Based on an analysis of classroom discussions and online reading responses, this essay explores how an all-women group of University of Pittsburgh undergraduates responded to The Lowell Offering, a collection of writings by mid-19th century women textile workers. While Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg equates “leaning in” to claim one’s place in the male-dominated corporate world with youthful feminist success, what to make of the inspiration these ambitious women students found in puritanical representations of self-sacrificial factory girls? Far from being a sign of substantive progress in women’s rights, the author argues that the “post-feminist” discursive environment shaping these students’ sense of themselves as twenty-first century women workers is rather a symptom of the mutually reinforcing relationship between neoliberal market imperatives and traditional femininity.
Eisler, Benita, ed. The Lowell Offering: Writings by New England Mill Women (1840-1845). New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998. Print.
hooks, bell. “Rethinking the Nature of Work.” In Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1984. 96-107. Print.
Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Print.
Weeks, Kathi. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. Print.