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Brave New Stereotypes

Behold the Lean In Collection

Mar 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 26 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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An hour with the Lean In Collection allows us to glimpse what our world will look like as it races toward perfection. The titles of the photos are self-explanatory. “Portrait of woman working in a machine shop.” “Female surgeon using digital tablet after work.” “Two women doing pushups with dumbbells in crossfit gym.” There’s a soldier, several surfers, some mountain climbers, and one nervy woman tiptoeing along a slackline. It’s important to note that “Female woodworker nailing custom cabinet in workshop” is working on a custom cabinet; artisanal craftsmanship replaces mass production in the Lean In world. They can afford it! When you see “Two smiling mature women sitting outside on patio having appetizers,” you will swoon over the rustic getaway and know that one of them bought it with cash. 

Women will spend a great deal of time in coffee shops in the Lean In future, either singly or in pairs. Mobile devices are their ever-reliable companions. Women will all be pretty—well, most of them—though too many of them, to my mind, will sport tattoos. Even the old women (“Glamorous mature woman smiling”), while unavoidably wrinkly, toss cascades of glowing white hair and beam from tanned faces, suggesting the undying sensuality that is the Lean In woman’s birthright. They get tons of exercise, too, young and old and middle-aged, in airy, skylit gyms, which explains why none of them is fat. You can tell they aren’t fat because they wear yoga pants usually.

There will be very few books around, unless you count office binders. There will be even fewer men. The men who do sneak into the empowered world will be used for changing diapers, listening politely to a Lean In manager while admiring the charts on her whiteboard, and playfully holding children aloft, at arm’s length. Women will play with their children too, in educational ways that involve devices with flat screens. But mostly women will be working, and mostly in offices. Their offices will be exceptionally tidy and bare. A recurring setting is the glass-walled conference room, adjacent to a floor-to-ceiling window, on a high floor. The view in the future will be of a spectacular skyline and a vast cityscape stretched far below. The world will be lit by natural light, which is useful for catching the glimmer of good-natured determination that shines from the eye of the Lean In woman. 

Quite often they will be working late. It’s notable how many of these images are crepuscular: “Professional wo-man working late in city,” for instance, and “Business woman on tablet at night.” The twilight quality of the collection is unmistakable, as though we are coming to the end of something. Working late or early, Lean In women spend much of their time looking out the window, pensively, with a hint of a thousand-yard stare, until the Guatemalan cleaning ladies come clambering to disturb the reverie. Is it nosy to ask what the Lean In women are thinking? 

Pondering the images I thought again of my feminism teacher. I do think she’d be pleased with today’s state of affairs. The Lean In Collection makes our current condition plain. The collection isn’t about “empowering women”; it’s about flattering women who are already empowered, riding high in the saddle rather than marching in the streets, placards in hand. The collection itself is today’s placard. It says: “Congratulations .  .  . to me! I won!”

Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.

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