Facebook feminism that hurts women

It’s been too easy for feminists to balk at Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean Ina quasi-feminist book and now organization that focuses on women in the corporate sector more aggressively pursuing their career goals while largely ignoring institutional factors that hold back women. But the Lean In organization just keeps making it easier. (h/t to Jessica Luther):

It seems that Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit organization, Lean In, is honoring, as one of its “Trailblazing Women You May Not Know (But Should),” Florida G.O.P. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lentinen. You might assume, since Ros-Lehtinen is a Republican, that she holds all the usual horrible Republican positions on foreign and economic policy. And indeed, you would be correct.

But you’d probably figure that, if an allegedly feminist organization like Lean In is honoring her, she must have at least some sort of a decent record on women. Is she pro-choice, maybe? Or at a bare minimum, a supporter for equal pay, perhaps?

Sorry — no, and no. The New Republic’s Mark Tracy has the goods here. It turns out that Ros-Lehtinen is an anti-feminist nightmare whose anti-woman politics are not a shade different from Phyllis Schlafly’s.

The post goes on to chronicle Ros-Lehtinen’s offenses, from voting against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to having a 0 rating from NARAL. As someone who has worked on foreign policy issues for years, Ros-Lehtinen has long been one of my least favorite members of Congress. Her record there is no more female-friendly than her record on domestic issues. She supports hawkish policies that make war more likely, pushes Israel-can-do-no-wrong legislation rather than supporting an evenhanded approach, and even led the charge to torpedo a bill to prevent forced child marriage.

This isn’t an anomaly either, as Susan Faludi noted in a lengthy piece on Lean In and feminism’s long-running “dance with capitalism”:

“If we can succeed in adding more female voices at the highest levels,” Sandberg writes in her book, “we will expand opportunities and extend fairer treatment to all.” But which highest-level voices? When former British prime minister Margaret (“I hate feminism”) Thatcher died, Lean In’s Facebook page paid homage to the Iron Lady and invited its followers to post “which moments were most memorable to you” from Thatcher’s tenure. That invitation inspired a rare outburst of un-“positive” remarks in the comment section, at least from some women in the U.K. “Really??” wrote one. “She was a tyrant. . . . Just because a woman is in a leadership position does not make her worthy of respect, especially if you were on the receiving end of what she did to lots of people.” “So disappointing that Lean In endorses Thatcher as a positive female role model,” wrote another. “She made history as a woman, but went on to use her power to work against the most vulnerable, including women and their children.”

Faludi describes the earlier transition from “common struggle to individual advancement,” and this epitomizes it. This kind of watered-down feminism that reduces to a formula of woman in power=good confirms it. How many young women, women of color, low-income women can relate to a feminism that embraces leaders who use their power in a way that harms so many of us?

I won’t argue that the concerns of women in corporate America are irrelevant. While their struggles occur within a very privileged system, they are still not on equal footing with men and that needs to be addressed. But one can’t defend a brand of feminism that would throw other women under the bus. Women’s progress isn’t going to “trickle down” by empowering women like Ros-Lehtinen.

If you want to spend some time reading longer pieces by great feminist writers eviscerating the broader Lean In approach, read bell hooks here and Susan Faludi’s full piece here.


Author: Rebecca Griffin

I am a passionate advocate for progressive causes with over a decade of experience organizing for social change. That organizing experience informs the way I look at the world and the challenges we face in working toward social justice. I started Of Means and Ends to write about social issues I care about and share my thoughts on how we organize in a smart, strategic way. Please visit and join the conversation.

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