In a review, published in In These Times, about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, Racialicious senior editor, Tamara Winfrey Harris, writes:
Whether Sandberg, from her perch at the pinnacle of a tech behemoth, is the right person to lead a revolution for less-privileged women has been the topic of much debate. But bits of the author’s wisdom may “click” for particular readers in unexpected ways. Sandberg’s message about choosing supportive partners made me blink, because it stands in stark contrast to advice directed toward a particular segment of professional women. Thanks to concerns about low marriage rates among African Americans, professional black women are bombarded with warnings about careerism and success. A burgeoning genre of advice books instructs straight black women to, in effect, “lean back” in order to attract men.
In Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, (the basis for the film Think Like a Man), author Steve Harvey admonishes: “If you’ve got your own money, your own car, your own house, a Brinks alarm system, a pistol and a guard dog, and you’re practically shouting from the rooftops that you don’t need a man to provide for you or protect you, then we will see no need to keep coming around.” Elsewhere, Harvey warns women that if they travel for business, their left-behind husbands might understandably stray.
Black women, especially highly successful ones, are expected to sacrifice achievement for the alleged greater good of traditional marriage. And they are encouraged to think more about being chosen than choosing—making themselves attractive to men by conforming to an outdated template of femininity rather than, as Sandberg suggests, selecting a supportive mate interested in a 50/50 partnership.
Sandberg counsels that choosing a mate is one of the most important decisions a working woman will make. If that is true, lack of support, in addition to systemic sexism and racism, may explain why black women fare worse than their white counterparts in the halls of power. All women of color make up just 4 percent of top corporate jobs, 3 percent of board seats and 5 percent of congressional seats. Snagging unsupportive life partners isn’t likely to improve these statistics (or the personal lives of women).