind with her “privilege” to offer anything of use to “real women.” Because she has “a husband, children, a beautiful home, a seat on the board of a billion-dollar company, a nine-figure net worth of her own,” her interest in supporting fellow ambitious women is merely a useless “vanity project.” She is a mere “pom-pom girl for feminism,” whose Prada boots and access to private planes make her impossible to take seriously.

This is bullshit.

Betty Friedan was writing for and about a specific demographic of women – middle-class women, most with college educations, who found themselves shunted back into the home due to postwar pressures to return America to safety and normalcy via domestic goddess-dom. Sandberg is writing about women who want to succeed in the upper realms of business and industry, a place where they are sorely underrepresented. Criticizing either of them for what they didn’t write about strikes me as grossly unfair, an easy – and yes, sexist – way of diminishing their message.

I am 1000% in favor of making structural changes that will help ALL women (and men, for that matter) – ambitious and non-ambitious, rich and poor, black and white and Hispanic and Asian and native, educated and not – be better able to balance work and family. I think Sandberg would completely agree. But just because that’s not what her book focuses on doesn’t mean it’s worthless. There are so few people addressing the ways women are socialized to fail in the workplace – being afraid to ask for raises, not applying for ambitious enough positions, etc. This is important stuff!

What do you think? Will you be reading Sandberg’s book? For some more positive takes, read Janet Maslin’s New York Times pre-review, or Anna Holmes’ New Yorker defense of Sandberg.

 

 

8 comments to In defense of Sheryl Sandberg

  • Feminism is not actually feminism without intersectionality. And Betty Friedan failed, epically, at addressing any of that…so I don’t really think the comparison from Sandberg or anyone else is exactly a compliment. I’m confused, also, about why we should laud anyone who is teaching us how to enthusiastically join the marginalizers. Sandberg IS privileged…racially, socioeconomically, etc. No doubt her approach to this sort of Success Coaching is also wildly heterosexist, too.

    I don’t understand why women can’t be critical of women, even within the context of feminism, only to have it be reductively called “sexism”. It’s not sexism! It’s “you’ve got your perfectly coiffed head up your ass”. We don’t need Second Wave feminism to make a comeback. It was divisive and ignored an entire swath of people we’re quite ready to borrow from when we need new catch phrases for our white-washed brand of “feminism”.

    • I would have to ask, isn’t any progress good progress for women? Would we be having this discussion if it were a latino woman who had pushed her way from the bottom talking about how to ask for a raise or encourage other women in the fight for workplace equality? I feel that we’re attacking Sandberg for speaking up, she spoke up! Women should stand together on this.

      And I do believe women can be critical of other women, but when we use the sexist language of shoes and homes and lifestyle to belittle the OBVIOUSLY hard work that she has done to get to where she is, we’re just bashing her because can. It doesn’t help the argument to have women trivializing what she’s saying. She has spoken a great deal about “working where you’re at” to achieve the goals of equality and betterment. Isn’t that the message we should be conveying? She’s not negating the existence of anyone or any race or any sex, she’s speaking to WOMEN about how to move forward in the workplace. She may have had advantages over others to get to the place she is now, but she still GOT THERE and she still WORKED FOR IT. I think a little respect for that work and juggling of time, family and such is in order. It still doesn’t negate what she’s saying though, women do indeed need to help other women, in any way we can.

      • Privilege is not synonymous with hard work! No one is critiquing her work ethic.

        Your reply really lost me with your “if she were latino woman” hypothetical; not just at the revealing word choice (“latino woman”? Latina.) but also at the suggestion that putting a brown face on the cover of the book doesn’t change the story. The story is inherently different, and it’s the blindness of white feminists who are still tethered to the Second Wave that makes my brain bleed. It’s not that I’m critical of hard work, or success, or personal triumph, or even great affirmations to tuck into my back pocket. It’s the presumption that all women can, or all women want to, merely climb the ladders as they exist. I don’t want to read a book about a white woman succeeding in a white man’s world, even though her accomplishments are great and varied and clearly inspiring to some people.

        I always want to ask these Rich White Ladies when the last time any of their advice was actually successful. The same books written by white dudes are useful because white men have privilege and power in the workplace. It’s just a matter of actualizing that which already exists! The infrastructure doesn’t exist for women to be this kind of successful (read: RICH) with any sort of consistency, so why would any of this advice work? And the audience for whom this book was written matters…A LOT. A whole damn lot. Finally, the suggestion that we just strategically play the Success Game using the Boys’ Rules is insulting and misses the point entirely.

