Sheryl Sandberg’s business advice book, Lean In, was heralded as a defining moment in attitudes to women in business. But for all its commercial success, it proposed a model of feminism that was individualistic and unthreatening to capital.
In her powerful debut work Lean Out, acclaimed journalist Dawn Foster unpicks how the purportedly feminist message of Sandberg’s book neatly exempts patriarchy, capitalism and business from any responsibility for changing the position of women in contemporary culture. It looks at the rise of a corporate ‘1% feminism’, and at how feminism has been defanged and depoliticised at a time when women have borne the brunt of the financial crash and the gap between rich and poor is widening faster than ever.
Surveying business, media, culture and politics, Foster asks whether this ‘trickledown’ feminism offers any material gain for women collectively, or acts as mere window-dressing PR for the corporations who caused the financial crash. She concludes that ‘leaning out’ of the corporate model is a more effective way of securing change than leaning in.
The backlash against Sheryl Sandberg’s business advice book, Lean In, began before it was even published in March 2013. Critics blanched at the idea of a super-rich, two-time ivy-league graduate dispensing advice to women hoping to climb the corporate ladder—implying that any woman can “have it all” if she asserts herself more.
About the author
Dawn Foster is a writer and journalist. She is a columnist for The Guardian, and writes for the London Review of Books, New York Times, Dissent and Prospect, among other publications. She won the IBP Young Journalist of the Year award in 2014. Her book Lean Out (Repeater, 2015) was shortlisted for the 2017 Bread and Roses Award and her journalism was longlisted for the 2017 Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils.