‘Feminist Housewife’ Writer Attacks Sheryl Sandberg
9:45 am, March 22nd | by Colette McIntyre
We’ve already talked about New York Magazine writer Lisa Miller’s “Retro Housewife” piece at length. In fact, the article gave us our new emblem of gender inequality: pineapple fried rice. (Put it on all your buttons and patches, ladies!) But that was ages ago (oh, it was yesterday? Well, that’s like three months in Internet years) and we’ve already moved on to other flagrant offenses, like Miley Cyrus’ twerk video. But somehow Lisa Miller must’ve found out that we were beginning to forget about her and her pseudo socio-anthropological trend piece because she went and picked up her Sur La Table organic rustic wood spoon and stirred the pot again.
On Wednesday, Miller joined Cosmopolitan Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles and Barnard College President Debora Spar in CBS This Morning‘s roundtable discussion on feminism. For inexplicable reasons, COO Sheryl Sandberg and her kinda-sorta feminist manifesto Lean In were in Miller’s crosshairs: the NY Mag scribe spent most of her time on This Morning preaching her own, oppositional gospel of “leaning out.” According to Miller, feminist housewives are an “antidote to this recommendation by Sandberg that what women have to do to further the feminist movement is to be more competitive, more ambitious, more wily, more strategic.”
If you’re first reaction to that statement was a tilted head and narrowed eyes, we’re right there with you. Miller has to be confused by all the “ins” and “outs” and “leans” currently framing mainstream conversations about feminism and the workplace; why else would she she co-opt the well-worn conversation on “opting out“, rename it “leaning out,” and act like it’s antithetical to Sandberg’s credo of “leaning in” when, in fact, the two have nothing to do with one another?
Miller continually insinuated that Sandberg’s novel attacked women who choose to stay at home and be moms, that Lean In judged them as lesser feminists. If Miller had actually read Lean In, she would know that Sandberg isn’t concerned with the stay-at-home mom; Lean In is a direct communiqué to a subset of women (including moms) who work, advising them to be less risk-adverse and to lean towards leadership roles and responsibilities. Miller, don’t worry: Sandberg doesn’t badmouth your new BFFS, stay-at-home moms (SAHMs).
Miller’s fellow panelists were sure to correct her mischaracterizations of Sandberg’s book. “I don’t think that’s what the book is about,” CBS This Morning anchor Norah O’Donnell said. “I don’t think that’s what Sheryl Sandberg’s message was.”
O’Donnell went on to frame Sandberg’s argument far better than I just did:
I think the argument has become totally skewed and just off-center which is that there’s a suggestion that there’s a discussion about the choices of women who stay home and women who are in the workplace. That is not what the argument is about. The argument is about, after 30 years, after women getting more college degrees than men, why are there still so few women in leadership positions? And Sheryl Sandberg’s point is because women have internalized the message [of gender biases], they’re not seeking these leadership positions. It’s not actually about women in the workplace, it’s about women and leadership.
Joanna Coles followed up with the brilliant point that “you never ever hear the phrase ‘working father’” and Deborah Spar quipped that “there is no singular feminist path that you are obligated to follow” and looked at Miller like the writer had just suggested that Chris Kirkpatrick is the only *NSYNC member that matters.
These conversations that pit housewives against working mothers set up an unnecessary binary that distracts from the real problems that many women are struggling with, whether they stay at home or otherwise. Instead of harping on Sheryl Sandberg and her book, Lisa Miller could be using her five minutes of fame to discuss public policies that would make housewives’ lives easier. The “feminist” part of “feminist housewife” stipulates that you should be engaged with women’s sociopolitical interests; how about making a case for free child care, better maternity leave, and benefits that would make full-time work and parenthood more manageable?
In the meantime, Lisa, stop trying to make
“fetch” “lean out” happen. It’s not going to happen.
[Photo via Shutterstock]