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Sheryl Sandberg and LeBron James 'Lean In' for feminism: Will it work?

A new term, spread on Twitter, may damage a campaign for gender equality led by Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and the NBA before it really gets started.

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    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives past Toronto Raptors guard Louis Williams (23) at the Air Canada Centre Mar 4, 2015, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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Introducing the idea of “choreplay,” bartering household chores and child care for marital intimacy, may have undermined the already limited effectiveness of a partnership between Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and the National Basketball Association (NBA) to use pro basketball stars LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and others to further the cause of women's rights at home and at work.

According to the Associated Press, Sandberg, author of the book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead," aims to convince men “that they will be better off financially and emotionally if they take more responsibility for housework and child care, while also backing equal rights for women at work.”

"Gender equality doesn't just benefit women, it benefits men in lots of ways," Sandberg told the AP.

Recommended: Move over Norway: Gender equality makes gains in unexpected places.

Male sports celebrities are scheduled to deliver the message in public service announcements (PSA), aired during NBA games on major TV networks over the next few months.

However, Sandberg, who has already alienated some feminists, also told the AP that she believes most women are likely to have sex with their husbands or partners more frequently when they get more help at home — thanks to what she termed "choreplay."

“It seems fundamentally sexist to say men and women are engaging in intimacy in exchange for child care. Also, wow, it’s just a gross phrase, ‘choreplay,’” says Brian Donovan, associate professor of sociology and specialist in gender issues at the University of Kansas, in an interview.

“It seems like a mixed message to look at marital intimacy as some kind of currency women can use when discussing feminism and making strides toward gender equality. That’s not going to win her any support from women or men that don’t look at sex and housework as bargain chips," he adds.

Donovan says he learned of “choreplay” when he saw it invade his Twitter stream as people began to focus on it, rather than gender equality.

According to Professor Donovan, Ms. Sandberg has been, “widely criticized by feminists for putting the onus on women to behave differently in board meetings and professional settings rather than focusing on actually changing the culture.”

Asked if enlisting male sports celebrities will help persuade the average male to do more of the chores traditionally engaged in by women, he replied, “Let’s say, I’m skeptical.”

“This is not a new idea, enlisting men to deliver the message of feminism. While men are improving in their efforts to do some of the more traditional chores usually ascribed to women, women still work what sociologists call ‘The second shift’ at home,” Donovan says. “Women are working and getting less sleep, less leisure time because there is still a stubborn gap in homes that leaves women still doing more of the work.”

He adds, “Simple messaging from celebrities won’t solve gender equality. It seems the men most likely to accept this message are those who were already predisposed to it. It’s sad that the only way, in 2015, that some men can accept feminism is another man telling them about it.”

The PSAs featuring the basketball stars are part of a partnership to be announced Thursday between the NBA and LeanIn.org, a nonprofit group Sandberg started two years ago with the publication of her book advising women on the steps they should take to ensure they get the same opportunities as men traditionally have.

LeanIn.org is providing men with tips on how to help in brochures that will be available online as part of the campaign with the NBA.

"The NBA is committed to creating a work environment that expects – and benefits from – gender equality," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told the AP.

Donovan concludes, “It’s a bit of a Catch-22. The messaging can help but there has to be real cultural change, which may, in small measure be furthered by celebrity messaging.”

“Make no mistake,” Donovan says, “I do not expect that years from now if gender equality is achieved we will hear anyone saying, ‘Oh and we have Sandberg and LeBron James to thank for that.' ”

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