Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Feminist Alone at the Top

As the COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg has a great deal of street cred. Before Facebook she worked at Google, so she could certainly offer some valuable advice about fast-growing high tech companies.

Instead, when she delivered a recent talk at TED she decided to advise young women on how they should live their lives. Link here.

While she has every right to speak for herself, she does not show very good judgment when she seems to criticize other women for not being just like her.

After all, she is simply regurgitating a bunch of feminist boilerplate, as though she is holding up her life story as definitive validation of her own ideological commitment.

Sandberg’s plaint is simple and not very new. She finds that there are not enough women in upper management. Imagine the indignity she experienced when she was pitching some business at a private equity firm and discovered that the male senior managers did not know where the Ladies’ room was.

Having combined marriage and children with a very exalted executive position, Sandberg is finding that it’s lonely at the top.

She has even discovered that, no matter their career achievements, women still do most of the childcare and the housework. And when an occasional man takes his child to the playground, the assembled mothers are not exactly thrilled to see him.

I daresay that we did not need Sheryl Sandberg to point this out. Yet, the feminists at DoubleX loved her talk. Hannah Rosin, Dahlia Lithwick, and Emily Bazelon all found it inspiring, uplifting, even thrilling.

As I said, this is all getting to be rather old. For more than four decades feminist bean counters have been peddling the same message. If there are not an equal number of male and female CEOs, then that proves that the business world is sexist, that is, based on a sin and a crime. The only plausible reason for this disproportion is sexism.

For Sandberg, as for many other feminists, the disproportion between male and female executives, to say nothing of the gross disproportion between male and female mothers, does not just mean that sexism exists, but it implies that all women have a sacred duty to sacrifice their lives to the cause of feminism. Meaning, as I discussed in my most recent Right Network column, that they should feel obliged to live the feminist way of life.

Never once does Sandberg consider that women might make different choices because their priorities are not the same as hers. Never does Sandberg consider the possibility that many women may simply not want to do what is required to rise up the corporate hierarchy.

Perhaps they want to have more balanced lives. Perhaps they want to have a more active role in bringing up their own children. Perhaps they do not want to work as hard as you have to work to reach the corner office?

Why should Sheryl Sandberg, in a talk to young women, ignore these possibilities?

Sandberg finds it difficult but not impossible to leave her children in order to travel on business. Other women might not feel the same way.

If we are going to respect Sandberg, ought we not also to respect women who make different choices?

What is all this choice business about anyway if the only correct choice is the one prescribed by feminism.

Are women supposed to live as Sandberg lives because she feels lonely at the top? Or because she feels that perhaps there is something strange about her choices, and that other women have a responsibility to make her feel better?

Obviously, there is nothing new in what Sandberg is saying. But she is revealing a very inconvenient truth. If, after four decades of non-stop feminist indoctrination, things are as bad as Sandberg’s caricature would suggest, then feminism has clearly failed. Feminists have not managed to repeal human nature.

Sandberg ridicules young women who are thinking of having children at their peak fertility… because they don’t even have boyfriends. Hasn’t it crossed her mind that a woman’s thoughts about having children might have something to do with her biological makeup? Or does she follow those feminist thinkers who think that female biology is just another social construct?

Besides, why would these young women have boyfriends or committed relationships? Didn’t feminism advise them against marrying young? Didn’t feminism tell them that early marriage and childbearing would ruin their career prospects... and make them bad feminists?

What if the best way for a woman to have career success and a family is for her to marry young and to bear children when she is young?

The thought never seems to cross Sandberg’s mind but there is nothing to say that women must defer, and at times, sacrifice marriage and childbearing in the interest of career advancement.

Deferring marriage and motherhood does not seem to have produced the best results for many women, so why do  feminists continue to tout it. Especially, when the statistics Sandberg cites suggest that when women defer marriage and motherhood they often sacrifice both on the altar of career success.

Sandberg believes that when married couples are true partners-- share and share alike-- women will have more time for their careers because their husbands are taking over more of the household responsibilities.

As Emily Bazelon parses this idea, this means that men must be feminists too. How has that been working for you, ladies?

Of course, as Sandberg reports, this is not the way things work in reality. In most cases it is a pipe dream.

And yet, it creates a certain level of expectation which can infect a marriage and cause contention. A man who feels that his wife wants him to be more of a mother to his children will often feel diminished and demeaned. Not because there is something demeaning in being a mother, but because there is something demeaning in being treating as something you are not.

And if he feels that her demands are interfering with his ability to focus on his job, and that this is causing him to miss out on promotions, she has not created a situation that is conducive to conjugal bliss.

If we want men and women to cooperate more, even in the sense of being partners, why not suggest that they marry young? After all, a couple that marries young will be building a life together. They will be developing their adult social habits, the kinds that make for effective partnership, as they grow up together. .

When couples marry in their mid-thirties, after they have established their careers, they will be trying to merge separate, autonomous, independent existences. And this is largely more difficult, in terms of coordination and logistics, than building a life together.

Which 35 year old woman will make the better executive? The one who is stressed out over whether her boyfriend will ever ask her to marry him, and who is even more stressed out about her biological clock. Or, the one whose children are at school and who has built a basis of trust and cooperation with a man who has been her husband for ten years?

Alter the scenario a little, and ask yourself which woman will be able to shoulder increased workplace responsibility: the 40 year old who has an infant and a baby at home, or the 40 year old whose children are entering high school?

Like most feminists, Sandberg has ignored these realities. She wants women to accept all promotions and to forge ahead on their career paths. By her reasoning this will diminish the lure of staying home and taking care of children.

The reasoning reminds me of the time Odysseus when he asked his men to tie him to the mast of his ship because, otherwise, he would never be able to resist the enchanting melodies of the Sirens.

Frankly, I think that the women who attended Sheryl Sandberg’s lecture at TED would have profited more by hearing her ideas about high tech business.


Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman, et al.
RE: Why Ask 'Why'?

Deferring marriage and motherhood does not seem to have produced the best results for many women, so why do feminists continue to tout it. -- Stuart Schneiderman

Because they want others to validate their position as being 'good'. The more people who follow their counsel, the more evidence that they are correct. They want justification.

However, they, as you pointed out earlier, STILL feel 'miserable', e.g., it's lonely at the top.


[Misery doesn't merely enjoy company. These days it insists on it.]

Dennis said...

At some point it becomes nothing more than "WHINE." If I can do no right then your opinion is of no value to me.
Misery loves company and as Chuck states wants validation desperately.
As Rhett says, " I don't give a DAMN!" There might have been a time, but after 50 years of this bilge and selfishness................
Why would any woman with a brain want to emulate someone who is so obviously unhappy? WOW life is tough.