Suzanne Fields

I suggest another question: "Is this how I want to spend my life?" The more women take the measure of their lives from men, the more they seem to lose out on essentials important to women -- who we really are, and who we really want to be.

That's certainly what Anne-Marie Slaughter thought when she quit a high-level policy job at the State Department because her two teenage sons needed her. She wrote a much-circulated and much-criticized article in Atlantic magazine titled, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." Hillary Clinton observed that women whining often reflected unhappiness with their choices. "Some women are not comfortable working at the pace and intensity you need to work at these jobs," she told an interviewer, contributing a little common sense into the discussion.

Sandburg doesn't whine, although she writes and talks about her doubts and vulnerabilities, including how she sometimes cried when she earlier worked at Google. Such flourishes of insecurity sound more decorative than substantive, an author's empathetic manipulation to get her audience to lean in. But let's face it, at Facebook, like other corporations, it takes exceedingly exceptional people with enormous drive to make it to the top, as she has. Although she displays her admiration for Barack Obama (she hosted a fundraiser for him at her home for $38,500 a plate), this book isn't written for "Julia," the president's fictional campaign character who would be taken care of by the state from cradle to grave.

Feminism and femininity alternate through different social stages, as politics and the popular culture continue to remind us. The flappers followed the suffragettes, after all. The glamorous world of "Sex and the City" at the end of the '90s told the stories of four beautiful career women looking for love in Manhattan in Versace and Jimmy Choo. In 2013, the acclaimed HBO series "Girls" depicts four women, all with good educations, who are constantly disappointed as their sexual "hookups" and work are reduced to degrading and decadent adventures. Fifty years ago, women talked to each other about "The Joy of Cooking"; their daughters read and talked about "The Joy of Sex." Now their daughters' daughters are told to look for "the joy of the job."

In real life, alas, there isn't a primer for how to make the right choices. The latest feminist prescription to aim higher will be tested by many women, but as Sheryl Sandburg concedes, success like hers depends a lot on luck, just as it does for a man. It's important to figure out which way to lean.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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