Is Sheryl Sandberg right about Paul Ryan?

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Story highlights

  • Peggy Drexler: Sheryl Sandberg lauds Paul Ryan for linking speaker post to his parenting. Ironic, since Ryan opposes paid family leave
  • She says Sandberg is calling attention to issue of work/life balance, but what Ryan demands is available to few workers, especially women

Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)It's hard not to be at least a little cynical about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's recent endorsement of Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's statement that he'd consider the position of House speaker only if it did not interfere with his role as husband and father. "I cannot and will not give up my family time," Ryan said Tuesday, adding that his children "are in the formative, foundational years of their lives."

Peggy Drexler
In response, Sandberg gave Ryan her "Lean In Award of the Day," noting on her Facebook page that "We need to work for parents — and having leaders who weigh responsibilities as fathers as much as their responsibilities to their jobs shows all of us what is possible."
There's considerable irony, of course, in considering Ryan a champion of work/life balance, given his record as an active and outspoken opponent of federally mandated paid leave for parents, though perhaps Sandberg's post was meant to call attention to that irony without having to lob any direct accusations herself.
Certainly, the media has picked up on the hypocrisy, with headlines like, "Paul Ryan prizes family time but opposes family leave" and "Paul Ryan, Opponent of Paid Family Leave, Demands Congress Respect His Need for Family Time."
But Sandberg is also a career marketer, and a brilliant one at that, with a talent for sparking dialogue about big topics — and, while she's at it, about Sheryl Sandberg. Her projects manage to tell women how to work and how to think — that is, the way she works and thinks — and generate broad conversations while also putting herself squarely in the middle of them. Sandberg is an executive at Facebook, but here we are talking about her, heeding her words, in the context of feminism, fatherhood, and the whole of the American political system.
I'm not saying Sandberg's message was not valid: Work/life balance is important, and the more role models on that front the merrier. But not everyone can afford to make family time a priority. Sandberg can. So can Ryan. Millions of women and men unable or unempowered to place such conditions on their job or employer, however, cannot.
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Good for Paul Ryan for making his demands clear (though it's still quite possible he will opt out of the job for any number of reasons beyond the fact that he wants to be home in time for dinner). Still: Paul Ryan is not the typical American. He can afford issue conditions, and say no if they are not met. Most of the rest of us can't, so we don't.
Whether or not the COO of a social media company cheers on a working father for his dedication to his family — and his ability to turn down a job — means little to them and their lives.
Praising Ryan for his commitment to his family (or, at the very least, his claim of such) does help draw attention to the inequities that remain in America; to the fact that few people, and few women especially, can even dream of issuing similar workplace demands.
After all: What if Ryan were a woman? Would he be held up as a role model? Would he still get the job? Or would he risk being perceived as ungrateful, cavalier, in thrall to biology?
Sandberg's position may have meaning, but to give her credit for drawing these inequities to our attention as a champion for women's rights doesn't scan. She speaks for herself, not for all of us.