Monday, January 28, 2013

Sheryl Sandberg on Gender Stereotypes

Were they not coming from one of the most successful women in Silicon Valley, Sheryl Sandberg’s remarks would have been dismissed as shopworn feminist platitudes.

When spoken by the Facebook COO, the world feels obliged to take notice. All those who want to eradicate gender differences cheered her on.  

According to Sandberg, gender differences are really gender stereotypes. She believes that it all begins with tee shirts.

Using tee shirts the culture teaches boys, to Sandberg’s horror, that they might want to grow up to be smart like Daddy. It teaches girls, to Sandberg’s greater horror, that they might want to grow up to be pretty like Mommy.

The Guardian reports:

Sandberg, who is publishing a book called Lean In on women in the workplace in March, singled out T-shirts sold in the US, with the boys' version emblazoned with the words "Smart Like Daddy", while the girls' version says "Pretty like Mommy".

"I would love to say that was 1951, but it was last year," she said. "As a woman becomes more successful, she is less liked, and as a man becomes more successful, he is more liked, and that starts with those T-shirts."

Sandberg does not explain how she will rectify the problem. Does she want to ban gender-specific tee shirts? Does she want to forbid parents from buying dolls for their daughters and trucks for their sons? How far is she willing to go to impose her view on the populace?

Does Sandberg believe that there is no biological reason why girls want to grow up and become mothers? Does she think that girls would not want to be pretty if there were no gender stereotyping?

One suspects that she has not thought too deeply about these matters.

And then there’s the likability problem. Sandberg seems to believe that women who get ahead are not very well liked.

The Guardian summarizes:

She blasted managers who unconsciously reflect stereotypes when they judge women's performance, saying: "She's great at her job but she's just not as well liked by her peers," or: "She's a bit aggressive."

"They say this with no understanding that this is the penalty women face because of gender stereotypes," she said.

But, do you get the impression that Sandberg herself is eminently likable? Coming across as a moralistic scold who wants to impose her views of child-rearing and gender differences on the world she does not seem very likable.

It has nothing to do with gender stereotyping: it has everything to do with being an ideologue.

For all anyone knows, some female managers might not be very likable. Why is it that every time a woman is criticized, certain people conclude that the criticism must be based on raw prejudice?

When you attribute everything to gender stereotyping you are saying that reality does not exist.

Keep in mind, no less a liberal than Anne-Marie Slaughter resigned her position at the State Department because she discovered could not be a good mother to her children while holding down a very demanding job.

She understood that gender roles are not interchangeable and that when you act as though they are your children pay a price.

Slaughter did acknowledge that there are some superwomen out there who can do both at the same time, but she added that they are few and far between.

But, Slaughter does policy analysis. She knows that you cannot make policy out of exceptional cases.

Let’s grant that Sheryl Sandberg counts as one of them. One must also notice that her wealth offers her opportunities that are not available to the average woman.

To say that all women should live their lives like Sheryl Sandberg is wildly unrealistic.

Good feminist that she is Sandberg also wants to tell people how to organize the division of household labor.

According to the Guardian:

Sandberg also criticised the fact that it is still assumed women will take on the majority of the caring responsibilities at home, even when both parents work. "Women still have two jobs in the most developed countries around the world; men have one."

It’s nice to have a high-powered executive take it upon herself to criticize that way other women live their lives.

She does not know it, but egalitarian marriages tend not to work out very well. If a couple divides the housework equally, a recent study from Norway showed that the chances that they will get divorced increase by 50%.

Do you want to bet your marriage on Sheryl Sandberg’s ideologically driven view of how you should live your life?


David Foster said...

I'd say that BOTH of these t-shirts encourage narcissism, in addition to whatever else they may encourage.

The idea of using a single pair of t-shirts..out of the hundreds of thousands that a social indicator seems a little bizarre. Does Sandberg conduct her financial analysis for Facebook with the same kind of thinking?

Dennis said...

That thinking does kind of hint at why Facebook is having the problems it is having.

The Dark Lord said...

Let us not forget that 3 years ago she was working out of a cube hoping Facebook would hit it big ... she has almost no real world experience ...

Anonymous said...

I am a female executive, and have never taken any statement from Sheryl Sandberg with more than a grain of salt. I've considered her credentials, and simply don't value her journey that greatly...

DeNihilist said...

A date late, but better then never

{The findings raise the possibility that otherwise egalitarian couples who make conscious, rational choices about dividing household chores along traditional lines could be modelling behaviour that reinforces outdated stereotypes that their daughters will adopt.}

Luv the "outdated stereotypes!

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Excellent article, all the more valuable because it is based on what seems to be solid research. Thanks.