Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sandberg controversy: The preachments of the wealthy

Update: nicoleandmaggie and Flavia (in the comments) have convinced me that I've missed some important features of Sandberg's perspective, so while I'm leaving this post up, you don't need to read further.  

I've been away from the news for a while and missed the uproar over Sheryl Sandberg's book telling women to "lean in," which seems to mean "pay attention to your career and demand more."

Sandberg has a lot of advice spoken and unspoken. The spoken part: (1) be ambitious, (2) support women in positions of power, and (3) ask for power yourself. The unspoken part: (1) be wealthy, (2) have household help, (3) attract a powerful mentor such as Lawrence Summers so that he can help to elevate you above the crowd.

Sandberg says she wants women to be paid more and to teach them to negotiate to do that.  How are we negotiate and "marshal power" in academe, when there are hundreds of people for each t-t job and the humanities are under attack as it is?

I gather Sandberg's book originated in a TED talk, which for all the hype about them seem to go something like this:

What's most interesting to me is that the media is portraying this as a war of women against women--women trying to tear down other women by sniping at their levels of privilege.  I don't care about her feminist credentials or lack thereof, and who's giving out those badges, anyway?

What's galling, I think, is that this is just the latest person of privilege telling the rest of us how to live.

  • What about Bill Gates telling us how to reform education by replacing teachers with software?
  • What about MOOC providers telling us that our lecturing is bad but theirs is transformational?
  • What about Paul Ryan, with a gold-plated Congressional health plan, telling us that "just let 'em die" vouchers will be a good system of health care?
It's not so much that she's a woman, or is or is not a feminist, or what have you. It's that we're getting tired of the preachments of the wealthy explaining why what we do isn't good enough and that our low salaries are our own fault. 


Anonymous said...

I disagree with this post. Not the part about how the media is portraying it-- though those posts have died down once the reporters actually started reading the book.

I thought this was a good review:

While we even link to a silly post this week from a millionaire lecturing people on living minimalist lifestyles (which is easier to do if you have a huge safety net), we do not think Sandberg's work belongs in that category. Sandberg's book is NOT saying that our salaries are our faults-- it, in fact is full of facts about discrimination and inequality. She's not telling everybody how to live. She does have some sensible advice for people who want to follow it. I think that's great.

And she uses lots of soft woman language with tons of qualifiers, just like women are supposed to in order to seem less threatening.

undine said...

Thanks, nicoleandmaggie, for the additional information about Sandberg. I was thinking more about how she came across in the media than what she was actually saying--and, of course, I haven't read her book.

Flavia said...

I'm reading Sandberg's book right now, and I have to say that I think she handles the potential objections to her approach very well. Her point seems to be that, yes: we do need structural reform, but we also need to advocate for ourselves right now, where we are--and that as a young woman she heard a lot about external obstacles to women's advancement, but not about the internal ones, so she's writing about that. No one book can do everything.

She's also seems quite aware that different women will (and should be able to) make different choices; that not everyone has the same opportunities to advance; and that not everyone who *could* lead needs to aspire to a leadership position--but her point that ALL women benefit when more women are in positions of power is pretty compelling to me.

I was thinking about this point the other day, reading the NYT coverage of the Senate hearings on sexual assault in the military--convened by Kirsten Gillibrand. Would that be happening if a female senator weren't chairing the Armed Services subcommittee? HELL no.

undine said...

Thanks, Flavia. There's clearly more to this than the media (and the TIME cover story) indicated. I do believe that more women in positions of power can make a big difference.

Today's paper had an article about Mariska Hargitay, the actress from SVU (if that is the right title), who's done a lot to get awareness that rape kits need to be processed in a timely way so that the perpetrators can be caught. Thousands have now been done that were tossed into cold storage and ignored before, and several convictions have resulted.