        • I apologize for my use of ‘latino’ as opposed to ‘latina’, but this is reveling because it shows my “privilege”? Makes my argument moot because I used the wrong conjugation? Perhaps this makes what I have to say also irrelevant because I lack the social understandings to really delve into the argument? I’m a poor white girl from a farm in VERY rural North Carolina who worked a full time job to pay the balance of my University education. I work for a tech company because I worked hard in a field traditionally dominated by men and experience sexism daily. Sandbergs words ring true for me because I’m a programmer working in a male field with little if any female leadership (or female presence at all, for that matter) to turn to for mentorship or advice for my development. Perhaps I’ll become a COO one day, or perhaps I’ll be the best damn programmer I can be, her status and
          “privileges” matter little to me when the advice she gives works for me. I’m not saying this woman is the leader of all that is feminist and female in the workplace, I’m saying that for me, a woman in the male dominated tech field, she does represent something significant.

          Perhaps her story doesn’t match mine. Perhaps she had a leg up when it comes to her studies, internships, financial helps, etc etc etc. Perhaps all of that is so, are we saying that she doesn’t have anything relevant to say? That’s my problem here. You’re quite right. She doesn’t represent everyone. But she does represent some of us. Some of us are techies with no female presence who want to read about someone who “made it”. I look forward to the book because it’s a work by someone I respect. I don’t need her to lead all women or be entirely relatable to gain insight from her. I’m just glad she wrote the damn thing. I’m glad that I’ll be seeing that book next to the John Maxwells and Daniel Pinks and Seth Godins in the Management and Leadership section at my local bookstore. I’m glad that she’s in the position she’s in, and that she’s successful so that when I and other women like me, who DO want to climb the career ladder, look up, we see a woman up there cheering us on. I don’t think every woman needs to climb that ladder, but some of us want to and those that came before us are important and yes, we ABSOLUTELY need their stories.

      • Also! The fact that she was able to work hard, in the manner in which she has throughout her career and with the rewards that she has collected, is INDICATIVE of her privilege. Because women with the same intellect and drive who happen to be Black or queer or disabled are not imbued with the same privilege (kind or amount), which makes their struggle DIFFERENT and (often} MORE complex.

        So having a successful straight woman speak to me, as a queer woman, is not really something I’m willing to hear. Why? Because she hasn’t walked in my shoes and I doubt her reflection even contains a shred of connection to the life a queer woman leads in the modern workplace. And, evidenced by her self-identifying as this generation’s Betty Friedan, she *seems* pretty unwilling to give a shit about the different shoes, or women, who might take her advice. All of these reasons sort of congeal together and likely create a book that was written BY a straight white woman FOR straight white women, and we’re basically back where we started. Hello, Second Wave.

  • I have actually already pre-ordered the book! I think she is an incredible force of nature. This TED talk ( http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html ) brought her to my attention and I think the message she’s presenting is absolutely essential. Women are never going to get a foothold in higher management and corporate culture if we don’t start fighting for what we want. She points out over and over again that the way we’ve been taught has put us in the wrong frame of mind when it comes to our business presence and that to really push for better pay, more equality etc etc will not only benefit the woman asking, but will help to pave the way for the women behind her. Women can’t be a force in the obviously male dominated business world if we don’t have a presence there, the only way to gain a presence there is the break out of our gender norms and play the game better than the boys. I think it’s quite sexist to think the other way, to “put her in her place” by belittling the work she’s done in her professional life. So she makes a ton, has her child and her home and nice shoes, so what? Wouldn’t any of us in the situation? Should she be sacrificing herself OUTSIDE the public eye? Should she not utilize the hard earned status and compensations she has EARNED in her time? I think it’s quite a brave move for her to step up and publish a work like this! Her male counterparts do, why shouldn’t she? She has made it QUITE clear throughout her professional life that we can’t move forward until we represent, I think with her example, she’s showing how that will be done.

    As for her “privilege”, I agree that it’s stupid to berate her work with women because she had the “privileges” that got her there. She’s spent quite a bit of her time and financial resources building programs for underprivileged women to have the same advantages she’s had. She also speaks to women WHERE THEY ARE, which is really important to the point she’s trying to make. You don’t have to be the COO of Facebook to get your fair compensation or to push for better benefits or equal standing in your workplace, you have to work where you are to make a path for others to do the same. I hate the privilege argument because it makes any work that is done seem insignificant and ill-gained. Do we really believe that this women didn’t work HARD to get to where she’s at now? Now that she is in her power seat are we going to trivialize or minimize the sacrifices she’s made already? She can still be a great woman, a great mom, a great wife AND a great COO, right? Isn’t that what we’re fighting for? The chance to really “do it all” and, more importantly, to practice equality in every aspect of what we do?

  • Katy

    Are we really saying that, by virtue of their place in the world and socioeconimic/racial/gender identity circumstances, an entire class of people have nothing worthwhile to say to the rest of us and that their stories are inherently worth less?