It is by now a truism that Beyoncé is one of the most successful recording artists on earth. Her recent self-titled album topped charts and dazzled critics. But to Sheryl Sandberg, she’s most interesting because she Leaned In.
Sandberg wrote a testimonial to Beyoncé in the current issue of Time, devoted to the 100 most influential people on earth. (Also included: Barack Obama and Angela Merkel.) The Facebook COO glowingly cites Beyoncé’s declaration, “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss,” a statement issued within the context of Sandberg’s own public service announcement to ban the term "bossy." Beyoncé is influential, in Sandberg’s telling, not merely because she epitomizes the particular brand of feminism Sandberg endorses, but also because she worked with Sandberg.
The “Lean In” movement championed by Sandberg is certainly controversial, and Sandberg does herself no favors by picking Beyoncé as its champion. Citing the fact that Beyoncé toured the world “while being a full-time mother,” Sandberg chalks it up to “hard work, honesty, and authenticity.” Well, sure, those are among the reasons Beyoncé sells more records than her competitors. But women in less lucrative lines of work can’t lean on “authenticity” to ensure that they have childcare while they’re at work. (“Upgrade U,” to cite just one of Beyoncé’s singles, is very specifically about how Beyoncé alone has access to the very finest material things, and other women don’t. Lucky her!)
Yes, Beyoncé cites Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s definition of feminism (as a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes), but in the very same song, she belts lyrics about her wild success and tells other women to “bow down, bitches.” Anyone without full-time childcare or the means to procure it is unlikely to take the message “You can, too” from Beyoncé’s success, not least because she spends so much time telling us how unusually great she herself is. Maybe Sandberg fast-forwarded through that part of “***Flawless”?