Female panelists split on impact of Sandberg’s controversial novel ‘Lean In’

IWF lean in panel May 2013Although the panel was filled with smart, independent conservative women, Thursday night’s “Lean In” panelists couldn’t come to a consensus about whether Sheryl Sandberg’s controversial book was good advice for women, or just another dusty book to add to their bookshelf.

The book “examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential,” according to Amazon.com.

The nonprofit Independent Women’s Forum sponsored the debate, which was held in front of more than 300 people at the Decatur House in Washington, D.C. The IWF had previously announced that more than 100 people were on a waiting list to get a ticket to the event. The debate’s panel included Sally Quinn of the The Washington Post, Christine Rosen of the New America Foundation, Hanna Rosin of The Atlantic and Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of the IWF. It was moderated by Fox Business’s Elizabeth MacDonald.

Schaeffer, who was complimentary at times towards Sandberg’s book, which attempted to tackle the complicated balancing act of work and life for women, was more leery of the government’s involvement with women’s movements.  She criticized Congressional bills like the Paycheck Fairness Act for making the workplace less flexible and more “fixated on Washington” instead of finding good employees.

“One of the things I liked about [the book] was that she did not offer any public policy opinions,” Schaeffer said. “She simply offered self-help.”

The four women on the panel shared personal anecdotes of their own lives – both as single and married women – to the largely female audience.

Quinn discussed several examples of her own hardships in her argument that the advice Sandberg was laying out in her book wasn’t just black and white. The editor of The Washington Post’s “On Faith” column, she felt that family issues occasionally came in the way of her rising to an even higher career position.

“It’s great to say ‘lean in’ but real life gets in the way,” she said.

The panelists were also unable to decide on a concrete definition of feminism or a unified opinion on Sandberg’s thoughts, which only strengthened their argument that women often have differing opinions on the role of the fairer sex and the feminist movement in the U.S.

“There’s nothing here that has to do with what’s appropriate and what’s not,” Quinn said.  “It’s what works for you and your husband.  If you want to spend more taking care of the children, great.”

Rosin, who said that young people tend to shy away from the idea of feminism, added that she felt the role of women in American society is divided by socioeconomic differences, and not race.

Quinn also praised women in general, noting that they are more than capable of ruling the world than men.

“The whole idea of feminism is not to be a victim,” she commented.

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