Republicans are not the only group that is currently engaged in internecine warfare. The same seems to be happening among feminists.
Republicans are fighting each other because they just lost an election. Feminists seem to be falling victim to their own success.
On one battlefield, feminists were attacking Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer. On another they have been criticizing Sheryl Sandberg.
Movement feminists, the kinds who live for class struggle have little use for a woman who wants to help a small, select group of women gain corporate power.
Writing in The New Yorker Anna Holmes suggests that many feminists resent Sandberg because she represents the world of privilege and power.
She bemoans the fact that feminists have been piling on Sandberg:
Part of what was so galling about the pile-on was the subtext that because Sheryl Sandberg is rich she can’t possibly be sincere in her advocacy for women. Much of the criticism presented Sandberg as a superficial, fashion-obsessed Marie Antoinette muscling her way into a milieu she didn’t belong to and couldn’t possibly understand.
Holmes suggests that women should read Sandberg’s book. Perhaps they should, but Sandberg’s ideas have been circulating for quite some time. One doubts that she will propose a radically new way of thinking in her book.
Commenting on the controversy, Hanna Rosin also highlights the contrast between Sheryl Sandberg and politically active feminists. Perhaps, she suggests, the rise of Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg is telling us that feminism has outlived its usefulness:
And for the women who are Sandberg’s audience, the young and ambitious, traditional movement feminism does not quite capture what they need, either. After all, she is helping boost them from successful to uber-successful, from midlevel executive to CEO. They need tips and strategies, just like young men do. But they don’t necessarily need consciousness-raising groups, and they probably don’t have time for them anyway.
In the book, out next week, Sandberg tells women how to negotiate for higher salaries and promotions, how to nurture their own ambition, how to behave at work if they want to advance. It is all excellent advice, but it’s not the stuff of a consciousness-raising movement. It’s advice for this age of meritocracy, when feminist success largely means professional advancement, one woman at a time. What happens if you’re up against another woman for a promotion? In Sandberg’s world, you go for it.
Rosin continues to suggest that perhaps it is time for feminism to declare victory and change the nature of the struggle. As she observes, young women today are repudiating the feminist brand in very large numbers.
In Rosin’s words:
Recently I was part of a panel on the 50th anniversary of the Feminine Mystique. A big part of the discussion centered on why young women today don’t want to call themselves feminists, which dismayed the other panelists. Afterward a high-school girl in the audience stood up to ask a question. She said that in her progressive school the girls were “creaming” the boys at virtually everything. She said they were better at sports and got better grades and ran all the extracurricular clubs. But the one thing she and her friends could not get anyone to do was join the feminist club.
Most of the women sighing were young and quite successful, and as far as I could tell hadn’t been held back all that much in their careers by the patriarchy. They were exactly the types of woman I portray in the book as benefiting from the new age of female dominance, when women are better prepared for this economy, have more independence to choose their life path and are less vulnerable to physical assault than ever before.
Perhaps these young women are ingrates. Perhaps they do not recognize how much they owe to feminism.
That is one possible interpretation. Another is that women who outcompete boys in every way might find that such success does not lead to the kind of happiness that they had been promised. They might have discovered that their great successes in school and in the business world do not translate into relationship success. They think that they are living the feminist dream, but they might have discovered that they are living the feminist nightmare.
If they believe that identifying themselves as feminists will damage their relationships, by renouncing the cause they might be attempting to improve their chances at having good marriages.
As a political movement feminism has always sought specific political goals. Second wave feminism, however, has also transformed the way women live their lives.
Being a feminist today means following a specific life plan. The linchpin of that life plan is: career, first; marriage and childbearing, second.
It is not just an article of feminist faith that women should not marry young, but the sisterhood routinely disparages women who marry and have children when they are young.
For that reason Jessica Grose’s most recent column must count as a signal that feminism is losing some of its grip.
Grose is a feminist herself, so it takes courage for her to tell women that deferring childbearing in favor of career is often not the best thing for women. It is often not the best thing for their careers.
Grose states it clearly:
…perhaps ambitious women in their 20s who also want kids should consider having them sooner rather than later.
Even if one looks at the issue in terms of career advancement, it is probably better, as Penelope Trunk among others have pointed out, to have children when you are younger.
Grose argues the point:
Many women are in the middle of the career ladder when they get pregnant in their early 30s, and in a cruel twist, that’s when a lot of workers have the least flexibility. You’re at the whim of your bosses, and you don’t have much wiggle room. If you wait until you’re a high-ranking exec in your late 30s or early 40s to have kids—like CEOs and hot-button targets Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg did—you get to call the shots about your maternity leave, but you may struggle with fertility issues. As Jesus points out, fertility plummets after age 37. (I used to think it was sexist to assume that women didn’t know their fertility waned as they aged, but in fact studies show that women vastly underestimate how much age affects their ability to conceive.)
For all I know, women underestimate the influence of biology on fertility because they have been taught that gender is merely a social construct.
Important women executives like Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg are the exceptions. They have staffs to take care of their children and to run their households. By all appearances, they count among the superwomen who have it all. Perhaps that is why other women resent them... for setting an unattainable example.
Most women who have children in their late 30s are obliged to put aside their career ambitions at the very moment when they are on the verge of entering the ranks of corporate executives.