Hayley Brooks & Ali Kokot | Why isn’t Lena leaning
Think Twice | Sheryl Sandberg and Lena Dunham paint opposing portraits of a young professional
March 20, 2013, 2:54 am·
Ali Kokot & Hayley Brooks
Flipping through Cosmopolitan at the beach over spring break, Ali was surprised to find an insert fall out of the centerfold and onto her lap: Cosmo Careers. On the cover of this new offshoot from the mag, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg rocks a royal blue work dress with arms crossed confidently to showcase the sparkling rock on her ring finger. Work it. Looks like women may just be able to have it all.
We’ve always looked up to Sandberg as the epitome of both a successful career woman and an all-star mom. Her new book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” and corresponding campaign inspire us to stop listening to Terror Squad’s one hit wonder and take initiative. Leaning back is so nine years ago.
But as we look to past pop culture role models of ours, the girls from “Girls,” Lena Dunham’s hit HBO series, we’re confused. In their sour season two finale last Sunday night, they represent the antithesis of Sandberg’s message.
Sandberg’s Lean In campaign encourages women to be ambitious, overcome fear and support each other in their careers. She asks us to consider what we would do if we weren’t afraid and — shocker — try to do it. To dream big and deliver. To lead.
Yet the “Girls” season finale culminates with Hannah hiding (literally under the covers) from the not-yet-written pages of her book instead of doing her job. We want to empathize with Hannah because we’ve so been there, but Sandberg demands that we get out of bed and finish the book. Both Hannah and Sandberg can agree that we are the future, but for Sandberg the future starts now while Hannah desperately postpones it — behaving like a child instead of owning up to her responsibilities.
If Hannah and her friends, with all their flaws, are dubbed the “realistic” poster children of the post-collegiate twenty-somethings, how do we reconcile their overwhelming fear and dependence with Sandberg’s gospel?
The four girls’ relationships with their boyfriends fare no better in Sandberg’s eyes. For Sandberg, choosing a partner is one of the “biggest career decisions you will ever make,” and while not all of the “Girls” characters are ready to settle longterm, we find them settling for all of the wrong reasons.
Marnie thinks she ends up on top in winning back her ex, a now bronzed and scruffed start-up hot shot, while her own ambitions unravel. Meanwhile, Shoshanna’s boyfriend’s father posits that Shosh wants “somebody who can support her for the rest of her life so she can keep buying purses shaped like different bread products.” Bag-uette anyone?
If Dunham is a feminist, why is she making her women so reliant on men? Sandberg believes a partner should be “fully supportive of [a woman’s] career,” not a career substitute.
Dunham’s girls see themselves as financially dependent and emotionally indebted to their men. Hannah, who ends the season curled in ex-beau Adam’s arms, looks to a sweaty shirtless guy to save her rather than trying to save herself. Note: he also runs to her for, like, 30 seconds to a melodramatic underscoring.
While Sandberg’s campaign encourages women to support each other in Lean In Circles, a venue where success-oriented women gather to hash out and celebrate their trials and triumphs in the workplace, Hannah fails to communicate with her inner circle. She leaves tantrums on their voicemails and runs away (again, cowering under her bed) when Marnie reaches out to her. The four main women of “Girls” could benefit from a dose of Lean In Circles.
With Hey Day and graduation fast approaching, how are we supposed to feel about entering the professional world? If Sandberg is the idealist and Dunham the realist, our prospects look pretty grim. The fact is we’re all scared, but we don’t have to be cowards. We don’t want Dunham’s realism to define our post-Penn reality. Let’s digest this media as Dunham’s take on rock bottom and use it to propel us forward. Acknowledging the fear and then harnessing it often allows us to do our best work. Sandberg’s goals for us may be lofty, but we’d rather stop hiding than end up with a half-written book, a mangy haircut and an ex-boyfriend.
Ali Kokot and Hayley Brooks are College juniors from New York, N.Y. and Ft. Lauderdale, F.L. respectively. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them at @haybethbrooks and @alikokot. “Think Twice” appears every Wednesday.