Lean Out by Dawn Foster
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Reviews
Best for: Folks who claim the feminist title; folks who thought there was something off about Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.”
In a nutshell: Foster picks apart the main themes of Sandberg’s best seller and points out all the ways that it is harmful to feminism; namely, that it doesn’t acknowledge the bigger issues at play, such as patriarchy and capitalism.
“A woman may be as ambitious as she wants, but the people hiring and firing have their own preconceptions, in a society that maintains that women are less decisive, logical and driven.”
“Lean In points all the blame inward, and ignores structural inequality.”
“The benefit of having women in the cabinet remains to be seen for migrant, low-paid, or abused women.”
Why I chose it:
I care about women succeeding but was turned off by Sandberg’s premise.
Dawn Foster packs a lot of useful, depressing, and motivating information into 81 pages. While the overarching premise is a response to Sandberg’s Lean In, the book’s focus is on the failings of corporate and white feminism as a whole. How feminism isn’t about the number of women at the board table (in fact, despite our hopes, women and POC apparently don’t tend to hire people who look like them once they’re in that position); it’s about uprooting and overturning a system that punishes women for being women by denying them access to quality jobs, quality housing, and basic respect for work.
Foster covers a lot of ground across the eight chapters. In the Hiring and Firing chapter, Foster discusses zero-contract jobs and jobs that require heavy emotional labor. Regarding zero-contract jobs (basically, hourly wage jobs where you aren’t ever guaranteed any work), she points out that your livelihood is essentially based not on how well you do your job, but on how well you get along with your manager. And sure, that can be the case in salaried positions, but in those, the feedback and punishment for not doing the emotional labor happens over time – individuals in zero-contract jobs may find themselves with no hours a week after a clash with the manager. She also looks at PR jobs, with are 80% women, even though fewer than 40% of the journalists they interact with are women, and how that, too, is a field dependent on doing a ton of emotional labor, including while off the clock.
The chapter on choice feminism was, I think, the best as a way to introduce to others who claim the feminist title that perhaps there’s more to it than arguing about taking a spouse’s last name upon marriage. Yes, we can manage multiple concerns at once, but she put it in a way I hadn’t thought about when she said:
“Time and attention within life are finite, and “wins” that seem more achievable are more likely to spur the column inches which are then denied to issues that hit the invisible, the poorer, and the more marginalised.”
Honestly, I’ve always been a big proponent of the easy wins. I sign petitions against corporations who have absurd ads. But I hadn’t though about how this anger — which is usually justified — takes away time and space from other, more pressing, less easily digested challenges.
I never read Lean In, and I never will, because I don’t think Sandberg is doing any of us any favors. It’s not up to women to lean into the way things are; it’s up to women to change the things that don’t work for the most marginalized among us.