7. On Whether Women Should “Lean In” or “Lean Back”

SaraEllen Hutchison, Life Coach, Feminine Energy Coach, Spiritual Mentor and Intuitive Reader for Professional Women

Should women “lean in” to have it all?

The title of a 2013 book by Sheryl Sandberg, “lean in” has become synonymous with women being fiercely independent and working hard to get ahead.

Criticisms of the “lean in” concept have flagged the differences in the life circumstances women have starting out, and widespread inequities in our culture that can make it more difficult for some women to realize all of their ambitions just from working hard and showing up as their best.

Proponents of leaning in would counter that what works for men should work for women, and that they are working to level the playing field by demonstrating that a woman can be as dedicated as a man despite other priorities in life or at home that compete for her attention.

Should women “lean back” to get what they want on a personal level?

The linguistic opposite of leaning in (at least on the surface), “lean back” is widely-disseminated feminine energy advice to women who want a man to take the lead in their relationship, or no longer want the stress of having to go out and do everything for themselves. After all that hard work and leaning in, it’s nice to lean back and let the world come to you. And in work or business, there is some kind of relief in thinking about just letting things happen and show up in synchronistic ways.

Critics of the lean back concept believe that this behavior (in relationships) takes us back to the 1950s, or is un-feminist. And in career and business, they explain that this is a form of magical thinking.

Proponents of leaning back would counter that they really just encourage you to be your real feminine self, aligned with the Universe, and not have to act like a man to get what you want.

Maybe it’s both — well, maybe it’s neither.

The proponents of “lean in” and “lean back” have a lot of valuable things to add to the discourse about how women can further their interests.

That said, with all the advice to “lean in” at work, and “lean back” in your personal life, you might feel quite off-center, never quite getting it “right” anywhere. That’s because with all this leaning to and fro, you might not be taking the best advice there is, which is your own wisdom.

Listen to this episode to learn how you may be obscuring the real voice of what you “should” do in any given situation.

This episode also shares two very simple but powerful exercises to re-center you amidst all the “shoulds” and polarizing advice.

And if you like this episode, you’ll love the Power Bootcamp class that starts mid-January 2022. Click the link to sign up!


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What You Will Discover:

  • Why “lean in” and “lean back” can both be counterproductive to being centered in our feminine energy and wisdom.
  • Whether you may be internalizing too much outside advice, and how that may be driving your behavior in unintended ways.
  • How to reconnect with your own wisdom, mind and body, and shrug off the “shoulds.”

Listen to the Full Episode:

Resources for You:

Full Episode Transcript:



I’m SaraEllen Hutchison and this is the Feminine Energy Feminist podcast, episode number Seven: On Whether Women Should “Lean In,” or “Lean Back.”

Welcome to Feminine Energy Feminist, a podcast for professional women who are ready to tap into their feminine energy, so they can be happier at work and in their personal lives. It’s time to redefine what a professional woman is in those historically male-dominated fields that don’t always embrace the needs and talents of women.

I’m your host, SaraEllen Hutchison. I’m a life coach and a practicing lawyer. I’ll help you learn how to embrace who you are as a woman; body, mind, and spirit, so you can be more powerful in your career and fulfilled in your life. So, if you’re ready not just to be a high achiever, but get what your soul wants too, let’s proceed.

Episode 7: On Whether Women Should “Lean In,” or “Lean Back.”

Welcome back to the Feminine Energy Feminist, Episode 7.

Today it seems I am doing a lot of talking outside of this podcast, so the episode will be a little bit shorter. This morning, I presented at the Consumer Rights Litigation Conference, held online this year again, hopefully in person for 2022. And every time I think about this interesting area of law I practice, I get going on my favorite rants and rabbit holes about economic and social justice. And so if today’s episode feels a bit ranty or preachy, sorry-not-sorry in advance!

If you have been paying any attention, you have probably heard these two phrases that make up today’s episode title. One is “Lean In,” the title of Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book encouraging women to have it all by working hard and being ambitious. “Lean in” has acquired a bunch of different meanings that may be positive or negative depending on whether you liked the book, or agree that what Sandberg describes is desirable or even feasible.

The other phrase is “lean back,” the standard advice of a lot of the feminine energy teachings out there. “Leaning back” basically suggests that women should not assert themselves in romantic relationships with men, should not take the lead, not chase, et cetera. If you’re like me, you may be quite tired of both of these phrases even if you agree with a lot the basic advice associated with these phrases.

You might have tried to “lean in” in your career, and found that various factors, such as the school you got into, the color of your skin, the needs of someone in your family such as an elderly person or your children, or the cost of living in your city, made it challenging for you to “have it all.” “Lean in” often forgets that women come from a wide variety of circumstances. While we know from the Model that circumstances are neutral, this does not let anyone or anything off the hook for things in the world that we would generally agree have room for improvement.

Being smart, feminist, and ambitious alone isn’t enough for everyone to simply pull themselves up by the proverbial Louboutin boostraps and snag the corner office. There may be a bunch of things in the way, and you might be making do with some boots from Target. I didn’t graduate from any school mentioned in the Official Preppy Handbook, and I know a lot of you out there didn’t either. Could anyone regardless of circumstances get anywhere with the right combination of thoughts, feelings and actions? Sure, but some circumstances are generally accepted as more challenging than others. Women come from a wide variety of circumstances that make the fruits of “leaning in” look different and take different resources to obtain.

