Sheryl Sandberg encourages women in the workplace to “lean in.” The COO of Facebook believes they ought to challenge the common assumption that “men still run the world.” Women should, but solving this problem doesn’t start with leaning in.
In 2010, Sheryl Sandberg gave a TED Talk: “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.” From it came a book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Sandberg says women ought to lean in – sit up and speak up. Good advice, except that the decisive factor in changing the world isn’t leaning in. It’s being linked in. Consider how these women linked in with one of the most recent world-changing movements: the sexual revolution.
Working as a nurse in early 20th century New York City, Margaret Sanger witnessed the murderous effects of self-performed abortions. She became an advocate for birth control, a term she popularized. Sanger soon linked with Greenwich Village bohemia, including John Reed, Upton Sinclair, and the John D. Rockefeller Jr., family fortune. In 1921, Rockefeller money financed Sanger’s new institution: the American Birth Control League. The League evolved into Planned Parenthood, and in the early 1950s, Sanger urged philanthropist Katharine McCormick to fund development of a birth control pill.
The sexual revolution was also gaining steam from another woman, Margaret Mead. Her 1928 book, Coming of Age in Samoa, purported to show the benefits of young Samoan women participating in casual sex before settling down to get married. Mead’s 1942 book, And Keep Your Powder Dry, went a step further. Mead explained how European parents think it is their duty to teach their children. That’s the old decaying culture. American teens represent the new culture. They ought to teach their parents.
Mead was soon linked with Henry Luce, a magazine magnate. She began writing for leading popular venues, including Vogue, Mademoiselle, House and Garden, Woman’s Day, Look, Harper’s, The New York Times, and the New York Herald Tribune. Mead’s books, along with Sanger’s works, would become required reading in America’s best schools.
A thirteen-year-old New York City girl named Carole King was attending one of these schools in 1955. She was also struggling with the stirrings of sexual awakening. “Carole gave parties in her family’s basement – and they were packed,” remembers her friend Barbara Grossman Karyo.1 There were rounds of Spin the Bottle and “lots of touchy-feely going on” while trying to fend off going all the way.
That same year, 1955, a new sleeper hit by the Penguins heightened teen tension. The year before, saccharine pop songs like “Mr. Sandman” had topped the charts. But in 1955, “Earth Angel” – a sensual, pleading song – stirred teen passion. Carole King soon began dating Gerry Goffin. She became pregnant in 1957. King and Goffin wed and together wrote “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”, a song about sex and morning-after anxiety. The Shirelles recorded it in 1960, the first U.S. #1 hit by a black all-female group. The next year, American society hailed a “solution” to morning-after anxiety.
In 1961, the FDA approved Enovid, the first pill approved for contraception. Carly Simon was a freshman at Sarah Lawrence, one of America’s elite women’s colleges. She began taking Enovid. By 1964 she was an apostle of the sexual revolution, living in Paris with her boyfriend but still riddled with anxiety and fighting depression. Simon decided to move to L.A. in 1968 and link with a network of artists at a home in Laurel Canyon.
The Canyon crowd included Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Stephen Stills, and David Crosby to name just a few. They were writing songs of revolution – be they sexual, political, or parental. They were also learning how being linked in gave them courage to lean in to their music. King had divorced Goffin and moved to the Canyon in 1968. Her 1971 album Tapestry included “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” Producer Lou Adler explained that the song was “the only thing we reached back for, which was calculated.”
Carly Simon’s debut album Anticipation was also released in 1971. The “absolute clincher,” wrote Rolling Stone, is the last song, “I’ve Got to Have You,” an “awesome description” of “out of control” sex. Simon was also instrumental in linking Graham Nash to the Canyon network. Nash was frustrated with his group, the Hollies, in 1968. They didn’t like his new direction – songs such as “Teach Your Children.” Joining the Canyon crowd, he discovered that Stephen Stills and David Crosby did. “Stills had just suffered the disintegration of Buffalo Springfield and David Crosby had left the Byrds over artistic differences,” writes Harvey Kubernik. “Their meeting led almost immediately to the highly successful debut album Crosby, Stills & Nash.”2
Within a year, Crosby, Stills & Nash added Neil Young. They cranked out a second album that included “Teach Your Children,” a little ditty that dismisses parental authority. “Teach your children well/Their father’s hell did slowly go by” closes with a reversal: “Teach your parents well/Their children’s hell will slowly go by.” It’s Margaret Mead put to music. American teens are the new culture. They teach their parents.
James Davison Hunter writes that the decisive factor in changing the world “is not individual genius but rather the network and the new institutions that are created out of those networks.”3 Sheryl Sandberg is Exhibit A. She linked in before leaning in. As a student at Harvard, Larry Summers was her thesis adviser. He recruited her to be his research assistant at the World Bank. She then earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, opening the door at Google. Sandberg is worth over $400 million. She has earned sufficient wealth and political capital to risk leaning in – a step that often requires trade-offs, some of them expensive. For the other 99 percent of women, the better advice is to link in, earning the political capital that makes leaning in realistic.
1 Sheila Weller, Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – and the Journey of a Generation (New York: Atria Books, 2008), p. 33.
2 Harvey Kubernik, Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon (New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2009), pp. 216-217.
3 James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 38.