When I interviewed at Porter’s I was asked if I’d read That Book, the one where we were told to “lean in to [discomfort, opportunity, the struggle, whatever]” and I responded that I’d read excerpts, but not the whole thing. My overall sense was one of dismay, that a book like that was so popular because when I was at an all-girl’s high school, that message was simply there – we knew we were strong, powerful, ambitious and capable and that we could do anything with our futures. Anything. Where did that message fail? Or maybe… just maybe… it took being in a place where we were encouraged to be what I guess we can call “leaners” that it never occurred to us to be anything else, but for those in less supportive places, well… perhaps they need to hear the message?
My biggest problem is that “leaning” implies that either you’ll fall over or you have something supporting you. What’s wrong with standing tall? Why is “leaning” the action of choice? Add to that the questions about exactly to whom the book is addressed, versus the numbers who are being told to embrace the message. NPR does a good job on this, The Week has a good round-up of responses, and The Feminist Wire says what I want to say, only better.
“Leaning in” seems to be one of those catch phrases that won’t go away, but as much as we embrace the message do we really understand what was written? Do we understand the limitations of the author’s message? And how do we move forward to a place where we’re standing, not leaning? That is the message I want my students to hear.