Now let’s talk about the opposite of leaning in, which is leaning back. You might have tried to “lean back,” but found it extremely awkward to have to set aside valuable mental real estate to think about things like how many days to wait to text a guy back, or whether you should allow your male colleague to open the door for you.

The internet is full of articles written in the last 10 or 15 years that read very much like that oft-pilloried 1950s home ec textbook that advised young women to put on a fresh dress before their husband comes home, right after it tells you that you’re a powerful woman and should care more about your career than what your husband thinks of how you look in yoga pants.

There is so much advice out there about what women should do or shouldn’t do in their careers, their families, as moms, as child-free women, as romantic partners, as bosses, that if you lined up all of the advice and tried to follow it, you would be frozen on the spot, rendered mute, because the moment you bat an eyelash, you’re violating someone’s rule.

And that’s where a lot of women today find themselves, frozen, living a lot of white lies, our bodies saying one thing to the world while our lips say, “I’m fine!”

The smarter we are, the harder we may try to be our personal best. Someone tells us to lean in, and dammit, we lean in. We lean in harder than anybody’s ever leaned in. We are going to show them that we are the most dedicated. The hardest working. The smartest. We show up early. We stay late. We bake the cupcakes. Our fonts match throughout the entire powerpoint.

And then someone tells us to lean back, and we lean WAAAAY back. We read somewhere that we’re not supposed to start sentences with the phrase, “I think,” lest that make some man’s balls fall off or drive him into the arms of the blonde with the duck lips….so, we make it through an entire date, demurely in just the right emotional pose like a music box ballerina, resting bitch face replaced with something else, saying and sharing little.

In summary, whenever we are leaning in, or leaning back, and we’re having to force ourselves to do it, our body tells the truth while our words tell a little white lie. And then we wonder why we feel so angry and tired.

We are human. We are adults. There are times when we lean in. There are times when we lean back. There are times when we assert, and times when we respond to what is asserted to us. There are times when we go out and grab life by the reins, and times when we allow for serendipity and open up our channels to receive.

Just like in yoga, the poses of life are designed to move us energetically and emotionally as we flow from one to the next. If we are present with it and in our bodies and not in our heads trying to do things a so-called “correct way,” or following some protocol for what women “should” do, then we just intuitively know what to do. That’s feminine energy for you. Using your truth and your intuition, not a recipe for what a woman should be.

When we are in our feminine energy, we know what the situation calls for, because the default posture of the feminist is not “leaning in,” and the default posture of femininity is not “leaning back.” The natural posture of a woman is to be centered on her own axis, grounded in the wisdom of her body.

How to be grounded and centered? I will present you with a cognitive exercise and an energetic one.

First, the cognitive one. For the rest of this week, keep your journal with you. And every time you notice that you are having a thought that you “should” do something or another thing, write down that thought.

How do all those should make you feel? Pressured? Ashamed? Anxious? How do you show up in that meeting, or at that dinner, when you’re telling yourself you should behave a certain way? What do you think giving off that incongruent vibe creates for you? Arguments with your partner? Not presenting your best ideas? Plan to ask for a certain amount of money but find yourself blurting out something much lower? Setting all the rules aside about what a woman should say, do and be, how naturally confident would you show up in that same situation? Do not, I repeat, do not beat yourself up in this exercise. That’s back in the land of “should,” which is not a good place for us. “Should” has us leaning in and leaning back so much that we wobble like a spinning top running out of momentum.

Here’s your second exercise. It is a quick visualization you can do anytime to center and ground yourself vertically on your own axis. Sit up with good posture. Imagine that there is light from the base of your spine extending all the way to the center of the earth, and simply imagine yourself connected to the earth. Imagine yourself pulling all your own energy back from where you have been giving it to others, or others’ ideas of how you should be, and imagine that energy is being cleansed through a filter before it reenters your body through the top of your head. And remember to breathe when you do this exercise. When you keep coming back to your body throughout the day, it’s easier to keep yourself from being pulled too far off your center by the pressures and “shoulds” that exist for women, both external and the ones that we all from time to time allow to take up space in our heads.

And that centered space, aware of yourself and in your body, is feminine energy. So the question, should women lean in or lean back, is the wrong question to ask. The right question is, am I centered in my truth?

Before we go, I need to tell you about the upcoming class I’m teaching called the Power Bootcamp. If you liked what I shared today and the exercise, there is so much more that I don’t have time to fit into these episodes that I am going to be teaching in this class.

It starts in mid-January and runs for four weeks. The Power Bootcamp teaches you new communication, emotional and energetic skills to counteract generations of patriarchal conditioning so you can get what you want. And, the class is one of the most affordable things I have ever offered, because I want all of you to be able to do it.

Go to https://lawyergoddess.com/power-bootcamp/ to learn more.

May you have a beautifully centered week!

Thanks for listening to Feminine Energy Feminist. If you want more information or the resources from the podcast, visit lawyergoddess.com/podcast. See you next week.

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