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Why Is Lean In Valorizing This Republican Congresswoman?


When it was published last year, Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In came in for the criticism that, as the New York Times’ Jodi Kantor summarized, Sandberg “places too much of the onus on women who are already struggling to fulfill impossible demands,” and not enough responsibility on both employers and lawmakers.

That's worth considering in light of the latest honoree in “Trailblazing Women You May Not Know (But Should),” a regular feature of the Lean In organization’s Tumblr: Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The post tells her inspiring and remarkable story: As a young girl, she and her family fled Cuba shortly after Fidel Castro came to power; she grew up in Miami without many resources, put herself through college, and is now a 30-year veteran of the House of Representatives. “She hopes her presence in Congress will inspire little girls to lead across the country,” the anonymous author writes, quoting Ros-Lehtinen: “I think that every woman in elected office should think of herself as a feminist.”

The problem is that in elected office Ros-Lehtinen has consistently opposed women’s rights.

• She voted to withdraw federal funding for Planned Parenthood and Title X. She presumably supported the defunding because Planned Parenthood and Title X provide family planning services, but they also screen for cancer in women.

• Her voting record on abortion issues earned her a nice round 0 percent from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

• She voted for the deceptively titled Working Families Flexibility Act, which opponents—including nearly all House Democrats, President Obama, unions, and worker advocacy groups—believe would enable employers to cheapen federal overtime requirements and to encourage employees to spend more time at home rather than earning more money at work.

• Most starkly, she voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which gave women the practical ability to sue over alleged equal-pay violations.

Ros-Lehtinen deserves our respect, not only for her accomplishments, but for holding these issues. However, people should probably think twice about the whole “Lean In” enterprise if this is its idea of a hero—a woman who definitely “leaned in,” but has since worked to make it more difficult for other women to do so.