Why Is Lean In Honoring a Politician Who Wants Women to Lean Out?

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Feb. 3 2014 1:23 PM

Why Is Lean In Honoring an Icon of Anti-Feminist Policy?

825144-republican-florida-congresswoman-ileana-ros-lehtinen-and
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen leans in, but if she got her way, few other women would have the chance.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers

Sheryl Sandberg wrote her book Lean In and started an organization by the same name because she wanted to empower women to do better in the workplace. So why is the Lean In Tumblr honoring a woman who has routinely acted to undermine women? As Marc Tracy at the New Republic reports, the Lean In Tumblr page feted Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for her achievements as a politician. It's true that Ros-Lehtinen is a hardworking and accomplished woman, but she is also a woman who does everything in her power to make sure that other women's hard work will not lead to similar accomplishments, as Tracy details. Ros-Lehtinen voted against equal-pay legislation; has a zero rating from NARAL; and even voted to drain the previously uncontroversial Title X funding that is used primarily to help low-income women afford contraception, STI testing, and cancer screenings.

Amanda Marcotte Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

Lean In has responded to Tracy's criticisms with an editor's note:

This feature highlights the stories of women who succeeded against the odds and blazed a trail in their fields. Lean In does not run these posts as endorsements of specific policies or individuals. Lean In encourages everyone to support changes that help all women to succeed.
Advertisement

Which sounds an awful lot like they're trying to celebrate Ros-Lehtinen's accomplishments at gaining power while disagreeing with what Ros-Lehtinen uses her power for. That choice ends up validating the fear feminists expressed about Lean In when it was first published: that Sandberg was championing a rah-rah self-help mentality while ignoring the real-world problems women face when it comes to getting ahead. All the self-help books in the world won't save you if your boss can exploit a legal loophole to discriminate against you for being a woman. It doesn't do women much good to tell them to use their childless years to achieve greatness when they aren't even allowed to have childless years because they're unable to access contraception or abortion. 

Of course, this is hardly the first time that Ros-Lehtinen has been wielded as a feminist icon even though she is openly and obviously anti-feminist. From the Lean In Tumblr:

She hopes her presence in Congress will inspire little girls to lead across the country. "I think that every woman in elected office should think of herself as a feminist," she told MAKERS.

If women aren't given the tools they need to succeed, such as equal opportunity and control over when they have children, dangling the stories of women who flourish where they can't is less "inspiration" than "taunting." I don't like the endless debates over the word feminist, but the term really shouldn't be applied to someone who shoots down opportunities to end discrimination against women. The problem here is that organizations like Lean In and MAKERS are so eager to avoid the appearance of partisanship that they end up setting aside their ostensibly feminist missions to "honor" women who are doing everything they can to turn back the clock for other women. It's good that they want a diversity of viewpoints and stories represented, but if your mission is to help women achieve in the workplace, it's best to avoid honoring women who are fighting against that very goal.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Tom Hanks Has a Short Story in The New Yorker. It’s Not Good.

Brow Beat

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 7:13 PM Deadly Advice When it comes to Ebola, ignore American public opinion: It’s ignorant and misinformed about the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 6:32 PM Taylor Swift’s Pro-Gay “Welcome to New York” Takes Her Further Than Ever From Nashville 
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.