The Soapbox: Sheryl Sandberg’s #LeanInTogether Campaign Erases My Family

Sheryl Sandberg’s new #LeanInTogether campaign makes me want to lean out and run as far away as I can from her brand of “feminism” as fast as my feet will carry me.


The COO of Facebook’s latest op-ed for The New York Times — “How Men Can Succeed in the Boardroom and the Bedroom,” co-bylined by Wharton School professor Adam Grant — is so riddled with erasure that it will take a dozen think pieces to break even half of it down. It’s dismissive to sex workers, LGBTQ people, “non-traditional” parents, intergeneration households, non-binary people … and on, and on. She reinforces gender roles that have harmed all genders for generations and makes sex transactional between married couples. The one-man/one woman/two careers/financially stable family structure she describes isn’t just rare, it’s outright unavailable to any family without the income privilege to make decisions about division of labor in the home based on anything other than math and on-hand resources.

Each marginalized group she fails to include is important and valuable; I hope the pushback is widespread and all those voices are heard. Allow me to tackle the aspects that are direct affronts to my family, my life, and my humanity.

Couples who share chores equally have more sex. As the researchers Constance T. Gager and Scott T. Yabiku put it, men and women who work hard play hard. One of us, Sheryl, has advised men that if they want to do something nice for their partners, instead of buying flowers, they should do laundry. A man who heard this was asked by his wife one night to do a load of laundry. He picked up the basket and asked hopefully, “Is this Lean In laundry?” Choreplay is real.

I co-parent my nieces with my sister-by-choice, Carrie. I love my role in the house. I moved to San Diego from New York to trade a place to live and security for childcare — a deal where we both feel that we got the better end of the bargain. Our home is a true partnership where we split time with the girls on a pretty equal schedule. But, because my job pays less and I can do it from home, Carrie is taxed with providing most of what the four of us need for day-to-day and, in return, I’ve asked to mostly run the kitchen and do a lot of the cleaning and laundry.

When I read the “choreplay” paragraph to her yesterday, she said, “I’m not having sex with you.” We both laughed. Just because we’re parenting together doesn’t mean our relationship is romantic; in a country where half of marriages end in divorce and you don’t need a marriage license to raise children, this should be obvious. I don’t love my nieces any less because they aren’t “mine” and Carrie and I don’t value each other’s contributions less because we don’t sleep in the same bed.

The idea that housework is done to earn sexual rewards is offensive on multiple levels and has a purity culture bent where women “put out” for their husbands as part of the bargain they made at the alter. Also, as someone who identifies as polyamorous and prefers not to have a primary partner, I will never be in a romantic relationship where “choreplay” is on the table. I’m stuck making sure my boyfriend’s emotional and physical needs are met purely because I care about him and vice versa — no additional motivation outside of how much joy I get from spending time with him. He isn’t sneaking over to my house midday to toss laundry in the wash hoping for some extra special lovin’ later; that’s ridiculous. Though we will likely be joking about the word “choreplay” for a while.

Sandberg goes on to posit that kids should see moms working and dads doing chores for their developmental good and for the good of society:

When children see their mothers pursuing careers and their fathers doing housework, they’re more likely to carry gender equality forward to the next generation. And when we make headway toward gender equality, entire societies prosper.

Well, I guess my girls (as well as the girls of same-sex couples everywhere) are done for at seven-months and 19-months. The likelihood they’ll ever see their father doing housework is slim-to-none, though Peanut (the 17-month-old) is learning to cook with her Auntie Katie and loves to fold laundry. OK, she loves to play with and take clean laundry out of the dresser; it’s a process.

Lastly, there’s this gem at the end of Sandberg’s piece:

Many men who support equality hold back because they worry it’s not their battle to fight. It’s time for men and women alike to join forces in championing gender parity. Tell us how you’re leaning in for equality in the comments section here or on Facebook using the hashtag #leanintogether.

While I agree with the old adage that feminism (a word Sandberg works glaringly hard to avoid) benefits everyone, I think I would prefer to #LeanOutForEquality and strive for a feminist and equality movement that is inclusive of all people. Sandberg, Patricia Arquette, et al can keep their erasure; I prefer the intersectional advocates and activists who truly want to shape our culture into a model that provides a level playing field for all genders and families — including mine and yours.

Katie Klabusich is an activist, writer and media contributor who’s work can be found at Truthout, Buzzfeed, RH Reality Check, and Bitch Magazine.