This is not, I repeat, NOT a review of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In.” So there.
Is this what it’s come to? Fairly or not, Republicans have the reputation of being the party of “My-Way-Or-The-Highway” mentality of policy and politics. They are famous for closing ranks around the most powerful among them, and flinging anyone who dares to deviate from the standard party line to the ground. If a Republican deviates, suggests a compromise, or reaches across the aisle he or she is met with derision and accusations of anti-patriotism from fellow Republicans. Frozen out. (While this is, of course, not true of all Republicans, and Democrats engage in this behavior, too, it’s a fairly common perception.) At any rate, as a result of this infighting and the results of the last election, many are (rightly or wrongly) ringing the death knell for the Republican Party. Are Feminists heading down the same road?
Not only are women slamming Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg for being out of touch with the average worker, we’re slamming each other for slamming them. How many layers of disgust and venom must we pile on one another before the insanity stops? Dare to call BS on Mayer’s new Yahoo! policy or Sandberg’s new feminesto (feminist + manifesto = feminesto. It’s just fewer syllables, k?) and you are a “hater,” “absurd,” and (I loved this one…) “Dowdian.” As if it were in insult to be quoted by Maureen Dowd. Dare to support or defend Mayer or Sandberg, and you’re setting back the cause of Feminism or insensitive to the needs of mothers. Why such polarization? Is it necessary? Is it productive?
What are we doing to elevate the level of discourse? Joanne Bamberger (full disclosure – a friend of mine) wrote a powerful piece in USA Today about Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg. She cogently argued that the duo is setting standards for the workplace that are destined to foster resentment and guilt among mothers in the workforce. I don’t agree with everything in the piece (I’m not sure, for example, that Sandberg isn’t interested in giving women a hand up,) but much of it rings true, and I definitely get where she is coming from. Mayer’s decree is tone-deaf and feels much more like it comes from the castle tower – though as I’ve said before, time will tell if her banning flextime and working from home was a good business decision. Sandberg’s exhortations that women stand up for themselves in the workplace and not be afraid to ask for more than they’re offered seems to come from a better place, but still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of people who don’t have the luxury of using their vacation days to launch a movement or a book tour.
In the meantime, Joanne was called a “hater” and had her scholarship questioned because she didn’t explicitly state in her piece that she had read Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” before she critiqued it. (She HAD read the book, by the way.) When I heard this, I marched (as much as one can march on a laptop) right over to those other articles, my protective side having been called to the surface, ready to defend my friend. I read Joan Walsh’s piece in Salon magazine. Apart from lumping Joanne in with the “haters,” I actually found myself agreeing with a lot of this article. I haven’t read “Leaning In” myself, but I certainly would now, just to see whose version I feel it more closely resembles. I like the advice Walsh described about asking for more than you’re offered, and choosing your spouse wisely so that you are supported in ALL of your important goals, including career, and her defense of Sandberg seems sound to me. I disregarded the snark (which was definitely there,) detracted from the piece.
Anna Holmes’ piece in the New Yorker also smacked down many who criticized Sandberg, but with much more derisive language and, it seemed to me, outright hostility. She takes great liberties in her assumptions of the critics (my friend, included). However, I actually happen to agree with her on other points, particularly when she identifies one important problem with the criticism of Sandberg. She’s “galled…by the subtext that because Sandberg is rich she can’t possibly be sincere in her advocacy of women.” So even as I truly disliked the tone and knew some of her presumptions to be false, I found something of value in the piece.
At the risk of sounding like I’m sighing, and saying, “Why can’t everyone think more like I do?” – well, WHY CAN’T EVERYONE THINK MORE LIKE I DO???? I can disagree without resorting to name-calling. (Though I did call the guy from Suspension Notice a Drama Queen.) I can hear an opposing viewpoint without taking it personally. You know what? I can even hear someone being critical of my viewpoint without being insulted! Unless, of course, we’re talking about the Mets or the Orioles. That’s personal.
I’m a big believer in diversity of opinion and background being a strength rather than a weakness. The intense pressure to conform to the thinking of whatever the group troubles me deeply. Joanne has every right to be critical of Sandberg and Mayer without being labeled a hater. Holmes and Walsh have the right to disagree with Joanne’s criticism, and can do so very eloquently WITHOUT the name-calling and baseless accusations of her not having read the book. Why must we make this PERSONAL, people? Shouldn’t we, as women and feminists, be setting the standard for mature discourse – given the appalling LACK of it from our predominantly male legislators?
Maybe I’m naive, but I believe everyone has something to contribute. Furthermore, I feel a responsibility to distill the information and discussion down to what speaks to me and helps me learn. To take from the criticism what makes sense, and maybe call BS on the parts that don’t – while doing my damnedest to be respectful of the people with whom I’m disagreeing. The more rational the critique, the more powerful in my eyes. But when was the last time rationality sold magazines? That might explain why I don’t make enough to file taxes…or buy a copy of “Lean In.”