Should We “Lean In?” bell hooks, Sheryl Sandberg, and Feminist Identity

by Brianna Suslovic ’16

I recently read feminist scholar bell hookscritique of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg‘s brand of feminism on The Feminist Wire, and it brought up a lot of questions.

Since the arrival of Sandberg’s book Lean In last year, feminists and non-feminists alike have been in an uproar about how sensational and controversial Sandberg’s narrative has been. Some see Sandberg’s book as a rallying cry for the “ordinary” American woman (yes, the one that’s afraid of those bra-burning, man-hating “feminists”). Others, like hooks, choose to critique Sandberg’s ignorance of race and class in what has been lauded as a new feminist manifesto.

hooks’ piece is definitely worth a read–it offers some serious analysis and critique of what hooks calls faux feminism, this brand of feminism that shies away from the militancy and theory-heavy feminism, leaning instead toward a more neoliberal or capitalist slant.

While I personally find myself leaning more towards hooks’ brand of feminist thought, it’s hard for me to not Lean In. Who’s to say that there’s only one way to be a feminist? For me, feminism is about individual experience and thought, and labeling brands of feminism as better than others seems a bit alienating and nonproductive.  Is Sandberg making feminism accessible to a broader audience, or is she alienating the feminists who don’t connect to her white, straight, cisgendered, upper-class narrative?

I don’t have an answer to that question, but I’m torn between the valid critique of hooks and my fear of feminism’s death within the general public. I wonder if, without Sandberg’s book, even fewer individuals would be interested in feminism in a modern context. Dear HCWC blog readers, I’ll leave that answer up to you.

Further reading:

On bell hooks:

On Sheryl Sandberg:


2 thoughts on “Should We “Lean In?” bell hooks, Sheryl Sandberg, and Feminist Identity

  1. HeatherN

    Here’s my thought: if more and more people are embracing the faux feminism of Sandberg, they aren’t really working toward liberation from a heteronormative, white supremacist patriarchy (to use hooks’ phrase). I don’t think hooks is suggesting there is only one way to be a feminist…she’s just saying that Sandberg’s book definitely ISN’T a way to be a feminist. Pushing some women up, while pushing other women down isn’t feminism…it’s just a rebranding of patriarchy.

  2. Lucinda

    Briana and Heather, I’m new to this blog, but I did see a Crimson article online about tenured professors–it’s 22% women at Harvard. It was an indifferent article that explored all the angles and came to no conclusion. ( Read the blog posts below as a Feministometer. The misogyny put my blood on boil and my readings to the top; I would have expected it 40 years ago, not now. The point is that doors may be open, but there’s a way to go.

    As we make our way in the world to bring our light and gifts, research has shown that women need peer and feminine support. Marianne Williamson, running in 2014 for office in LA, says she has a team of ‘yes women’…to say after being laughed at, belittled–all that still goes on, ladies– she has friends who say, you’re brilliant, you’re right on, settle in, steady, keep going. Research from Margaret Mead to Jean Houston shows women work well in circles…Lean in or otherwise.

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