Talk Radio News Service / Flickr Michelle Obama Promotes Children x27 s...
Talk Radio News Service / Flickr

There are a lot of good reasons to love former first lady Michelle Obama. She’s a writer, lawyer, and used her position as first lady to promote mental and physical wellness, as well as education and inequality reform.

Her recent memoir, Becoming, is already flying off shelves, and is being praised for its honesty and authenticity. Many women, for example, are drawn to her intimate narrative of fertility issues, and are grateful that such a public figure is shedding light on an issue often swept under the rug.

People also love Obama because she comes across just as openly and honest in person.

One example is when she spoke at an event on Saturday to promote Becoming, saying:

“That whole ‘so you can have it all.’ Nope, not at the same time. That’s a lie. And it’s not always enough to lean in, because that shit doesn’t work all the time.”

As reported by The Cut, the crowd of 19,000 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn reportedly burst into laughter, to which Obama added, “I forgot where I was for a moment! I thought we were at home, y’all. I was gettin’ real comfortable up in here.”

The “lean in” reference refers to advice Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer) gave back in 2013, via her book Lean In: Women, Work, And The Will To Lead. Sandberg’s argument essentially boiled down to the idea that women could have and do it all, provided they worked hard enough. Given that her perspective reeks of class and race privilege, it’s been widely criticized.

Women of color often face issues in the workplace that are not addressed or remedied by “lean in” advice. Systemic issues make it harder for women of color to do everything from getting an interview, to getting internal support, to getting promoted within their companies. For Obama to publicly acknowledge this is hugely validating.

Women on Twitter are, unsurprisingly, loving it:

Sandberg’s advice also rings hollow in that many women of color have been “leaning in,” but their efforts don’t change a structural system that wasn’t designed to help them in the first place. Telling marginalized people who already work hard to simply work harder is oblivious, at best.

For what it’s worth, Sandberg herself has admitted that her “lean in” advice isn’t the best out there for women in some situations, like those who are single parents. As more high-profile women, like Obama, continue to dismantle the idea that women simply need to “work harder,” a more inclusive and cohesive approach to “leaning in” will enter the social repertoire.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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